Citation Games By the United Nations’ #CyberViolence

Jaime Bravo
Sep 26, 2015 · 7 min read

(Update 2/23/18: It’s been a few years since I wrote this and the links to the original PDF are dead so I updated them. Also worth noting is that after this blew up, the people behind it apologized, took down the original, released an “executive summary” over it, and have seemingly vanished.)

After spending quite a bit of time going through every citation from the “cyber violence against women and girls” report that the United Nations recently put out (mirror here), I found two key facts.

  1. Using the metric of removing duplicate citations, not counting broken links, those with little to no effort shown for those missing links (as in, not even bothering to check the website), and removing anything that didn’t seem to exist, only 64% remained. This includes the removal of two where the source is literally nothing. Just a number.
  2. Over 15% of the citations for the entire document (including those that would otherwise be removed in the above) are to the UN itself.

120 is too much for anyone to tackle head on. So instead, let’s do the fun part: The most ridiculous things.

1) Blank Citations

72 and 75 are the greatest weapon in this entire report. Why bother defending yourself when you don’t have to? You need to watch more and listen if you want to understand this. Don’t take my word for it, take what #72's a citation for:

“There is also a role that the individual must play in self-regulating, not perpetuating negative gender norms and practices by sharing, watching and listening and by holding media and content providers to account. This is an underlying message of the UNESCO Global Alliance on Gender and Media.”

There is, quite literally, no reason why you should self regulate against negative gender norms and practices. That’s why it is absolutely imperative that you do. Or else eat sanctions you cyber misogynist.

2) Duplicate Links

Bar none, the most common issue was the amount of times something would be cited only to be cited again. Sometimes the gap would be large.

Fact: The bibliography’s link was broken too.

Sometimes tricky because unless you manually check every link you wouldn’t notice that the two are the exact same, just phrased differently because everything is formatted awful in this.

A proper citation would be both of these combined.

But the one noticed quickest are the ones that are back to back. Like this instance, on page one.

…though it would be wrong to leave out that page 2 starts with the exact same link too. There’s more examples but there are other fun issues too.

3) Sources that don’t exist

This is one step beyond the two blank sources earlier. These are specifically the ones that are listed in the citations but do not exist. Take the example of Jeremy Rifkin in the report. He’s mentioned one time in a quote on page 28 and cited as #6. Now, even ignoring that #6 is a completely different subject that you’ll see in the next section, there’s a problem: The formatting is nonsense. Sometimes you’ll see “Author, Page #,” others you’ll see “Author (Year)” or a mix involving title, author, year, and page. Rarely in these pieces do you get a full citation but the bibliography is at least far more consistent. Rifkin is listed in that.

…kind of. He’s in the bibliography and sourced but nothing of his exists. Just a name and page number all four times he is cited. Nothing more.

An alternative example is perhaps even more malicious one. It’s one thing to simply leave nothing but what if you give the wrong info? Meet Citron.

Yes, the link’s broken in the bibliography too. I got it.

Proper reference in the bibliography and after getting the right link, I found myself a valid source. …At least, until the details mattered.

The first time it happens is #18. The bibliography and source match well together. It’s a 44 page PDF that goes from introduction to conclusion. Both the PDF and the citation state that it begins on page 373, so why is anyone being told to go to page 253? It doesn’t just happen there either.

Six times Citron is mentioned like this.
Six times the number does not make sense. This is the only source in the bibliography. Technically citation #120 gives a different work to use, however it’s the last one (edit: I had mistakenly said there was an additional writer. This is false, Keats is her own name too. Sorry about that.) There is absolutely nothing anyone can draw from this. The source does not exist and if you don’t check the details, you will never see that it does.

4) Sources that exist but aren’t told

If we have sources that are literally blank, that don’t exist, what about those that do but aren’t told to you? We have that too. Starting on Page 1, with two examples in fact.

Neither the sentence nor the paragraph are sourced to anything. Making up your own definition or story is a severe issue but luckily, neither of these two were. They both originated elsewhere, making the story that much better.

The cytogenesis cyle of Wikipedia lives in the UN

The definition for “doxing” is none other than Wikipedia. As for the #6?

Huffington Post:
Wall Street Journal:

Two clear instances show near word for word similarities as that paragraph because it’s all originating from the Associated Press. There is no difficulty in finding this and there are a multitude of sources one can use for their material. Yet to do use it and not give credit is when you step into plagiarism. It’s not the only time this happens either. The other major instance forgets to scrub the EFF mentioning themselves in the body.

Extra Thoughts

There are other aspects that are quite enjoyable to see. From the broken links because word wrap is the bane of its existence to their linking to Polygon in the citations and Polygon’s already positive response to this insane mess of gibberish. The one slightly less fun and more serious aspect can be seen in there there being far too much self-citing in the piece. Citing yourself is a natural part of research, especially when you’ve done it for long periods of time, but at what point does one justify citing a different site to cite your own press release? Or using an offshoot site of yours to have greater diversity in URLs but still have the source be you? I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of how perverse this document is in its masturbatory citing ways but that’s longer and more serious than I want this to be. So instead, allow me to finish this with my single favorite example of the entire report. I’ve mentioned a few times that links are broken in the bibliography but this problem runs deeper.

Much deeper.

Couldn’t think of a name?

This is the #1 cause of cyber violence.
People who come off so self absorbed that everything beyond their computer is something nobody else should touch. They feel the need to be isolated unless there’s a remote connection done and if you aren’t capable of dealing with their pace then you aren’t wanted and will never get to know what you truly missed. You’ll never know the real document inside. You’re a “shitlord” now, maybe even a “cyber rapist” for trying to penetrate the system they’ve put (fire)walls around.

Alternatively, it’s the urge to bully someone who was dumb enough to link to their C: drive in a paper for the United Nations. By the way, if that’s ever fixed?

Fix the citation too, would you? It’s the only mention with Halder and 2010 isn’t 2015.

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