Welcome to Source Notes, a Future Tense column about the internet’s information ecosystem.
In the aftermath of Monday’s mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, which left seven people dead and dozens more wounded, law enforcement, journalists, and interested civilians alike have been reviewing the shooting suspect’s entire online history. Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo, the 21-year-old who prosecutors say has voluntarily confessed to the shooting, frequently posted online content that showed his disturbing interest in violence. Thus far, a substantial amount of press coverage has focused on Crimo’s YouTube videos, including his most recent post, which showed him draped in an American flag following a school shooting; his Spotify music, where he used the rap alias “Awake the Rapper” to upload albums that had been listened to millions of times before the streaming service took them down (though it’s unclear how many people were listening before he was named a suspect); or his Discord channel, where he shared a photo of Budd Dwyer, a politician who killed himself during a live press conference in the late 1980s. Besides those websites, investigators are also poring over Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok accounts that are believed to be associated with him.
Now a Slate investigation conducted together with Wikipedia volunteers reveals a further connection between the alleged shooter and the internet: For years prior to the shooting, someone was very interested in creating a Wikipedia page for him. In fact, in the five-year period leading up to the shooting, someone repeatedly tried to make Crimo a Wiki entry.
“It’s common for people like Crimo to have tried their hand at Wikipedia,” said Andreas Kolbe, a Wikipedia volunteer on the editorial team of the Signpost, the site’s community newspaper, who also contributed to the reporting of this piece. Due to Wikipedia’s privacy practices and policies, it might not be possible to prove conclusively that Crimo and his attempted Wikipedia authors are one and the same. But there is at least strong circumstantial evidence that Crimo himself or someone else in his inner circle was trying to boost his profile with the site.
Here’s what we know so far.
Sometime prior to Jan. 17, 2017, someone accessing Wikipedia using the IP address “2601:246:C002:1670:81C7:73B6:FEA1:ECC2” proposed that an article be created for “Awake the Rapper (Bobby Crimo).” When a Wikipedia user is not logged into a registered account, the edits made by that individual are attributed to the IP address associated with their internet connection. According to an IP geolocation tool, that IP address is associated with the Chicago area. (Highland Park, where the shooting took place, is Crimo’s hometown and a suburb of Chicago.)
That same day, a Wikipedia reviewer declined the proposed article about Crimo submitted from that IP address because it was blank. It’s possible that the proposer did not realize that the site’s articles for creation process requires including an initial draft. Perhaps they expected that other Wikipedia editors would complete the page on their behalf.
The following year, a Wikipedia user with the registered username 2dgirl submitted an article for “Bobby Crimo.” A Wikipedia reviewer declined this article on May 3, 2018, on the basis that the references in the article did not adequately show the subject’s notability. The draft article, which Slate obtained from a Wikipedia admin with special access to deleted content, begins “Bobby Crimo (born September 20, 2000), professionally known as ‘Awake the Rapper’ is an American rapper, singer, and songwriter.”
Besides the draft article for creation, 2dgirl kept text in their sandbox area, an environment that Wikipedians tend to use as a drafting space. The 2018 sandbox page (now deleted) described Crimo with flattering language that is inconsistent with Wikipedia’s neutrality principles. For instance, the user 2dgirl wrote that Crimo “plays it loosely with his soft smooth vocals.” They also said, “Just like the jack of trades or the joker card, Awake is diverse with his style.” The phrasing sounds like a poorly written advertisement—not the impartial tone required by Wikipedia’s standards.
In both the draft and sandbox versions of the page, the sources that 2dgirl used were largely links to Crimo’s own works. For instance, there is an external link to Awake the Rapper’s personal website. In rejecting the draft article on May 3, the reviewer specifically commented that, “Soundcloud and YouTube are not considered reliable sources,” a reference to the Wikipedia policy that generally speaking only third-party (i.e., not self-published sources) are considered acceptable for citations.
Because user 2dgirl registered an account, the public cannot see the IP address from which that user was accessing the site. That means that, unlike the bare IP address first mentioned, Slate is not currently able to confirm that 2dgirl accessed the site from a Chicago-area IP address.
Even if it is not immediately possible to tie the Wikipedia username 2dgirl to the Chicago region, there is perhaps still enough there to construct a profile. The username “2dgirl” might be a reference to either anime or paper doll figures. According to law enforcement, the Highland Park shooting suspect wore women’s clothing as a disguise so he could escape the scene of the mass shooting. In video footage, the shooter appears to be wearing pigtails.
Besides the rejected articles about Crimo himself, 2dgirl’s only remaining contribution is a change to the Wikipedia article for “Ancient Egyptian deities in popular culture.” On that page, the user added this line: “Lo-fi music artist ‘Awake the Rapper’ has a tattoo of the left eye of horus on his left forearm.” The reference is to Horus, the Egyptian god of kingship and the sky. While that sentence has since been deleted from the Egyptian deity page, it’s worth pinning down its significance: The only contribution that 2dgirl made besides trying to get Crimo his own Wikipedia article was talking about Crimo’s tattoo on another Wikipedia article.
In short, the username 2dgirl appears to be what Wikipedians call a single-purpose account. It had only one mission: to boost Bobby Crimo’s online profile. No doubt there is a certain cachet in having a Wikipedia page, of being one of those special, important, notable people who are deemed worthy of coverage on the site. Remember that having a Wikipedia entry helps that subject appear more prominently in search engine results. The user 2dgirl appears determined to get this Wiki boost for “Awake the Rapper” and his many online channels.
There’s more. On May 5, 2018, someone with the exact same username created a page on the separate site known as “Wikitubia” for Bobby Crimo (Awake the Rapper). Wikitubia is part of Fandom, a site that mostly hosts entertainment wikis. (Although Fandom was started by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and an associate, it is not related or affiliated with Wikipedia.) Fandom is sometimes couched as a disreputable knockoff version of Wikipedia, at least among some active Wikipedians. Perhaps because of the site’s comparatively looser standards, Fandom was the site where this iteration of 2dgirl was finally able to obtain some (cheap) digital real estate to promote Awake.
As far as wikis go, Wikipedia is still the gold standard in terms of public recognition and search engine relevance. At press time, Crimo thankfully still does not have his own Wikipedia page. Searching his name on the site instead redirects the user to the “Highland Park parade shooting.” Consciously or not, Wikipedia’s volunteer editors seem to have adopted a policy akin to some news publications that encourage focusing on the victims of mass shootings rather than “rewarding” the shooter with direct publicity.
That said, it’s worth considering whether an alleged mass murderer’s psyche is reflected somehow in their alleged interactions with Wikipedia. From this point forward, let’s adopt the working theory that Crimo himself was behind the 2dgirl username, a perspective that seems eminently reasonable even if it cannot yet be definitively proven. What would this person’s Wikipedia activity add to an understanding of their online history? The Wikipedia dimension shows that 1) since at least their teenage years, this person has been totally obsessed with their online notoriety, with documenting and enhancing their profile. And 2) this person doesn’t recognize “objective” rules. They do not feel bound by mere policies like neutrality, avoiding self-promotion, or citing sources other than themselves. A person who thinks rules don’t matter because nothing, in fact, matters.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.