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Wikimadness XVII: The Return of Byrne

Overstock CEO demands naked shorting mea culpa

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We spoke too soon. The web's longest running farce is alive and well.

Earlier this summer, it seemed we had finally seen the end of the epic squabble pitting the CEO of Overstock.com against Jimmy Wales and the cult of Wikipedia. But as it turns out, more fun was on the way.

Three and a half years after Overstock boss Patrick Byrne launched his unorthodox (with a hint of the absurd) crusade against a Wall Street sleight of hand known as naked short selling, the US Securities and Exchange Commission has finally taken serious action against the practice, and many of the financial media outlets that once branded Byrne as a raving madman have admitted he was right all along. "This is certainly a big vindication for him," says one CNBC talking head.

But Byrne is still peeved. Much like the Wall Street press, a group of Wikipedia insiders - including cult leader Wales - spent years battling the Overstock chief over the naked shorting issue, and Byrne has long claimed that these anonymous encyclopedia obsessives conspired with a well-known financial journalist to ruin his company and his reputation. Well, now he want wants a mea culpa. And Wikipedia has yet to oblige.

"Is there any room left to mention that I turned out to be right?" Byrne writes on the discussion page of Wikipedia's naked shorting article. "I wonder if anywhere in this article there is room left to mention that the last two weeks has seen a desperate scramble (emergency SEC orders, suddenly-called Congressional hearings, demands from the US Chamber of Congress and an association representing 8,000 banks) to keep naked short selling from collapsing the US financial system?"

According to Byrne, Forbes.com columnist and former BusinessWeek reporter Gary Weiss spent more than two years gaming the "encyclopedia anyone can edit," maintaining tight control over the articles on Byrne, Overstock, and naked shorting. Weiss, the story goes, hid behind multiple anonymous accounts, including one called Mantanmoreland. And the Wikipedia elite provided protection.

During several phone conversations and email exchanges with The Register, Weiss always denied these charges, saying he's never even edited Wikipedia. But there's no denying Wikipedia carried an almost laughable anti-Byrne bias, and in June, after a revolt from the Wikipedia rank-and-file, Mantanmoreland was finally booted from the site for, yes, sockpuppeting on the naked shorting article.

But in Byrne's mind, this article - and other Byrne-related articles - are still woefully one-sided. Following thirty months of online warfare with the Overstock chief - at one point, the Wikipedia elite banned edits from all of Overstock and a nearby mountain - administrators still keep a tight rein on who can touch those articles and who can't.

Now that SEC commissioner Christopher Cox has publicly condemned naked shorting schemes and the SEC has issued an emergency order that prevents naked shorts in certain large financial firms, Byrne is suddenly hard to argue with. "In a naked short, the usual process of short selling is circumvented, because the seller doesn't actually borrow the stock and simply fails to deliver it," Cox said last month. "For this reason, naked shorting can occur even when actual shares aren't available in the market. It allows manipulators to force prices down without regard to supply and demand."

From where Byrne’s sitting, the naked shorting conspiracy goes well beyond Weiss and Wikipedia. And if you help him share these extended claims with the rest of the world, he’ll pay you money. Naked short that.®

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