On 31st August 2007, Wikipedia Review discussion forums welcomed a new member, ColScott, who began by writing a post about his own personal experiences on Wikipedia, titled “ColScott says Hola“. As at the time of my writing this blog post, the thread was on its 14th page, with 262 replies and 4,395 views, and whilst it did go slightly off topic a few times, it is generally speaking pretty much on track.
As we discovered, ColScott is Don Murphy, who is a film producer with his own studio house called Angry Films, with a modest entry in the Internet Movie Database, and his own Wikipedia article. This issue is a similar one to Daniel Brandt’s, that inspired Wikipedia Watch, and is also similar to many other Biographies of Living Persons issues. But what does it all mean?
The first issue is a misunderstanding of what a film producer’s role is. It is not the same as a director or writer or starring actor. Whilst he did produce the Transformers movie, he was one of several producers, and not the primary producer. And whilst he did produce the movie Natural Born Killers, he was not the only producer. And whilst he has produced a number of other films, they were not enormously prominent.
Is this sufficient for an encyclopaedic article? This is the first question that was asked. A number of Wikipedia Review members said that it was, but a number of others said that it wasn’t. There is no serious question that a film producer with only 2 significant film releases, neither of which he was the primary producer, would not warrant an encyclopaedic article, however Wikipedia has a somewhat lower standard of notoriety than a regular encyclopaedia. Given that Wikipedia has an article on every single Transformers character, and every single actor that appeared in the film, even if they have no other film credits outside of it, obviously it is consistent to have an article on Don Murphy as well. By Wikipedia’s terms, he is equally as notable as the others that also have articles. Furthermore, it could be argued that “cruft” articles like Transformers represent the very best and most useful articles that Wikipedia has to offer.
The next question is whether Don Murphy has a right to ask not to have his own article. His concern is that it might become negative, due to vandalism and nasty comments. In its present state it isn’t overly nasty, however it could be. The fact that he was banned from Wikipedia means that in effect he has no say in preventing it from becoming nasty. Should Wikipedia have an opt out policy? Any reputable encyclopaedia would, at least for people who are not convicted felons. All biographies are approved by the subject themselves, or someone acting on behalf of the subject, with the exception of the tabloid “unauthorised biographies”. Bias can be accounted for by the reader. If all of Wikipedia’s biographies were biased in a very positive way, they would still be useful to readers, and the bias could be accounted for. If Wikipedia chooses to go the other way, then they run the risk of having libellous nasty statements and a smear campaign.
Many members of Wikipedia and of Wikipedia Review have argued that the article should be kept regardless of whether Don Murphy wants it to be kept, and that it is important to have both positive and negative viewpoints in order to comply with Wikipedia’s policy on Neutral Point of View. But Neutral Point of View is a policy that was intended to represent multiple expert opinions then being mediated by one neutral party - not to extinguish expert opinions in favour of someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Don Murphy is an expert on all things Don Murphy, hence Don Murphy should be one of the primary sources for the article. It is fine to have a neutral party that doesn’t really know about it act as the mediator, but they should not be the person writing it in place of Don Murphy’s input. Everyone has bias, and this bias can be accounted for by a researcher. Untruthful statements, which are likely to be presented by people who do not know what they are talking about, cannot as easily be accounted for. Biased truth is far more useful than unbiased lies.
The next issue is that ColScott feels that he was subjected to vicious attacks by a 15-year-old administrator who currently goes by the name of “Saturday” (he had previously changed his name). ColScott feels that he was targetted, while Saturday in turn has suggested that he was targetted by this “big shot Hollywood producer”, and that he is scared. The question of whether a Wikipedia administrator is more powerful in terms of Wikipedia than a film producer is overall was one that came up to much debate. Secondly, there is the question of which of them, if any, is stalking the other. Is ColScott lying about being stalked, just to try to get power over his own article? Or is Saturday lying about being stalked so that he can justify defaming a film producer and controlling his article? This issue came under much debate. Ultimately, several members of Wikipedia Review attempted to come to a compromise, but neither ColScott or Saturday seemed willing to comply. Saturday’s suggestion of locking the article in a state which ColScott did not agree with demonstrated either extreme ignorance or else a deliberate manipulation of the situation, and was never going to be helpful in any way.
The next issue that was raised was whether ColScott should be attacking a child, given that Saturday’s proported age was only 15 years. Some Wikipedia and Wikipedia Review members argued that someone’s age on the internet is relevant - that young members should not be attacked as much as older members, that it counts as bullying if it is a 40 year old arguing with a 15 year old. Others argued that age is irrelevant on the internet, and furthermore that we don’t even know for sure what his actual age was.
The issue has dominated discussion on Wikipedia Review in the past week or so, and other issues, such as SlimVirgin’s new presentation on “Cyberstalking”, seemed to somehow be linked to this one. Indeed, even an older topic on Ted Frank could easily be linked to this, as it too was a Biography of Living persons issue. And of course a Wikipedia Review member, Judd Bagley, has his own Wikipedia entry which he too wants to have deleted.
This very interesting issue seems to raise more questions than it answers. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on the issue, and whatever your opinion, I think that we all agree that this is very, very interesting.