Archive for April, 2008
Between December 2007 and March 2008, journalist Cade Metz penned a series of articles for The Register, the British technology focused online newspaper. These articles exposed the dark side of Wikipedia that we Reviewers see on a daily basis. Some of the pieces are vital exposés of Wikipedia’s cultish internal activities, others raise important questions concerning the disturbing contradictions that lie at the root of Wikipedia culture. Below are summaries of ten of the articles, with appropriate links to the stories themselves.
4 Dec 2007
“Controversy has erupted among the encyclopedia’s core contributors, after a rogue editor revealed that the site’s top administrators are using a secret insider mailing list to crackdown on perceived threats to their power.”
Choice Quote: “If you take Wikipedia as seriously as it takes itself, this is a huge problem. The site is ostensibly devoted to democratic consensus and the free exchange of ideas. But whether or not you believe in the holy law of Web 2.0, Wikipedia is tearing at the seams.”
6 Dec 2007
“In early September, the Wikipedia inner circle banned edits from 1,000 homes and one massive online retailer in an attempt to suppress the voice of one man.”
Choice Quote: “I thought this whole thing was vastly overblown and unfair,” he [Dan Tobias] adds, “especially on a site that’s devoted to the free exchange of information and neutral point of view and considering all view points. It just made no sense.” Read the rest of this entry »
Another accomplished academic fell afoul of Jimbo Wales’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ this week. This latest calumny involved the usual Star Chamber trial and subsequent banishment imposed by anonymous figures lacking published credentials. This week’s victim was a well-known mathematical physicist, a Director of a major research group and Professor at a major University.
His efforts to clarify the origins of a set of dubious physics equations, given undue prominence by Wikipedia, led to an attack by a mob of editors during a heated debate. Many of the professor’s adversaries openly admitted that they had no knowledge of the subject matter, but weighed in on the dispute nonetheless. The episode is discussed in this Wikipedia Review forum thread.
Wikipedia Reviewer DocGlasgow wrote this essay on Wikipedia last week, attempting to address the major problems facing Wikipedia’s treatment of Biographies of Living People (BLPs). These articles are at the front line of Wikipedia’s culture of defamation and anonymous revenge. DocGlasgow’s full study can be found here.
DocGlasgow : To solve or mitigate a problem, you must first define it. This page is a workshop with the intention of trying to answer “What is the BLP problem(s)?”. Suggestions on the talk page are very welcome.
Ways in which a biographical article can be harmful to the subject
By harmful I mean either legally or ethically: that which may cause unjustifiable and avoidable harm or distress to the subject.
1. Un-reverted nonsense
(Including bad-faith personal attacks, and patently obvious untruths).
Vandalism is probably the aspect most easily understood by Wikipedians, it includes articles which have been blanked, filled with nonsense, or include obvious abuse. Although this is perhaps the category on which most article patrolers focus, it is usually the least harmful to the subject. Contrary to popular opinion, abusive commentary (”tom smith is an asshole”) or patent untruth that would deceive none (”Britney comes from mars” “Prince Philip is really a woman”) are highly unlikely to be legally actionable, and although it may embarrass or annoy the subject, actually reflect worse on Wikipedia than they do on the target. Verdict — whilst the crime-prevention element of vandal slayers are obsessed with it, it is in fact mostly harmless.
2. False allegations
Here we are talking about the untrue, but credible, allegation inserted into an article. Some of these may be intended as vandalism, others may have more malicious intentions. Whatever the case, these may cause the Foundation legal concern (it is not the point of this examination to consider the Foundation’s immunity). More importantly, they can be distressing to the subject, or indeed patently damaging to the reputation, career, or commercial interests of the individual. Whilst false allegations and rumours are the stuff of the internet, the fact that Wikipedia is a self-described “encyclopedia” which protests a commitment to factual accuracy, may lend credibility to untruths. Mirrors and google may perpetuate the lies even if it is removed from Wikipedia. Verdict – highly harmful.
“Director IJsbrand van Veelen goes looking for the truth behind Wikipedia. In this film, “Wikipedians,” the folks who spend their days writing and editing articles, explain how the online encyclopedia works. In addition, the parties involved discuss Wikipedia’s ethics and quality of content. It quickly becomes clear that there are camps of both believers and critics.
The documentary introduces us to the main players in the debate: Jimmy Wales (founder and head Wikipedian), Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia, now head of Wiki spin-off Citizendium), Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy), Phoebe Ayers (a Wikipedian in California), Ndesanjo Macha (Swahili Wikipedia, digital activist), Tim O’Reilly (CEO of O’Reilly Media, the “inventor” of Web 2.0), Charles Leadbeater (philosopher and author of We Think, about crowdsourcing), and Robert McHenry (former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica).”
Time : 48:12
Broadcast date: April 7, 2008
Direction: IJsbrand van Veelen
Interviews: IJsbrand van Veelen / Marijntje Denters / Martijn Kieft
Research: William de Bruijn / Marijntje Denters
Production: Judith van den Berg
Commissioning editors: Jos de Putter / Doke Romeijn
Previous Wikipedia Review editorials have exposed Wikipedia’s failure to apply basic ethical standards when writing about living people, and its capacity to cause serious harm to the reputations of the subjects of their biographies. This post reviews the efforts of Barry Kort (Wikipedia user name: Moulton), an academic who is currently a Visiting Scientist at MIT’s Media Lab, and examines the problems he encountered improving the Wikipedia biography of colleague Rosalind Picard.
Picard is a director at MIT’s media lab, and was one of many academics manipulated by propagandists advocating the teaching of the pseudo science “Intelligent Design” in US schools. Picard had signed a petition later misused by Creationist advocates as evidence of a “Dissent from Darwinism” without her consent.
In turn, editors at Wikipedia stridently opposed to “Intelligent Design” maintained a biography of Picard that was little more than a hatchet job aimed to discredit her assumed beliefs. Which were in fact unrelated to the Creationists’ goals, but had become entangled with their propaganda nonetheless.
When Moulton arrived at the article, it looked like this.
Having failed to enforce a modicum of biographical standards on the article, Moulton was soon blocked from the site. His situation is a common occurrence for those who attempt to combat dominant cliques at Wikipedia.
Moulton initially wrote this blog post about his experiences, which was reprinted in the online newspaper at Utah State University. The article includes a link to another essay called “Scathing Glances” on Moulton’s own personal blog, which goes into more detail. The below post is a reproduction of Moulton’s second essay written in August 2007: