When an online encylopedia goes bad
This entry comes from Guest Blogger RMHED, who probably doesn’t really care how you pronounce his name.
There sits on Wikipedia a short biography of a minor British showbiz personality - let’s call him Mr X. It is unloved and unwatched. How do I know this? Well, for over 7 weeks now, the article has contained two paragraphs of creative nonsense about Mr. X’s career. The first paragraph was added on April 22nd, the second on May 14th, and neither of these additions were referenced. Both paragraphs are humorous, especially the longer one, which goes into detail about a very downmarket game show Mr. X supposedly hosted. Needless to say, this game show is entirely fictional, but it was just plausible enough to cause me to actually check to make sure.
These two paragraphs now make up more than half of Mr. X’s short biography. Shouldn’t this poor abandoned biographical article be deleted? Or does its continued existence really help Wikipedia fulfill its mission of encompassing all human knowledge?
Or, is it more likely that it is an embarrassment, that any credible encyclopedia would be only too glad to be shot of? You’d certainly think so. Now, I wonder what would happen if this article were put up for deletion - it’s my guess that it would almost certainly be kept, and if Wikipedia’s ARSe (Article Rescue Squadron editors) get involved, then it’s even more likely. Once the ARSe unfurl their “inclusionist” banner upon an article, “deletionists” must be prepared to do battle.
I can’t help but wonder if Mr. X would see the funny side of all this. He probably would, as the nonsensical additions aren’t really malicious, though they just as easily could have been. It may well be that Mr. X would rather have an article on Wikipedia than not have one. Given that he’s in the entertainment industry, he may see anything that raises his profile as a good thing.
So what does this incident tell us about Wikipedia? For one thing flagged revisions would probably have prevented this, and the semi-protection of all biographies of living persons (BLP’s) would definitely have prevented it. Is it really that important, you may ask, since after all it was only silly nonsense that was added? If you don’t have an article about yourself on Wikipedia, then it’s probably hard to understand all the fuss. Wikipedia is an extremely powerful internet phenomenon, and many misguided people take its content at face value and do not question its veracity.
Try for a moment to imagine that there is a biographical article on Wikipedia about you, and anyone can edit this article, and add anything they like. While obvious vandalism usually gets quickly reverted by Wikipedia’s ever-expanding army of bots or by the marginally more human Recent Change Patrollers, anything that is slightly more subtle in tone will often slip through the protective net and could do untold damage to your reputation.
Over the last few years Wikipedia’s power to influence has grown enormously. Usually with power there comes responsibility, thus far the Wikipedia community has chosen to shun its responsibility, and the Wikimedia Foundation Board show no sign of thrusting responsibility upon Wikipedia. So where will it all end? Most likely in a law court, where one side or the other will achieve a pyrrhic victory of sorts.
Meanwhile, Mr. X’s biography remains in situ, complete with its fictional additions unreverted. I just hope he’s game for a laugh.