Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wikipedia: Playground for Those With an Agenda

With a hat tip to Peter DiGaudio, the Texas Hold ‘Em blogger, the following from the Associated Press:
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that can be altered by anyone with a computer, has proved remarkably useful for pulling political dirty tricks.

Political operatives are covertly rewriting -- or defacing -- candidates’ biographical entries to make the boss look good or the opponent look ridiculous.

As a result, political campaigns are monitoring the Web site more closely than ever this election year.

Revisions made by Capitol Hill staffers became so frequent and disruptive earlier this year that Wikipedia temporarily blocked access to the site from some congressional Internet addresses. The pranks included bumping up the age of the Senate’s oldest member, West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, from 88 to 180, and giving crude names to other lawmakers.

The entry for Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia labeled him “too liberal” for his state, in part because of a contribution he received from a political action committee run by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. The man who doctored Marshall’s biography now works for his Republican challenger.

[. . .]

Wikipedia leapt into the news last year after the journalist and former Kennedy administration aide John Seigenthaler Sr. complained that someone had edited his Wikipedia entry to say that he had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The man who posted the false information said it had been a joke.

The flap prompted Wikipedia to adopt stricter controls, Wales said.

However, such oversight is probably minor, said Steven Jones, who teaches communications and technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Given the sheer size of Wikipedia and the sheer number of entries, it seems impossible that they could police it in an effective way,” Jones said.
DiGaudio became interested in this topic when he learned that a leftist had altered the article on the American Legion to assert that the organization has been and is fascist. Our conclusion then was that:
What we have, in the Wikipedia treatment of the American Legion, is an example of the fact that the material that appears in that online “encyclopedia” is no more reliable than that found elsewhere on the Internet, since the same sort of people who write garbage elsewhere on the ‘net can write the same garbage on Wikipedia.
Our policy, with regard to course papers submitted by students, is to refuse to allow the citation of Wikipedia. Most of what is there is doubtless true. But you just can’t be sure of any particular assertion.

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