Dostoevsky, quantum physics, Lady Gaga and everything there is, ever was, some think exists but really don’t, no one knows exists but really does – Wikipedia has it all. It even has an answer to the question how many entries Wikipedia has. The answer is to be found in the Wikipedia article Wikipedia: Size of Wikipedia: There are currently 4,237,161 articles in the English Wikipedia. The number might’ve gone up as we speak…
A number of people I know personally, authored Wikipedia articles, being uniquely qualified to do so, and a few others edited existing entries. I thought of myself as moderately inquisitive person and yet, until recently, I was rather oblivious of the inner workings of Wiki-everything. Whatis.com, gives a sufficient definition of Wikipedia as a
…free, open content online encyclopedia created through the collaborative effort of a community of users known as Wikipedians. Anyone registered on the site can create an article for publication; registration is not required to edit articles.
Note: registered does not mean having your identity or credentials verified. “Wikipedia is intellectual democracy,” someone said. Sharp observation – so… poetic, I’d say if I’d have heard this said before reading Revenge, ego and the corruption of Wikipedia, the article by Andrew Leonard in Salon.
The by-line, a not too subtle The unmasking of a writer who took extraordinary advantage of online anonymity to pursue old vendettas, pretty much says it all. “A crowd-sourced labor of love,” as the author calls Wikipedia, has a tremendous Achilles hill. Achilles tendinitis virtually all over its voluminous body, I’d say. Unless detected and checked by another editor, anything — yes, ANYTHING! — can be added, removed, changed, twisted around or embellished in any Wikipedia article.
Robert Clark Young, whom Wikipedia describes as an American author of a novel, essays, short stories and journalism, used the editorial anonymity of the Wikipedian name “Qworty” to set a few scores with people — writers mostly — who simultaneously earned an entry in Wikipedia (good for them) and Mr. Young’s intense dislike (not so good for them). He also made several flattering embellishments to the Wikipedia article about himself under yet another anonymous name.
Mr. Young, as I understand, is the sort of strange person some of us ran across a few times in our lives and – just to be on a safe side – didn’t stop long enough to know better. The inglorious person of Mr. Young in itself was of little interest to me. The phenomenon of intellectual democracy, however, was.
Further research brought me to a rather unimaginatively put together site, straightforwardly called wikipedia-watch. With great interest I read about the John Seigenthaler’s Wiki-scandal. In 2005, someone with a huge ax to grind, repeatedly edited Mr. Seigenthaler’s Wiki bio with sentences like this:
“John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960’s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.”
Or this: “Many people say he killed President Kennedy but actually… he didn’t. He killed his wife.” Nice touch.
The article, written by John Seigenthaler Sr. himself, describes a long upward battle to weed out falsehoods that persistently appeared in his Wikipedia biography staying for as long as 132 days (!)
Appalling stuff, really. Rather than intellectual democracy, Wikipedia – at times at least – looks like intellectual anarchy, and I’d stitch that on a pillow if I were into stitching stuff on pillows.
Unlike print and broadcast companies, on-line “information providers” are protected under the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, and cannot be sued successfully for disseminating defamatory attacks on citizens. Nice to know.
Uncovering identities of internet trolls and unscrupulous Wikipedians has become an interesting sport as of late. Andrew Leonard’s article is precisely about this — how he succeeded in hunting down “Qworty” and unmasking him.
Once upon a time, someone joked that word can offend, dictionary – can kill. This joke might be lost on many who never had to handle dictionaries printed on paper, and weighing 10 pound in hard cover. It’s easy to reword it and apply to the subject of this post though. Wikipedia can really hurt…
Also, it’s no secret that hired PR professionals routinely rewrite Wikipedia articles to make their clients look more attractive and fend off any unflattering edits.
Thus check your sources, believe no one, watch out what’s written about you when crossing the road from oblivion to fame.
The Funniest Acts Of Wikipedia Vandalism Ever (according to Huff Post, although they aren’t all that funny) could be found here.
In conclusion – and in the spirit of this blog – my own (imaginary) mischief:
This painting has its own Wikipedia article, Ophelia (painting), and quite deservedly so. My imaginary act of Wiki vandalism would’ve been replacing the featured image by the one below and see how long it would stay there before someone notices. And hope the white bear wouldn’t sue me for defamation or character assassination.