Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dirty tricks at Wikipedia?

There has been a recent expose that members of Staff at the US congress have been editing the Wikipedia on-line encyclopaedia to sanitise the biographies of senators and members of congress.
For those of you who haven’t used it - Wikipedia is a creative commons project that can be edited by the readers, so that hopefully a consensus is reached.
This works well with neutral subjects, but checking the debate over entries for Stalin or Hitler for example, shows that there can be no consensus over political subjects.
According to the BBC: "Using the public history of edits on Wikipedia, researchers collected the internet protocol numbers of computers linked to the US Senate and tracked the changes made to online pages. The site lists half a dozen prominent biographies that had been changed by Senate computers, including those of Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. "
This is of course a warning for those who rely uncritically on the web for factual information. The creative commons concept can be subverted by those who shout loudest, or edit most persistently.

Wikipedia tightens the Rules:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4502846.stm

Congress 'made Wikipedia changes:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4695376.stm

1 comment:

Inductance said...

As a regular contributor to Wikipedia, I don't think it is actually right to say articles are based on consensus. Article are meant to be written from a neutral point of view. This is both a strength and a weakness. Along with the Verifiability policy this makes it possible for wikipedia to deal with contentious issues. This can work quite well (see for example Global Warming where I think the article, although frequently disputed, is of a good standard).

Its open nature does make it prone to the dirty tricks mentioned bu,t as for open source software, if enough people are watching the article, any changes can be scrutinised. If it is an article no one is interested in though, errors or distortions are more likely to persist.

The downside of all this is that it will never be "politically correct" in the original sense of that term i.e. conforming to some party line. It can also contain innacuracies or outright distortions - but so can any other source.

Overall, I would argue that Wikipedia is both a potential useful resource and something to which socialists should be contributing.