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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

editing Wikipedia « Previous | |Next »
August 26, 2007

I see that the Howard's Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Defence and the NSW Premier's office have been rewriting political history on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to the point of falsification.

WilcoxQC.jpg
Wilcox

It's a new style of public relations as the Coalition is looking down the barrel of a devastating defeat that would put it on the opposition benches for at least six and probably nine years. It is the development of the WikiScanner (which traces the ISP origin of the person editing pages) which has highlighted that organisations such as the CIA, the Vatican as well our own Defence department and Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet editing information. And there are many others including Fox News. Now why isn't that a suprise?

Update: 27August
Though Wikipedia is my first port of call for information, I do not view Wikipedia to be a neutral and truthful information source, as it is a series of interpretations written from different perspectives. Tamsin Lloyd, in an op-ed in The Age entitled Why we can still trust Wikipedia, argues for neutrality:

Instead, it relies on a knowledge community, editors coming together from around the world to share their expertise, research and abilities in the interest of creating a repository of knowledge that anyone can access and contribute to; a noble goal in anyone's mind. No single entry is created by a single person. Every topic in the jungle of ideas is collaboratively edited, reshaped, added to, changed and perfected incessantly. But many cooks do not spoil the broth-instead they ensure that all possible opinions and views are heard, neutrality is maintained, and developments are added correctly.

Neutrality is a fiction as the posts are sites of conflicting interpretations that need to be critically viewed or read. Just like many a text.

However, what is different with Wikipedia is scrubbing Wikipedia entries to make a government look better and to attack their political enemies. What Fox News is doing is editing posts that don't fit in with partisan network’s political agenda.The next step would be for Fox News responding to being caught by taking aim at Wikipedia and undermining the cause of the network’s embarrassment at being caught. No doubt Fox News would claim they’re simply trying to make things fair and balanced, but the rest of us would see little more than revisionist history.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:41 PM | | Comments (12)
Comments

Comments

Lloyd is being a bit of an idealist there. Wiki is good for a quick overview but that's about it most of the time.

Still, it's an important resource and an important symbol of cooperation and it's great to see this interference exposed. Software speaks to power.

The double standards and hypocrisy of some people's descriptions of events seems without bounds.

Some questions and comments flow from this opinion:
Who placed the entries in the first place?
Were the entries on Wikipedia (note the spelling) factual?
Does the Opposition or their mates in State Labor Governments or Unions or other organisations submit or amend entries on Wikipedia?
Why is there so much concern about the authenticity of information on the web?
Who implicitly trusts Wikipedia to be accurate or factual?
Has anyone cared to note the lengths to which the latest in a succession of recent Opposition Leaders and Prime Ministerial aspirant has sought to deliberately control and limit information about himself? What does that say about an attitude to the free flow of information and freedom of speech?
It seems in some people's eyes that what's okay, right and legitimate for one side of politics is not for the other side. It would seem better to apply the same principles, expectations and values to all sides of politics, and probe with the same questions, relentlessly seeking the answers. Information from any source ought to be viewed and considered critically. It's simply not rational to suspend critical thinking and enquiry simply on the basis of what's listed in Wikipedia or for that matter, in any text or other information sources.

Wikipedia has this to say editorially about neutrality:

"Wikipedia has a neutral point of view, which means we strive for articles that advocate no single point of view. Sometimes this requires representing multiple points of view; presenting each point of view accurately; providing context for any given point of view, so that readers understand whose view the point represents; and presenting no one point of view as "the truth" or "the best view". It means citing verifiable, authoritative sources whenever possible, especially on controversial topics. When a conflict arises as to which version is the most neutral, declare a cool-down period and tag the article as disputed; hammer out details on the talk page and follow dispute resolution." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars

As with any secondary source it pays to go to the primary sources as well. The Wikipedia associated talk and history pages are also helpful in assessing the value of a Wikipedia entry.

wikipedia is a charming idea, which will be destroyed by government agencies, one way or another. a central source of fact and opinion is too attractive to the various 'ministries of truth' to be allowed to operate as the developers wished.

Lyn,
I guess that the Wikipedia argument is that users within the self-policing Wikipedia community often restore the undoctored versions of the articles. With thousands of users constantly monitoring content, the site operates on a kind of honour system in which users monitor articles for inflammatory or false information.

In such an environment it's not surprising that articles on politicians have been heavily edited from inside government offices.T he removal of criticisms, adding positive comments and inserted negative comments to the pages of political rivals is very widespread apparently in Canada, the US and the UK.

I guess they need to find ways to prevent vandalized versions or to lessen the number of defaced public articles.

Derek,
Controversy and rewriting is built into the model of an online encyclopedia that it is collaborative and multi-sourced. If Wikipedia calls itself "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," then that is another way of saying it is not fact-checked. Or spin-checked, for that matter.

MikeM,
The Wikipedia Scanner, will enhance the process of self-editing, since it is a search tool that traces the comments and edits on Wikipedia entries back to their source IP address. Consequently, the once-anonymous writers behind the entries are no longer quite so anonymous.

This research tool will eventually improve Wikipedia, since companies, celebrities and government agencies won't have as much confidence about making brazenly self-promotional or history-altering changes—if anyone can look them up easily, he says.

However, a would-be editor can always just go to the nearest WiFi hotspot or create a Web proxy to mask the company's IP address, and make the changes incognito.

Al,
This article by Katie Hafner in the New York Times is quite interesting on how Wikipedia addresses the conflict of interpretation problem. She says:

At its core, Wikipedia is not just a reference work but also an online community that has built itself a bureaucracy of sorts — one that, in response to well-publicized problems with some entries, has recently grown more elaborate. It has a clear power structure that gives volunteer administrators the authority to exercise editorial control, delete unsuitable articles and protect those that are vulnerable to vandalism.Those measures can put some entries outside of the "anyone can edit" realm.

The protection is usually temporary and is seen as a tool of quality control.

The administrators are all volunteers, most of them in their 20's. They are in constant communication — in real-time online chats, on "talk" pages connected to each entry and via Internet mailing lists. The volunteers share the job of watching for vandalism.

The WikiScanner is, on this account, another quality control tool--a shame and name one.

Gary,
maybe we need one of these in Australia

Wikipedia has this to say editorially about neutrality:

"Wikipedia has a neutral point of view, which means we strive for articles that advocate no single point of view. Sometimes this requires representing multiple points of view; presenting each point of view accurately; providing context for any given point of view, so that readers understand whose view the point represents; and presenting no one point of view as "the truth" or "the best view". It means citing verifiable, authoritative sources whenever possible, especially on controversial topics. When a conflict arises as to which version is the most neutral, declare a cool-down period and tag the article as disputed; hammer out details on the talk page and follow dispute resolution." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars

As with any secondary source it pays to go to the primary sources as well. The Wikipedia associated talk and history pages are also helpful in assessing the value of a Wikipedia entry.

Mike
It does represent a particular point of view.

For instance the entry on process philosophy in Wikipedia is quite different to the entry on process philosophy in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is a very different approach.

So you's have all just woken up that this resourse that can be edited by any tom dick or harry isn't completely factual. Well Der!