Thursday, April 27, 2006

Look it Up in Your Wikipedia
I saw this on - The most trusted name in news, this morning, and at the end of the piece a few swipes are taken at Wikipedia that I think are unfair. To be fair to one of the people making the swipes, if I was in his shoes I would probably feel the same way he does about Wikipedia. He has good reason. But basically it's the same kind of blame the Internet for every evil in the world that you see in the mainstream media every day. Listening to the news these days you would think that was invented by and for the sole purpose of connecting pedophiles with children. It's not that I don't recognize the real dangers out there. I do. Teenagers should not put personal information on Myspace and should be supervised by adults when they use it. But isn't that just an extension of what we've always known since we were able to understand what our parents were telling us. Don't talk to strangers, don't tell them about yourself, and that parents need to watch what their children do. Not just online, everything. It's really that simple. It all gets blown out of proportion in the press.

At the end of the article it touches on the case of John Seigenthaler Sr. and an update to a Wikipedia article that falsely linked him to the Kennedy assassination. It wasn't discovered and corrected for 132 days. But the main story of the article is about a campaign manager who updated the Wikipedia article on their political opponent, including information that was true, but completely unfair and hurtful. Specifically the article refers to this:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Georgia gubernatorial candidate accepted the resignation of her campaign manager Wednesday after he was accused of changing the online Wikipedia biography of an opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox's opponent, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, said Cox campaign manager Morton Brilliant altered an online encyclopedia entry to include a reference to Taylor's son being arrested for DUI after an accident that killed his passenger.

And they note that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone as if this is the problem. The interesting thing is that this appears on CNN's site and no doubt elsewhere in the mainstream media. Are you going to tell me that a campaign manager, or any other political operative hasn't leaked damaging information to the news media and they've run it? Sometimes information that's not true. In this case it was. It was unfair, but it was true. It happens all the time. Daily in fact. So much so that I would bet anyone willing to take the bet that Wikipedia on any given day is more accurate than the mainstream press. Precisely because anyone can edit it. And what they don't say is that edits are reviewed and don't go directly on the site. Anyone can dispute an edit and controversial material is marked as such. That's a lot better control over content than you have with the mainstream media.

But this is the typical bias, and I think it is a fear, that anything that is open and free and isn't controlled from the top down is dangerous. In a sense it is, but it is mostly dangerous to the media who are not free (you have to pay for their information or listen to advertisements that pay for them), and who exercise that top down control over what is allowed to be said. Because once people realize that it doesn't have to be that way, and through the blogosphere and Wikipedia they are realizing it, those media are in trouble.

What I don't think is fair, but I can understand why Seigenthaler feels that way, is that Wikipedia is a, "flawed and irresponsible research tool." That's simply not true. Wikipedia is an excellent research tool and no more flawed than any other. And at least as accurate. Anyone who doubts it should simply take a look and compare it to other resources. And if you find it valuable and are able, you should support it.

Final note: The campaign manager's name (above) is ironic. Apparently he was not very.

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