A false Wikipedia 'biography'

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We have discussed at TW both the power and the frailty of Wikipedia. Here is salutory story of someone accused of direct complicity in the murders of John and Bobby Kennedy in the pages of Wikipedia. Took him from May 26 to Oct 5 to get Wiki to remove it. The article refers to Wikipedia saying they have a budget of "about one million dollars in 2006", but does not say the source of the funding.

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Wikipedia's website acknowledges that it is not responsible for inaccurate information, but Wales, in a recent C-Span interview with Brian Lamb, insisted that his website is accountable and that his community of thousands of volunteer editors (he said he has only one paid employee) corrects mistakes within minutes. My experience refutes that.
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Wales, Wikipedia's founder, told me that BellSouth would not be helpful. "We have trouble with people posting abusive things over and over and over," he said. "We block their IP numbers, and they sneak in another way. So we contact the service providers, and they are not very responsive."

Comments

He is obviously very angry

...there is a good write up too in NYT with a lot more on Wikipedia.

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The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.

Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?

Still, the question of

Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?

to me it doesnt seem like wikipedia is taking the trust issue seriously enough. IMO they would benefit from contemplating or introducing some type of a trust mechanism system (think reputation system in vbulletin, feedback mechanisms on ebay and amazon, etc) -- otherwise the trust issue will only grow larger and larger.

of course, the more enforcement becomes an issue, the more the cost of enforcing grows, and the more a non-profit with no business model simply proves to be an unsustainable system for enabling future growth.

Can you trust it?

Can you trust what you read in the paper, see on TV (ala CBS fiasco), Blogs, or find in a regular encyclopedia?

Wiki is no better, no worse, just the current whipping boy.

>>Can you trust what you

>>Can you trust what you read in the paper

the issue is a lot less severe IMO because mainstream media is a very business-like environment and hence are incentivized to develop proper journalistic procedures. wikipedia as a free for all with no economic incentive lacks this, and hence is too prone to becoming about personal incentives (i.e. i don't like XYZ, so let me post a negative wiki entry on them, no cost to me, brings me benefit because i dont like XYZ).

blogs suffer a bit from the same problem, but good bloggers know that their blog is a vehicle for acquiring trust and hence are open about their identity and are incentivized to taking the time to produce quality content.

as long as the unreliability

as long as the unreliability of Wikipedia is known to all and borne in mind whenever someone is referencing it, there's no harm. Wikipedia contains a great deal of info and is a good starting point for an essay, but I would never cite a wiki page or even list it in a bibliography

Which mainstream media?

The liberal media, the left wing media, the right wing media?

All 3 would put a different spin on just about any event you can imagine.

yup but

in the mainstream media you generally know what the bias is when you choose to buy it. There are clear editorial policies and you can be pretty sure what angle they're going to take.

With Wikipedia because it has a variety of writers all with their own and undisclosed bias you have no idea in what context to read the page.

No worse than MSM

> Wiki is no better, no worse, just the current whipping boy.

IncrediBILL, I completely agree with you on this.

Look at the venerable NYTimes for goodness sake (Judith Miller, and what's-his-name who just made stuff up willy nilly...?)

If anything, the MSM is hampered by a "me too" cautiousness/sheeple-ness due to a need to appease advertisers, not piss off any profitable demographic group, etc.

* * *

But on the other hand, isn't comparing MSM against WK a bit like apples and oranges here? Sure, WK has a News component, but it's more of an encyclopedia than anything else, IMHO. So what's worse, then, having the occasional inaccuracy or biasedness in some controversial or "uninteresting" entries in WK, or having grossly-outdated and often just-plain-wrong-today science "facts" and such in official paper encyclopedias?

I agree with Adam

...mostly. But I would say that, because Wikipedia seems to be becoming a default resource (other sites displaying its content, people using it to settle arguments), it needs more editorial oversight. I could join and immediately change articles to whatever I wanted. It would get caught eventually, but why wait?

New members should be put on editorial moderation for some period of time, until it's established that any falsehoods they published are more likely errors than sabotage. If that slows down the free flow of information a bit, I'd say that's better than treating false information as correct because it's on the Wikipedia and no one's removed it yet.

CNN

Seigenthaler and Wales are on CNN (US) right now.

kidmercury, are you american perchance...

putting your life and your faith in the MSM.

We know that MSM (the whole Iraq war lead up) is a willing participant in active deception which has cost tens of thousands of lives.

I'm not sure you can pin lies of that scope and with such consequence on the Wikipedia. Not yet anyway.

Nevertheless, they certainly should move to an editor ranking/trust system. Computers make it easy to do, à la Ebay.

The difficulty will be who disciplines the supervisors.

If it's entirely democratic (Ebay), the demographic bent of Wikipedia will leave us with a tyranny of pimply young American guys with too keen an interest in the internet and video games (in the English version). Who knows what the French or Dutch wikipedia demographics are?

Or those louts and cretins from littlegreenfootballs.com would descend en masse to "correct the bias" - giving each other reputation pats on the back until Wikipedia becomes just another MSM tirade against all Middle Easterners...whether Persian or Arab, on its way to justifying genocide.

(Go and have a look for yourselves at the hate strewn landscape over at LGF and see the LGFers coordinate group attacks if the above seems incredible to you. Many of them hoot and holler for immediate nuclear strikes on any number of cities around the world, most prominently Iran at the present time.)

Certainly growing pains. But much better information and much better references out than you get from Google, eighty per cent of the time.

"Seigenthaler and Wales are on CNN (US) right now."

Andrew Orlowski in the Register has a write up on the TV interview. Whether you agree with him or not, its a good read.

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Few Norwegians are now unfamiliar with the site, after it won a publicity bonanza this month thanks to coverage on TV and in the national press. Unfortunately, it wasn't the kind the Wikipedians might have wished for. Prime Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg found himself labelled a paedophile who had served prison time for his offenses. Both facts were false.
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In fact, we can extend the metaphor further, by looking at Wikipedia as a massively scalable, online role-playing game, or RPG. Players can assume fictional online identities - and many "editors" do just that. And drive-by shootings are common.

But the rules of the game are shifting, complex, and far from transparent.

Yet another hatchet job from Orlowski

I actually read his entire editorial, as much as it pained me.

It was:
- absolutely one-sided
- factually incorrect
- as always, obnoxiously anti-blogger/anti-google/anti-commons

Wikipedia has a lot of problems. I agree that there should be rule changes (and, on a separate matter, a much less geeky editing interface... WYSIWYG wiki anyone? How hard COULD it be for crying out loud?!)

But having Orlowski fake an intelligent commentary on Wikipedia is like me serving as a sportscaster for boxing events.
1) I absolutely despise the sport and have no respect for it whatsoever.
2) I couldn't come close to speaking intelligently about the sport's intricacies or philosophical foundations.

Grr. Remind me NOT to read Orlowski when I'm already even mildly cranky... [sigh]

P.S. -- Ronsard... completely agree with you about MSM and LGF. While many left-wing blogs aren't a whole lot better, I still am stunned at the stark and frankly scary vitriol spouted on many right-wing blogs. Personally, I think the world would honestly be a better place WITHOUT 99% of the politics blogs in existence nowadays, but I digress...

my basic point is that

my basic point is that everyone does stuff based on incentives. for instance, i'm writing this right now because self-expression feels good; hence self-expression is the incentive for me posting.

what is the incentive to create articles in wikipedia? perhaps it is the same -- self-expression, a desire to share information, etc. or perhaps it is the desire to harm someone else. or perhaps it is the desire to spam wikipedia to get links back to my site.

businesses are incentivized to serve their customers. if your customer is a hate-spewing monster, than you deliver what that hate-spewing monster wants. i just dont believe wikipedia can serve its "customers" (regular web users) because there isnt any incentive to do so, aside from charity, which i dont think is a large enough incentive in our current world.

also, comparing wikipedia to news outlets isnt viable; their objectives are different (encyclopedia-style information vs news).

km, people do things for other reasons than self-interest

Somebody read Ayn Rand and believed her.

People do things for other reasons than self-interest. If you can't see outside of the tedious and limited model of absolute self-interest, I heartily recommend a trip to somewhere in the world outside the shopping mall belt (that world exists - I promise you).

As far as comparing MSM and Wikipedia, it was you who argued for the MSM as a source of reliability and trust.

>>Can you trust what you read in the paper

the issue is a lot less severe IMO because mainstream media is a very business-like environment and hence are incentivized to develop proper journalistic procedures.

When the MSM is discredited, you move all the goalposts.

When we demonstrate that the Encyclopedia Britannica is largely drawn up by conservative Englishmen mourning the fall of their empire who see the world through an anglocentric prism - where will the goalposts move then?

Yes, the Wikipedia needs to add at least one layer of protection - but no, charity is alive and well in the world.

Some people just like contributing to society. For some, it makes them feel good. For others, it's a kind of duty. Those who contribute don't need to incentivized (ghastly word), they just need to not be denigrated, abused or cynically dismissed for their good works.

altruism?

there really is no such thing. We all receive reward for actions we choose to take, that's just a fact of life, the rewards aren't always obvious or material, but they exist :)

That said "it makes them feel good" is enough of a reward (in fact the best one, a lot of people would argue). A lot of people genuinely spend a lot of time and effort contributing to online projects for no reason other than they like doing it.

The thing is I don't quite see what Wikipedia could do? If you want to destroy someones reputation badly enough you'll probably wait for a couple of years to do it if its a good opportunity, or you might spend a few years happily helping out with no ulteria motive and then get upset about something and turn psycho. Sure they could probably stop the drive-bys but real hate type stuff is almost impossible to police.....

>>As far as comparing MSM

>>As far as comparing MSM and Wikipedia, it was you who argued for the MSM as a source of reliability and trust.

perhaps i poorly communicated my idea. my point was that mainstream media is a business, and hence they are incentivized to serve their customers. if you are a liberal media news outlet, you have liberal customers, and hence develop processes to deliver news with a liberal spin. if you are a conservative news outlet, the same holds true, except you put a conservative spin on things. with wikipedia, it is not a business, and hence there is no real concept of serving the customer, and hence there are no processes in place to properly align incentives.

that is my only point. as for incentives being a ghastly term, i suppose it is a matter of choice, although i think gurtie really hit the nail on the head:

altruism? there really is no such thing. We all receive reward for actions we choose to take, that's just a fact of life, the rewards aren't always obvious or material, but they exist :)

and with wikipedia as this non-profit free for fall, i think the rewards are not properly aligned/incentivized.

Altruism

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altruism?

there really is no such thing. We all receive reward for actions we choose to take, that's just a fact of life, the rewards aren't always obvious or material, but they exist :)

That said "it makes them feel good" is enough of a reward (in fact the best one, a lot of people would argue). A lot of people genuinely spend a lot of time and effort contributing to online projects for no reason other than they like doing it.

There really is such a thing, and your second paragraph describes it pretty well, Gurtie. If your only award for helping someone is that it feels good to do so, that's altruism. As far as I'm concerned it's perfectly alright to find it pleasant to be of use to others. Altruism does not require suffering. That would be martyrdom.

well said qwerty

A lot of the rest of us seem to be spending too much time reading the latest marketing handbooks.

There is life beyond the next sale, there is life beyond pure self-interest.

It's a good life. Highly recommend a walk outside the pen.

Wikipedia is not a profit play either - it was originally conceived primarily to be of use. If some of us and some others feel compelled to pervert that vision, the problem lies with us and not with the vision.

Protecting that vision in the wilderness of the internet is a concern. But that the internet has become the hunting grounds for half the scam artists of the world does not damn the internet nor the people who use it to share information and improve the world.

This is not a time for cynicism but a time for action. How can Wikipedia be made better, how can what is good in Wikipedia be protected, while preserving its flourishing organic growth.

Save your cynicism for talk of WMD and the terrorists lurking in the bush.

no thats not altruism Qwerty :)

believe me, I studied biology and psychology. I'd have failed both if I called that altruism :)

I didn't say everyone is cynical, and I'm not cynical about Wikipedia, I think its great. But that said you have to accept that there are people out there acting on their own agendas and that Wikipedia is currently an easy place for those people to target if they're that way inclined. A discussion about that is valid.

And I really don't see anyone here damning the internet nor the people who use it? Where on earth did you get that from Ronsard?

you don't damn the internet, you damn all the world

by not admitting the possibility of altruism.

By allowing only self-interest as possible human motivation, along with kidmercury.

If that's the world you live in, I am sorry for that, but there are nurses out there working to help others when they could be making more money in business, there are students studying ecology instead of business, there are recent graduates volunteering to go to teach in Africa, there are older people who give much of their time to charity instead of their golf handicap.

Just because this lot fantasises about burning around racetracks in Porsches until the next sharp bend and the life-ending explosion in a culmination of material waste and pointless selfishness doesn't make the whole world so.

My Gas-Guzzling, Neo-Con Racecar and I Would Appreciate It

Can we get a little less "pie in the sky" philosophy and more discourse on a forward looking Wikipedia assessment? Just a thought.

...

Ronsard, all I can say is that I hope for your sake you feel good after any kind act you perform and don't only equate reward with money :)

Suggestions on how Wikipedia could move forward? Exactly as they are doing I guess. If they started to not allow 'unproved' editors then they would loose a lot of the breadth and depth of the editing that they currently have. To me that would be worse than accepting the risk that sometimes things will be wrong.

Pre-moderation of Wikipedia wouldn't work as far as I can see. Even with a lot of paid researchers checking the facts out. But some form of that might be the way to go?

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