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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

User beware

Wikipedia has become an essential source of information for millions of online users. A little too informative for some:

"The staff of U.S. Rep Marty Meehan wiped out references to his broken term-limits pledge as well as information about his huge campaign war chest in an independent biography of the Lowell Democrat on a Web site that bills itself as the 'world's largest encyclopedia,' The Sun has learned.

"The Meehan alterations on represent just two of more than 1,000 changes made by congressional staffers at the U.S. House of Representatives in the past six month. Wikipedia is a global reference that relies on its Internet users to add credible information to entries on millions of topics.

"Matt Vogel, Meehan's chief of staff, said he authorized an intern in July to replace existing Wikipedia content with a staff-written biography of the lawmaker.

"The change deleted a reference to Meehan's campaign promise to surrender his seat after serving eight years, a pledge Meehan later eschewed. It also deleted a reference to the size of Meehan's campaign account, the largest of any House member at $4.8 million, according to the latest data available from the Federal Election Commission."

The nature of Wikipedia allows anyone to enter, change or add information. This story simply proves that the service is far from a totally reliable source.


Blogger Stev said...

Being a big fan of Wikipedia, I find this truly terrifying. I'm not sure how Wiki can address this problem and still hold Wikipedia as an open source encyclopaedia. I think perhaps the only way is to make all users free to add information, but the removal or modification of information needs to be authorised.

It's tricky, because doing that would require editors to monitor content, which takes away part of the open source nature of the project, but they really need to address the obvious current potential for abuse of the system.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 11:58:00 am  
Blogger Progressive Atheist said...

Generally I have found Wikipedia to be an excellent source of reliable information on many topics. My biggest gripe is with their treatment of the origins of Christianity. Many scholars have become frustrated with Wikipedia's deletion of criticisms of Christianity, especially those that question that Jesus ever existed.

There are also a few cases of people having been smeared by Wikipedia, and being unable to correct the record.

Wikipedia is a mixed bag.

There are several groups that have set up their own wiki-based mini-encyclopedias in opposition to

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 1:01:00 pm  
Blogger weezil said...

Brownie, I guess it's a matter of context. I have no particular opposition to display of a flag, but should it be a fashion accessory? If it is employed a garment, what message is one sending?

Mind, I'm not one to hold flags sacrosanct. Mark Twain once said "Sacred cows make the best hamburger." I grew up in the USA, being a kidkid in the Vietnam War era 1960s & 70s. Having a US flag sewn in to one's patched and tatty blue jeans was very much a valid political protest, indicative of the tatty state of the nation when embroiled in an unnecessary and invalid war. Burning a flag is a relatively harmless but strong political message, too. Where I come from, they call it freedom of speech.

However, it you're pissed as a newt and wrapped in the Aussie flag, just what is it you're telling the world?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 5:01:00 pm  
Blogger Stev said...

I think I speak for everyone here when I say 'Huh?'.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 5:20:00 pm  
Blogger James Waterton said...

Wow, Ant, big story there. Wikipedia may not be reliable because of its very nature. International scoop!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 8:56:00 pm  
Blogger orang said...

Well, back to Wikipedia... I have been suspicious of some of the content. Take a hot topic of say Israel/Palestine, one would expect some partisan entries and editing. How is this dealt with?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 10:14:00 pm  
Blogger JohD said...

Quite simple, if you have a lot of money, and a lot of time, you can sit there for months and re-instate anything you want re-instated, and delete anything you want to delete. If you go to wikipedia for information about Palestine, it is potluck whether you will find a pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli bias. Mostly it is pro-Israeli bias, as they have a large Jewish issues project team, and about two full-time Palestinian editors, who have to sleep sometimes.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 11:15:00 pm  
Blogger James Waterton said...

Orang : have you used Wikipedia much? Why not go to that very entry and have a look at the way they deal with it? And see how much bias you can pick.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 11:23:00 pm  
Blogger orang said...

yes i do, I have and I've picked a fair bit, but I'm "biased" so I wondered about anyone else's opinion-to see if it's just me.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 6:36:00 am  
Blogger orang said...

JohD said...
"Quite simple, if you have a lot of money, and a lot of time, you can sit there for months...."

That's how I imagined it. Judging by the reactions to Spielberg and his flick, and even to our poor old Ant. I can't imagine anything too critical remaining on an ever more frequently used on-line encyclopedia for too long.

Sort of on the same topic, we've now got Hamas trying to explain to the world that they're the forces of "good", lined up against Israel, Congress, EU, etc... Those boys have to get some spokespeople for chrissake! A couple of good looking women would be nice and some cultured middle European sounding accents like the Israelis do. No more "Balestinian Beeble" for Palestinian People. What is this, they have no concept of spin?

Thursday, February 02, 2006 6:47:00 am  
Blogger Stev said...

I'm not sure which particular articles you guys are looking at - obviously an open source information hub is going to have at least some biased information.

What is important though, in my opinion, is that any such article is disclaimed by a warning that 'the neutrality of this article is disputed' - together with, most often, a link to discussions about why the neutrality is disputed.

In the context of open source entries, this is all that can really be done.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 11:31:00 am  

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