Wikipedia is not the truth!

Wikipedia is not as good as you might think. Things written on Wikipedia are copied “verbatim” by other sites. By the time somebody checks the wikipedia story, he finds the verbatim copies and sees them as confirmation of the wikipedia story. And so the story stays on Wikipedia, spreading wrong ideas to schools, teachers, and you and I.

Spreading wrong information on the internet can have very big consequences, and John Seigenthaler knows this by personal experience.

This is a typical case where the many good people suffer from the few rotten apples out there. Since Wikipedia is usually editted by the same people (although a large group), I think a simple, non-intrusive useraccount system would be the answer to these problems. Anonymous internet access is good, but when you write something about someone, I believe in the “open visor”. If you write about a real person (with first and lastname), you should sign with your own real name (or at least be traceable). If you write about an alias, you should sign with your oen alias on that same system (or at least be traceable).

If the person who wrote the wikipedia article had done this, this whole situation could have been stopped soon. Maybe the writer didn’t even do this on purpouse, but just got the wrong information. He could be contacted, the article could be corrected, and we all would have learned from it without too much harm done.

So, to all writers out there, be careful, because these days people still think that “what is printed (on screen) is the truth”. And certainly on the Internet, alas that is not the case.

And yes, even on this blog I can make mistakes. But unlike wikipedia, my posts are traceable.

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2 Responses to Wikipedia is not the truth!

  1. rolfje says:

    Original reply by Aneka Bean:

    Not afraid to post my real name, I would like to point out that if you read the Policies on the Wikipedia site for content, they do not claim to be the truth.

    It’s a community which strives to engineer a encyclopedia-like source of information on the internet, but with the collaboration of many people, this may take some time. Anyone can participate in correcting errors, and only focusing on those who do not makes one part of the problem, not the solution.

    That said, I do agree that many people seem to take written word for truth, even on the internet, not realizing that the same rules do not apply to the virtual world as they do to actual published works.

    Anonymity itself is not the problem, I believe, but the training people gain in society that leads them to believe that if their name is not in it, they are safe, and not considered responsible. Also, the lack of care other sites take in verifying the source they are copying before they copy it is also to blame. Knowing the source of Wikipedia information is fallible, I always check the discussion pages to see if there are any outstanding issues, and I check references to note if they are viable.

    In the article you linked about John Seigenthaler, I saw no note of what measures he took to inform the Wikipedia during the 132 days that it was up that it was incorrect, I only seemed to note information on how he attempted to trace the one responsible. Is the issue not with the fact that the information was wrong, but with the lack of retribution on the perpetrator?

    This blog article was written a while ago, and I do expect that things may have changed for you, the writer, since then, but it seems to me that there is more to this issue written between the lines of what you have authored.

  2. rolfje says:

    Hi Aneka,

    Yes the post was a while ago, and I only noticed your reply until I ported it to the new (this) wordpress site. Not noticing new replies was one of the reasons for migrating.

    I only partially agree with you that anonymity is not the real problem. I think it is the combination of anonymity, and the speed of the information flow. If somebody writes a Wikipedia page without checking, it can be up there for about say a day before it gets corrected.

    In that time, lots of people may have copied it, even without knowing (browser caches). If the uncorrected post contained information which could hurt somebody, the damage is already done. Correcting the post will only prevent making the problem from getting bigger, but will never solve it.

    Now, in 2008, we have similar problems. Some kids over here are making so called “happy slapping” video’s. They walk up to an innocent stranger, slap him in the face (or worse) while filming with a mobile phone camera. This video gets uploaded to YouTube.

    When the kids get caught, they are fined and whatever, but the victim is still visible on YouTube and other sites which may have copied the contents. The video can have a permanent impact on the victims life, career, relation, whatsoever. These kids don’t seem to understand the rammifications of uploading these video’s to YouTube.

    It’s not Wikipedia or Youtube who are the problem, but anonimity combined with the speed of the content spreading. We can not slow down the speed, and loosing anonymity can cause even bigger problems.

    Suppose I can find out somebodies address. I read his blog about his vacation. Knowing that he is on vacation, I can safely break into his house. So there’s a downside on blogging/twittering whatever you are doing to the net.

    People need to find a healthy threshold on what to write (blog) on the net, and be careful when writing, because the written word is a powerful one. This discussion will be an endless one, because the internet is constantly changing, and people need to learn new uses and bundaries.

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