January 31, 2006

Rep. Marty Meehan Edits His Own Wikipedia Entry
— Ace


We all have thought Congress toys the truth at times. Now, there appears to be proof of it at Wikipedia.

The publicly edited online encyclopedia says it has instituted a one-week ban on Congress from making additions or changes to the site. The ban follows discovery that a senior staff for a Massachusetts congressman authorized changes to his Wikipedia biography that distorted facts.

According to a newspaper investigation, staff for Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan made changes to Meehan’s biography that replaced negative yet accurate information with content having a more positive slant. Among the changes: removing references to Meehan’s promise to serve only eight years.

And Wikipedia has found thousands of other changes originating from Congressional computers, including the addition to one entry about a Congressman, noting that he "smells like cow dung."

Wikipedia may ban Congressional computers from editing the site. Won't help, of course. All of these people have home computers that can't easily be screened out.

I've always thought this was a naive and quixotic venture. You really can't take the author out of authorship. We're witnessing a cybernetic tragedy of the commons. With no one owning information, everyone's allowed to abuse it as they wish.

Thanks to Andrew's Dad.

Posted by: Ace at 07:46 PM | Comments (12)
Post contains 220 words, total size 2 kb.

1 I think you're being a little pessimistic. Of course, being an administrator on the English Wikipedia, I'm not exactly unbiased myself. It can't be denied that Wikipedia has worked fairly well so far. What we're seeing now, and what's been making the news lately, are signs of stress upon the project and its model, which are to be expected given Wikipedia's dizzying growth. I'm surprised we don't have more big problems, to be honest, given that Wikipedia is one of the top fifty websites in terms of traffic.

The "tragedy of the commons" analogy is a bit stretched, I think. Wikipedia isn't a neutral space that anyone is free to use as he or she desires. The project has policies and guidelines, with varying degrees of seriousness. Neutral point of view and verifability are two of the core principles, enforced by the community. Mainly this takes the form of actions by administrators. Editors aren't all "equal" in the sense of abilities, so it's ultimately impossible for someone to hijack an article and create his or her own version of the truth. Sure, people try, but drastic measures can be taken if necessary, even "real-life" legal ones (although the Foundation hasn't taken that route yet). Basically, what I'm saying is I think you're seeing Wikipedia as some sort of online anarchy, which is not true. We even have a whole page dedicated to what Wikipedia is not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:What_Wikipedia_is_not

Posted by: Slowking Man at February 01, 2006 12:01 AM (ZbpHL)

2 Slowking Man: Thanks for the comment. So what's the plan for coping with the tremendous growth rate and the concomitant abuses? Ride out the surge and hope the system catches up at some point?

Posted by: geoff at February 01, 2006 12:21 AM (vpYuK)

3 I find Wikipedia an extraordinarily useful resource. I trust it completely on non-controversial topics and, as far as I've seen, it does a good job on controversial ones, too (judging, in all cases, by a comparison to other sources). It's especially valuable to me for images, as they trace the copyright status and post that with the jpg. So far, by the time I read about one of these wikivandalism dealies, the page has long since been corrected.

I truly don't understand the amount of ridicule Wiki catches. Kathryn Lopez on the Corner yesterday described it as "ridiculous" to ban the House IP, because the system is so open to abuse. That's like calling it ridiculous to arrest shoplifters, because the goods are just openly lying around in the store.

Is it because the founder reads like an egregious lefty?

Posted by: S. Weasel at February 01, 2006 03:22 AM (rasT+)

4 Wow... someone who actually uses the economic term Tragedy of the Commons correctly... I'm speechless.

Posted by: Beck at February 01, 2006 05:02 AM (ZyH0M)

5 Didn't something happen to LaShawn Barber about a year ago?
Seems like she riled up a bunch of lefties and they trashed her Wiki entry.

Posted by: Retired Geezer at February 01, 2006 06:44 AM (b8LOf)

6 geoff:
Heh, well, you could describe it that way. I certainly agree that Wikipedia procedures and policy have fallen behind the project's growth. There are some signs they're catching back up, though. We've hacked together a somewhat effective system of dispute resolution, which ultimately terminates in an elected Arbitration Committee with authority to issue long-term bans and order other measures. There's also ongoing discussion on implementing a system to allow users to rate revisions of articles, with the main goal being to establish "stable" reference versions of articles for viewing by the non-editing public and incorporation into a possible print edition (see http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Article_validation). And there are periodic efforts at reforming the process of deleting crap articles and reforming not-so-crap ones. I see our basic problem to be a need for more active editors. Given enough editors, problems tend to get worked out over time.

S. Weasel:
Hmm, Jimbo a lefty? Now, I'm not trying to jump to a kneejerk defense of him. I don't know a great deal about him, to tell the truth; he only occasionally edits and posts to the mailing lists. He does describe himself as a libertarian, as well as an Objectivist (think Ayn Rand). Of course, "libertarians" tend to fall all over the left-right political spectrum. He might be left-of-center--I don't honestly know--but he doesn't come off as a raging Howard Dean clone.

Posted by: Slowking Man at February 01, 2006 09:17 PM (ZbpHL)

7 Slowking Man:

Thanks again for your insight into the innards of Wikipedia, which stands to become the preeminent online inf*rmation resource if it continues as it has. But you knew that.

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