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Old 02-04-2006, 05:11 PM   #1 (permalink)
Deja Moo
 
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Playing WikiPolitics

I like everything about the *idea* of Wikipedia, but I have concerns about how information can be manipulated for political purposes. I saw what I believe to be evidence of manipulation, when Politicophile and I engaged in our partial-birth abortion debate last year. Wiki appears to be well aware of the problem and is taking steps to curtail abuse, including blocking Capitol Hill web addresses. What are your ideas for maintaining the veracity of an open source encyclopedia?


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On Capitol Hill, Playing WikiPolitics
By Yuki Noguchi
The Washington Post

Saturday 04 February 2006

Partisanship tests web site's policies.

This is what passes for an extreme makeover in Washington: A summer intern for seven-term Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) altered the congressman's profile on the Wikipedia Web site to remove an old promise that he would limit his service to four terms.

Someone doctored Sen. Robert C. Byrd's (D-W.Va.) profile on the site to list his age as 180. (He is 88.) An erroneous entry for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) claimed that he "was voted the most annoying senator by his peers in Congress."

Last week, Wikipedia temporarily blocked certain Capitol Hill Web addresses from altering any entries in the otherwise wide-open forum. Wikipedia is a vast, growing information database written and maintained solely by volunteers. In December, the database received 4.7 million edits from viewers, of which a relatively small number - "a couple of thousand," according to founder Jimmy Wales - constituted vandalism.

As the site becomes one of the most heavily visited spots on the Internet, it's testing the limits of collective smarts and integrity. But when it comes to Washington, where intrigue and passions run high, keeping such a public record is a particular challenge. Not only is there the obvious temptation to tinker with an opponent's bio, there's the whole subjective nature of political truth itself.

When the Wikipedia entry for Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) noted that he had criticized the president, for example, someone modified it to say that Reid had "rightfully" criticized the president. Someone also recast the state legislative record of Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), changing a passage reading, "one of her final, failed bills would have made it much more difficult for same-sex parents to see their children in the hospital during an emergency" to the less inflammatory, "Musgrave spent much of her time on social issues, particularly authoring bills to protect children and the traditional definition of marriage, as well as gun owner's rights."

A popular change in recent weeks has been deleting mentions of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) from politicians' profiles. Politically motivated edits aren't just coming from Capitol Hill; some comments are being traced back to other parts of political Washington, including the Justice Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Navy and Marines.

It seems like the kind of thing that must happen all the time on a site where absolutely anybody can weigh in on any topic. But such online behavior is actually the exception at Wikipedia, Wales said.

Wales started the project five years ago and, on the whole, said the experience has strengthened his faith in humanity. With some notable exceptions. "When somebody writes that Senator so-and-so is a [bad word], we figure that's not a legitimate edit," he said.

"The goal is to give people a free encyclopedia to every person in the world, in their own language," Wales said. "Not just in a 'free beer' kind of way, but also in the free speech kind of way."

Other open-source ventures on the Internet have proven productive; software developers have successfully designed and improved hundreds of online programs like Linux, which is made available for free to the public. Online marketplaces such as eBay Inc. rely on customer-satisfaction ratings to help buyers self-police their communities.

But, human nature being what it is, the experiment doesn't always work. Both the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, for example, have aborted projects that invited open critiques of their editorial content after being deluged with crude comments.

Washington has posed a special problem for Wikipedia, which is monitored by 800 to 1,000 active editor-volunteers. In the recent flare-up, a community of Wikipedia editors read a story in the Lowell Sun newspaper in which staffers for Meehan acknowledged replacing an entry on him with more flattering verbiage. That prompted last week's Capitol Hill Wikipedia blackout; all computers connected to servers at the House of Representatives, identified by a numerical Web address, were denied access.

In Meehan's case, the edits were carried out by an intern who was updating the congressman's profile on his own Web site and altered the existing Wikipedia entry to mirror that, said Sandra Salstrom, a spokeswoman for Meehan. Among other things, the intern deleted an earlier campaign promise by Meehan to retire after four terms.

Wikipedia considers this "whitewashing," a benign edit compared with, say, "bad faith" and "vandal" edits.

Generally, clear violations are taken down within minutes, as was the case with recent commentary on President Bush. (Because of the frequency of attempted vandalism on Bush's site, it is no longer open to editing by new or anonymous Wikipedia users.) In one case, however, an erroneous entry suggesting that John Siegenthaler Sr., a former special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had a role in the Kennedy assassinations went unnoticed for four months.

Kat Walsh of Herndon, a bassoonist and Wikipedia editor, said the site dissuades people from editing terms or profiles they feel personally invested in. But it happens, occasionally, and not just in politics: Some companies have tried to beautify their entries by entering press releases, she said.

Even Wales, the Wikipedia founder, has admitted repeatedly editing his own entry, a move he said he did openly but now regrets.

Standard operating procedure is to replace offensive alterations with the original text, and send a warning letter to the user of the Internet address that made the problematic change.

"You have not been blocked because you appear to have refrained from continued vandalism," a sample warning to Senate staffers reads. "We welcome contributions from all possible editors, including staff of the United States Congress. However, please comply with our policies, especially those pertaining to personal attacks and neutrality."

Neutrality can be a tricky or nuanced thing with political terms, which is why disputes are sometimes vetted by mediators and arbitration committees, also made up of volunteers, Wales said.

"Especially with politics, it gets more and more borderline on what's in bad faith or good faith," he said. "Reasonable people can find a way to work together. Unreasonable people get blocked, of course."
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Old 02-04-2006, 05:30 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Well wikipedia has serious problems, I will give you an example, the article on Kosova, it is constantly debated attacked changed and always disputed...at any one time there will be two sides the Serbs and the Albanians claiming that the article isn't neutral. So to combat the problem often information is taken out, it leaves the article dry, to battle speculation or one-sidedness you get the bare facts. In a sense that's OK but this type of information you can get basically anywhere on the internet, so in a way it's not helping wikipedia, itís giving an unhelpful entry on the subjects that people are most likely to look up. On the other hand, when an article isn't so debatable it usually turns out very good many sources are compiled a thorough and very informative description is done, especially on some scientific article or other less combative topics. I would say overall it's pretty good but on the issues that are controversial, it is sub par.
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Old 02-04-2006, 05:32 PM   #3 (permalink)
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This goes to the core of Wikipedia - how do you keep the project open while providing reliable information?

The answer will probably ultimately result in some sort of centralized editorial staff. Of course, this brings with it a myriad of other problems: bias and a lack of editorial responsiveness among the largest of them. Unfortunately, without some sort of central administration/editing, Wikipedia will probably never gain the acceptance of the traditional/main-stream research avenues.
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Old 02-04-2006, 05:42 PM   #4 (permalink)
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You mean things posted by people on the internet are not always true?

Whats funny is they think that blocking capitol hill addresses would make a difference if someone wanted to change something.
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Old 02-04-2006, 05:55 PM   #5 (permalink)
Deja Moo
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ScottKuma
This goes to the core of Wikipedia - how do you keep the project open while providing reliable information?

The answer will probably ultimately result in some sort of centralized editorial staff. Of course, this brings with it a myriad of other problems: bias and a lack of editorial responsiveness among the largest of them. Unfortunately, without some sort of central administration/editing, Wikipedia will probably never gain the acceptance of the traditional/main-stream research avenues.
I gather from the above article that Wiki does have a volunteer editorial staff that are assigned various subject matter. Maintaining the additions to events, biographies, etc. with political ramifications appears to be the most difficult arena to supervise.

You offer a good critique, Scott. Should Wiki even attempt to cover emerging events, or the biographies of living persons?
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Old 02-05-2006, 07:55 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elphaba
I gather from the above article that Wiki does have a volunteer editorial staff that are assigned various subject matter.
Yes, sort of. Everyone can do it, when you have an wikipedia account you can "observe" articles. You have a list of all of your observered articles together with the information of who made the last edit. With one click you can see the changes the last edit has made. With enough voluteers you can observe the whole wikipedia and keep an eye on vandalism.

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Originally Posted by Elphaba
Maintaining the additions to events, biographies, etc. with political ramifications appears to be the most difficult arena to supervise.
Yes, political articles of current topics and ongoing events are sometimes a pain in the arse.

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Originally Posted by Elphaba
Should Wiki even attempt to cover emerging events, or the biographies of living persons?
Yes, that is the biggest advantage wikipedia has, it can cover topics very fast. You traditional printed encyclopedia is much slower. Wikipedia can provide an article as soon as an event has happened or something new about an topic has been discovered.
The problem is indeed that current events are often very emotional to the involved, the Kosovo article is a good example of this, but I think people should be able to find a version that covers both viewpoints and thus the article can serve as a document of the zetigeist at that time even when the event has "cooled down"

Her is an wikipedia article about the Congress IP banning:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikiped...l_astroturfing
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Old 02-05-2006, 09:07 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I rely on Wikipedia frequently to learn about topics with which I'm not familiar or to verify details. Certainly there are instances where it's annoying to find flags saying that an article on this religious figure or that political topic are under some sort of flame war that may never be resolved. But it's an incredibly useful resource and one that I'd hate to be without.

As long as there is an open edit history that you can view about each article that shows who edited each, when and why (and what was changed), the user can be informed about it. I'm glad they (I think) are moving towards no more anonymous edits, as I think if you're going to alter content in a public forum, you should put your name behind it.
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Old 02-26-2006, 03:32 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Just to put my two cents in, I know two Wikipedia admins from another forum, and from a thread ("Ask me about being a Wikipedia Admin,") there is a strict review process and admins are very capable of stopping vandalism. The people who dedicate time to the site are, for the most part, very honest and dedicated to making it a world-class source for facts.
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Old 02-27-2006, 06:17 AM   #9 (permalink)
 
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wikipedia is a very valuable resource and a great example of the kinds of co-operative efforts that the net can accomodate that fall outside the usual capitalist modes of organization: it is not top-down---it is brings with it a critique of the absurd reliance on specialization that is both the strength and weakness of this particular mode of production---it runs counter to the illusion of uninformed passivity of the public that is the reverse of our being treated as a management problem by the ideological apparatus---etc.

that wikipedia requires a critical reading is, if anything, among its strengths.

corporate media requries critical reading as well, but for some reason folk often seem to think that the corporate imprimatur assures accuracy of content. go figure.
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