Facts? That’s Wikidi-whacked!

August 26, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 08/26/09Wikilogo

Of course. Just when you thought things were right in the world again.

It seems the folks at the Wikimedia Foundation, which govern one of the planet’s most popular websites, Wikipedia – perhaps you’ve heard of it – are putting an end to the party.

The San Francisco-based non-profit, which started eight years ago as a way to make journalists’ jobs easier, are making it harder to edit entries in their free online encyclopedia. Within a few weeks, only experienced volunteer editors will be able to make changes to entries on living people.

They say Wikipedia is now a serious, first-stop reference point, and tougher standards need to be put in place. With millions of people using their website every day, they now talk of their “responsibility.”

“We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks,” explained Michael Snow, the Seattle lawyer who is chair of the Wikimedia board.

And that, dear readers, stinks.

If Wikipedia enforces tougher standards, how are we supposed to make up cool stuff about ourselves and make it look legitimate? If I want to create an entry that says my enemy has dog breath and a promiscuous mother, that is my right as a citizen. Weren’t we promised peace, order, good government and the freedom to make up stuff and put it on the Internet?

I realize Wikipedia has had its embarrassing moments under the current, free-for-all  system. For now, anyone with a computer can make a Wikipedia entry, at least for a short time.

In March, a 22-year-old Irish student inserted fake quotes from a French composer Maurice Jarre shortly after Jarre’s death. The next day, those fake quotes were used in obituaries about Jarre in several newspapers, including The Guardian and The Independent in Britain. A month earlier, someone changed the entries for two sick U.S. senators, Edward M. Kennedy and Robert C. Byrd, reporting falsely that they had died.

But those are small sacrifices for the privilege of spreading false information.

I’m worried what this means for the Wikipedia entry on our fair city. If the Guelph page  suddenly must pass some sort of editing process, what will change? It currently claims, among other things, that “Guelph’s most famous landmark is the Church of Our Lady Immaculate,” when everyone knows it’s The Manor.

If our Wikipedia page is vetted by fact-obsessed editors, who will we lose from our “notable people associated with Guelph” section? Right now, we’ve got John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist who advised American presidents from Roosevelt to Kennedy. He passed through Guelph in 1934, stopped for a sandwich, and carried on to Harvard. Is his time on our list of notables limited?

What about the inventor of five-pin bowling, Thomas F. Ryan, whose car broke down on the outskirts of town and was hailed as a beloved son?

Or what about another Guelph notable, the artist formerly Jane Siberry, who accidently exited Highway 401 in 1981 when trying to find Kitchener. She’s responsible for those smash hits “Mimi on the Beach,” “I Muse Aloud,” “One More Colour” and “Calling All Angels”? (I guess she’s really big in Japan).

Will we lose her insightful passages such as “while there is a common belief that she is a lesbian, and her music has appeared on a compilation CD targeted to a lesbian audience… Jane Siberry has in fact never made a public statement identifying herself as lesbian.”

That’s gold, baby. And she’s all ours, Wikipedia. So keep your editing paws off.

One Response to Facts? That’s Wikidi-whacked!

  1. Anthony Grayson on September 14, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Columnist Greg Mercer writes deploring the decision of the Wikipedia Foundation to apply more rigorous standards to entries in their online encyclopedia. Correctly, he notes Wikipedia is a first-stop reference point for many information seekers.

    The service has been used for online pranks, and other forms of mischief and annoyance of which he quotes some examples. He now laments losing the privilege of spreading false information.

    This is a completely irresponsible attitude, apart from probable legal consequence for him. Far removed from the intended humour, tragic results can ensue for others.

    The Mercury would better serve everyone in persuading Mercer to direct his talents more usefully. Inclusion on the list of voluntary editors of Wikipedia would be a good start.

    Anthony Grayson

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