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Wikipedia goes to Washington

By Gregory Kohs

Throughout mid-2008, a number of people interested in analysis of Wikipedia joined me in a project to methodically enumerate one calendar quarter’s worth (4Q 2007) of edit data underlying the 100 Wikipedia articles about the (then) current United States Senators. What they found was alarming at times. While most vandalized edits were brief in duration and clearly juvenile in content, a substantial portion of edits were plainly intended to be hurtful and defamatory against the Senators. Most of the vandalized edits were reverted within a minute or two. However, many of them endured for hours at time. Some for several days. And a few persisted for weeks on end.

But, no matter how hateful or how libelous the edit, no matter how long it persists on Wikipedia, the folks who own and operate Wikipedia’s servers who have the ultimate editorial control over what stays and what gets jettisoned from important portions of the website, are virtually free from liability. This is thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which I feel is due for a serious legal challenge or legislative revamp at some point soon.

Sorry, Max

One edit that was captured during the U.S. Senate biography audit persisted not for weeks, but for months. In fact, nearly a year passed before it was finally amended.

For that entire time, for every reader of that Wikipedia passage, the reputation of Senator Max Baucus (Democrat, Montana) was tarnished to some degree. Today, I’d like to take you on a deeper dive into that edit.

The defamatory edit begins on December 19, 2007, thanks to a rather single-minded editor focused exclusively on two Montana politicians. The content added to Wikipedia:

“In the Washington AP (Bozeman

…continue reading Wikipedia goes to Washington

Portrait of a Wikipedian: Philipp Lenssen

by Eric Barbour

As a well-known supporter of Google and the publisher of a major blog that discusses Google in depth, Philipp Lenssen has some political capital in the world of search engines. On Wikipedia, though, Lenssen’s legacy may prove to be one of self-aggrandizing manipulation of Wikipedia’s content, plus a heaping dose of Lenssen’s contempt for critics of Wikipedia. In sum, his exploitation of Wikipedia for his own agenda is little different than the Wikipedia activities of a number of other “digerati”. In one of his most obviously biased gestures, Lenssen admitted trying to recreate a Wikipedia biography of Google and Wikipedia critic Daniel Brandt, against Brandt’s vociferous wishes, even though Brandt’s notorious public opposition to Google would clearly make Lenssen a less than objective author on the subject. It would be akin to Glenn Beck writing the “official” biography of Nancy Pelosi.

Lenssen’s background

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Lenssen hails from Stuttgart, Germany. Quoting from O’Reilly’s website: ‘”Born in 1977, Philipp Lenssen is a web developer, blogger and author from Germany. Since 2003, Philipp has run Google Blogoscoped at blogoscoped.com, a daily news source started in Malaysia covering all things Google, from Gmail, Orkut and web search to Google Docs, usability issues, YouTube and everything in-between. The blog also spawned a book called 55 Ways to Have Fun With Google. Philipp likes to tinker with programming, drawing, writing and game design, and has a special interest in the intersections among those areas.”‘

Activity on Wikipedia

There is some remaining evidence that not only did Lenssen document Brandt where he didn’t want to be, but that Lenssen attempted to create a biography about himself, too. Additionally, in 2004, he worked on articles about Google

…continue reading Portrait of a Wikipedian: Philipp Lenssen

What’s in a Name?

by Hersch

Over the years, resourceful Wikipedia editors have developed an ever-expanding array of techniques for making Wikipedia into a grotesque parody of an actual encyclopedia. On one of the more entertaining policy pages, Wikipedia professes to be not a soapbox, but experienced editors know that policy pages are simply weapons to be used against inexperienced editors. For the truly committed Wikipediot, Wikipedia is nothing but a soapbox, or to be more precise, an arena of combat in which the victorious warrior will gain control of the soapbox. Sometimes, however, there is no clear victor, and this is reflected in some of the tortured titles for Wikipedia articles.

One milestone battle in the history of WikiKombat was an article with the title “Allegations of Israeli apartheid.” As you may have surmised, when the article was introduced in 2006, the original title was “Israeli apartheid,” and indeed, there were numerous Reliable Sources™ asserting that such a thing existed. There was a group of editors (including legendary WikiWarriors Jayjg and SlimVirgin) who were horrified at the idea of having an article on this provocative topic. They were unable to get it deleted, so in lieu of that, they hit upon the idea of renaming it “Allegations of Israeli apartheid,” because after all, can anyone prove that it is really Apartheid? Do they call it that in Israel? Another fun article title from the same historical period was “Iranian Genocidal Intentions”, which apparently did not have enough Reliable Sources™ to cut the mustard.

The history of the various names of the “Allegations of Israeli apartheid” article has many interesting twists and turns, but we’ll confine ourselves here to the highlights. The group of editors who were chagrined at its existence were not satisfied with merely making the article about “allegations.” They still wanted

…continue reading What’s in a Name?