by Gregory Kohs
On Saturday, October 18, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and his politically-connected third wife, Kate Garvey, were in Dublin, Ireland to deliver separate talks at the prestigious “One Young World” 2014 Summit. The equivalent value for both of them to attend was approximately $5,400, including taxes, but of course for them the conference waived any registration fees. In fact, according to Henny Hamilton, the conference’s PR coordinator, One Young World merely paid for round-trip airfare and one night’s hotel lodging for the duo, and no speaking fee was paid to them.
Considering what the conference got for that airfare and hotel bill, it’s difficult to say whether it was worth it. Garvey, introduced as “a fantastic woman” to a light smattering of applause, was scheduled to speak to the audience about ambitious new objectives of the United Nations. But in actuality, the moment after she took the podium, Garvey explained that she was there “to introduce someone else” because she didn’t “do the speaking in this”. Garvey spoke for only 80 seconds before her spot at the podium was taken by a more youthful and nubile speaker, Alessandra Orofino from Brazil. Given that the conference is intended solely for delegates between the ages of 18 and 30, and many of them enjoy stunning Mr or Miss Universe good looks of their own, the audience was probably not disturbed by the agenda hand-off.
Jimmy Wales, for his part, was scheduled to speak for 30 minutes, and that’s exactly what he delivered. There was frankly nothing new disclosed in his talk to the audience. The speech consisted almost entirely of themes regurgitated from previous sessions delivered by Wales. One critic described Wales as looking more and more like Mike Myers’ comedy sketch superhero, “Middle-Aged Man”. Perhaps one highlight of the talk was that Wales reiterated Wikipedia’s unsuitability as a “reliable source” for college-level students to cite in their research. And why is that? It’s largely because you cannot trust the authority of content creators on Wikipedia. They may have self-interested biases that skew what they publish as Wikipedia articles.
A case in point
Take, for example, Wikipedia’s own article about the London-based One Young World program. Was it written by objective individuals interested only in furthering human knowledge? Not exactly. The article was created in 2009 by a Wikipedia user named “Tjuk09”. Making only 12 edits ever to Wikipedia, every single one of Tjuk09’s contributions was about One Young World. Wikipedians call this a “single-purpose account”, and they are viewed with suspicion. Also editing in approximately the same time span was IP address 22.214.171.124, which currently traces to Deloitte Touche in London. Deloitte happens to be a key sponsor of One Young World. So, we might conclude that Tjuk09 was a Deloitte employee seeking to spread awareness of a program sponsored by their employer. Is this alone sufficient evidence to critique Wikipedia’s article about One Young World? Probably not, but let’s look further into its edit history.
The next year, the article was shaped by User:Cityacademy. Guess what? Another single-purpose account, caring about nothing on Wikipedia except for One Young World. Joining Cityacademy in 2010 was “Luciant” — another single-purpose account. Additional UK-based IP addresses joined in. In October 2010, User:Jmquez got very busy with the One Young World article — spending over 70% of his time on Wikipedia tending to just that one article. Is it a coincidence that Juan Marquez was a Spanish delegate to One Young World who compiled a Twitter group of One Young World personalities? He was warned numerous times about uploading photos associated with One Young World, but for which he may not have had permission to freely relicense. Jmquez never identified himself as affiliated with One Young World, and he never responded to the warnings. This is how Wikipedia is built generally — by quiet, well-meaning, self-interested editors who probably have no idea that what they’re doing constitutes a conflict of interest.
Also in October 2010, an IP address 126.96.36.199 (near London) suddenly began to edit on the subject of One Young World, followed shortly by edits to the subject of Lemsip. Now, how is a cold and flu remedy possibly related to One Young World? Well, look no further than digital marketing specialist, Claire Adams. In 2010, she was with Social Fuel Ltd., a media agency where Adams counted among her clients both One Young World and Lemsip. Another self-interested editor, working away on their clients’ business, without any disclosure.
The month of April 2011 introduced IP address 188.8.131.52 (Lyon, France) to the One Young World article. Another single-purpose account. Surely it’s just a coincidence that the consultant and onsite product manager for the One Young World 2011 summit was located in Lyon, France at the time! And in August 2012, another single-purpose account helped tidy up the article, replacing this:
The summit provoked debate about its merits between [[Milo Yiannopoulos]], who criticises participants as “worthy windbags”,<ref>http://realbusiness.co.uk/news/spare-us-the-hot-air-and-nonsense-one-young-world</ref> and [[Doug Richard]], who calls the event “inspiring and uplifting”.<ref>http://realbusiness.co.uk/news/why-let-the-truth-stand-in-the-way-of-a-good-story-milo</ref>
The summit drew more than 1,200 young leaders from over 170 countries.
We wouldn’t want Wikipedia having any reliably-sourced criticism or controversy surrounding One Young World, would we? Better to just make that go away and replace it with unsourced stats that tally up attendees and countries represented, right? While it may not be the most impartial source, the RealBusiness commentaries represent significant coverage about One Young World, and according to Wikipedia’s neutral point of view policy, it merits inclusion in the encyclopedia article. It is not for a single-purpose account to just swoop in and remove it.
Indeed, as it stands at this moment in Wikipedia, there is not one sentence that is the least bit critical of One Young World. Many of the sources used for the encyclopedia article either point to press releases or to the OneYoungWorld.com website. These are frowned on as sources by the Wikipedia community. Granted, there is a little warning to the reader at the top of the article, saying “This article relies on references to primary sources. Please add references to secondary or tertiary sources.” But that notice has been sitting there since May 2011, and the problem persists.
A novel idea
Here’s a novel thought — instead of flying Jimmy Wales and his spouse of 80-second speeches quickly back to London on One Young World’s dime, why didn’t the summit organizers send them home on the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, then train back to London, using that extra time together to help fix all of the problems with Wikipedia’s One Young World article? For instance, they could have added back in a reference to that opinion piece by Milo Yiannopoulos, entitled “Spare us the hot air and nonsense, One Young World”. But then, that would require jet-setting Jimbo and Kate actually having some skill in editing Wikipedia — and they’ve shown precious little of that ability.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr/Wrote ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic