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Wikipedia: re-writing history

15253561470_d6e5af7e0c_oBy Andreas Kolbe

For more than six years, Wikipedia named an innocent man, Joe Streater, as a key culprit in the 1978–79 Boston College basketball point shaving scandal. Thanks to the detective work of Ben Koo at sports blog Awful Announcing, the world now knows (again!) that Joe Streater had no involvement in the affair. He couldn’t have, because he didn’t even play for the team in the 1978–79 season.

Entering the Wikipedia wormhole

In his article, Guilt by Wikipedia: How Joe Streater Became Falsely Attached To The Boston College Point Shaving Scandal, Ben Koo describes how he fell “down this wormhole” that ended at an anonymous Wikipedia edit made over six years ago.

It began like this: Koo had reviewed a 30 for 30 documentary on the Boston College point shaving scandal for Awful Announcing. In this review, he remarked on the curious fact that one of the four players eventually tied to the scandal wasn’t mentioned in the film at all.

This prompted a puzzled email inquiry from a former Boston College player who’d been involved in the affair: Which player did Koo mean? Koo replied that he had found it curious that Joe Streater hadn’t been mentioned in the documentary, given that all the articles he had read as part of his background research had named Streater as one of the sportsmen involved. The reply he got from the former Boston player astonished him:

“Joe Streater wasn’t even on the team that infamous year as he had left school the year before.”

At first, Koo was incredulous. How could this be? Streater was mentioned in Wikipedia and so many other articles on the web. But

…continue reading Wikipedia: re-writing history

Wikipedia’s Balkanisation

By Andreas Kolbe, with input from Eric Barbour

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia anyone can edit – anonymously, under an assumed name. Credentials are unnecessary. The Wikimedia Foundation does not even make any provision to verify the credentials of actual subject matter experts who are happy to edit under their real names. As a result, such experts have no more standing in Wikipedia than any other anonymous contributor. At the same time, contributors are free to claim qualifications they do not have – sometimes with amusing (or terrifying, depending on your point of view) results.

Wikipedia is also one of the top Google links for almost any topic under the sun. Enter anything at all in Google, and a Wikipedia article is usually found near the top of the search listing – a reflection of the site’s top-10 Alexa ranking. This visibility, combined with the ease with which anyone can change content at any time, makes Wikipedia an irresistible magnet for social entrepreneurs, activists and extremists of all kinds.

Politically motivated Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik famously exhorted his sympathisers to edit Wikipedia to create new truths in support of his right-wing agenda. He even edited it himself (as did Pentagon shooter John Patrick Bedell and Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza). Advice on how to edit Wikipedia can be found on white supremacist website Stormfront.

According to the Wikipedia myth, the presence of extremists among its editor base poses no problem. Opposing activists, so the thinking goes, will balance articles. At best, however, this adversarial approach produces articles dominated by duelling extremist sources, with moderate and mainstream opinions underrepresented; moderates simply don’t care enough to engage in daily wars over article wordings. At worst, as the number of Wikipedia administrators continues to dwindle and the number of articles rises to

…continue reading Wikipedia’s Balkanisation