April 29, 2006 | Graham

Wikipedia gets precious, and not so brilliant

Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that is open to anyone to edit, unless you happen to work for a member of the US Congress. Then, ironically, you apparently have less rights than other people.
There have been some recent examples of Congress staff tampering with their boss’s, or other’s, details. The most recent one involves Georgia Gubernatorial Candidate Cathy Cox. Her campaign manager Morton Brilliant took responsbility for someone from Cox’s office altering the Wikipedia entry for her opponent, Lt Governor Mark Taylor.
The “crime” was that factually correct details had been added to Wikipedia about the arrest of Mark Taylor’s son after he was involved in a fatal accident in Charleston for driving under the influence. Cox’s office was also involved in re-writing the profile of incumbent Mark Sanford. Again nothing was factually inaccurate (although there was some opinion). Indeed, it could be argued that Brilliant, or whoever the anonymous author was, actually improved the accuracy of the entry when they described Sanford’s parent’s farm as a “Beaufort plantation” rather than the “family farm” that he prefers.
So, what does Wikipedia think it stands for? Either it is open to anyone, or it isn’t. And even if it isn’t open to everyone, shouldn’t it be more interested in allowing for the truth to come out, rather than preferring one version of the truth over another. Wikipedia entries are continuously shifting sand, what version of the truth are they going to try to freeze it on? I’m sure that George Bush would like to have kept the drunken activities of his own daughters from hitting the news, but that’s not the way that democracy works, or genuinely open and honest media.
In another development, a group allied to SourceWatch, has launched a wiki called Congresspedia. The Sunlight Foundation claims that it will “harness the transformative power of the Internet to bring transparency and accountability to Congress and its members”. I have my doubts. While the site will be moderated to ensure that only truthful information is posted, the associated body SourceWatch doesn’t have a great track record.
While SourceWatch claims to keep the PR industry honest, it shows little mercy to organisations on the right. Compare the entry for the Australian Environment Foundation (one of the National Forum’s members) with the SourceWatch entry for the Australian Conservation Foundation (an organisation we’d like to have as a member). Well, actually, you can’t. Apparently the ACF doesn’t warrant watching, even though it is an advocacy body.
All of which proves to me more than ever that the OLO model of moderated dispute is likely to lead to a more honest, open and transparent outcome than the competing models around the Internet which are often so taken with the idea that democracy consists simply in allowing people to participate that they allow themselves to become captives to one or another brand of ideological populism. Our model does cost more than the completely open source alternative, but then, you get what you pay for. And often, what’s free isn’t brilliant.

Posted by Graham at 10:54 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: eDemocracy


  1. OLO’s model is reliant on strong editorship right? Wikipedia is banning the congressional ip range as an editorial decision because of their inability to act responsibly. So how is Wikipedia showing strong editorial responsibility any different to OLO?
    One of the comments on the wikitalk after Meehan’s staff edited out his statement on voluntary term-limiting himself, was “It’s a sad day when we have to treat a House IP the same way we treat an AOL one.”
    All publishing models have their place. They are just varying levels of editorial oversight.

    Comment by Cameron Riley — April 30, 2006 @ 3:27 am

  2. Wikipedia pretends not to have editorial oversight. In fact, it seems if they don’t like the truthful things that people post, they will delete them. It undermines the whole wikipedia model.
    OLO has a variety of models, and a variety of levels of editorial oversight, but none of them involves editing a position because you don’t agree with it. What it does involve is trying to adjudicate a debate between people with different points of view.

    Comment by Graham Young — April 30, 2006 @ 4:14 pm

  3. This article is a little one sided, I remember reading this in the news. Some members of congress made less… acurate and more… opinionated changes such as describing one individual as a ‘douche’.
    Let’s put things into perspective.

    Comment by F A Hayek — May 4, 2006 @ 10:18 pm

  4. Wiki doesn’t allow ANYONE to post overly biased material and it is removed or gets stamped as potentially one-sided. This has nothing to do with them being in congess, it has to do with how the article is written.

    Comment by Jessi — May 14, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.