Conspiracy Times – The Truths and Lies of WikiWorld
The free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia is a democratically decided database that has been open to abuse, but the advent of WikiScanner has uncovered a web of deceit and disinformation.
by Philip Coppens
Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown as the online phenomenon that apparently allows the truth to be managed democratically; but over the past year it has also been exposed as a real-life “Ministry of Truth”. Worse: people have been arrested and terrorised due to incorrect information being posted on this free Internet encyclopaedia. Wikipedia watching On 15 December 2005, various media sources reported that the open-access encyclopaedia Wikipedia was about as accurate as the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, at least for science-based articles. This was the result of a study by the journal Nature, which chose scientific articles from both encyclopaedias across a wide range of topics and sent them for peer review. The reviewers found just eight serious errors. Of those, four came from each site. They also found a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, there were 123 such problems with Britannica and 162 with Wikipedia. That in itself is a staggering conclusion, which translates as averaging out to 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia, or three versus four mistakes. That, of course, is not “as accurate” as the newspapers reported – thus showing misleading statements in the newspapers’ headlines.
Still, is Wikipedia’s score proof positive that the Internet is indeed more than just a bundle of conspiracy theory and pornography sites, and that the combined efforts of Internet users actually work to create a knowledge base? Perhaps. Wikipedia allows anyone – anyone – to go in and add, change or delete anything in the encyclopaedia. Wikipedia is therefore an exercise in trust: it hopes that its users come there with the best of intentions.
The site is funded through the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and in 2006 had an estimated budget of “about a million dollars”. It was founded by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, the latter who left his co-creation behind in 2002 and stated in October 2006 that he was going to start a competitor that would allow for more peer-reviewed entries.
Trust cannot be guaranteed and hence, at best, Wikipedia comes with a few blemishes. George W. Bush’s biography was so frequently changed – often to include name calling and “personalised opinions” on his policies – that his and a small number of other entries had to be locked and thus only authorised users were allowed to edit them. Innocent enough; perhaps even funny.
But a more suspicious case occurred in late 2005 when, for four months, Wikipedia included an anonymously written article linking former journalist John Seigenthaler to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. His Wikipedia entry stated: “For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.” And: “John Seigenthaler moved to the Soviet Union in 1971, and returned to the United States in 1984. He started one of the country’s largest public relations firms shortly thereafter.” None of this was true, or even alleged, outside of WikiWorld. Seigenthaler thought that at the age of 78 he was beyond surprise or hurt, but he had obviously not counted on Wikipedia.
Worse, his case exposed a further flaw, as Wikipedia’s information feeds automatically into Reference.com and Answers.com, whose computers are programmed to copy data verbatim from Wikipedia without any checks, thus spreading the lies further onto other sites. In this instance, “trust” failed and perhaps we should not blame Wikipedia directly.
But the ominous sign here was that Wikipedia was slow to react. Seigenthaler noticed that his “biography” was altered on 26 May 2005. On 29 May, one of the site’s moderators edited it only by correcting the misspelling of the word “early” but did not check the other, much more serious, alterations. For four months, Wikipedia depicted him as a suspected assassin before this mention was erased from the website’s history on 5 October – but it remained on Answers.com and Reference.com for three more weeks.
Daniel Brandt, a San Antonio-based activist who started the anti-Wikipedia site Wikipedia Watch in response to problems he had with his eponymous article, looked up the IP address in Seigenthaler’s article and found that it related to Rush Delivery, a company in Nashville. On 9 December 2005, its employee Brian Chase admitted that he had placed the false information in Seigenthaler’s Wikipedia biography.
End of story, it seemed, with the lesson learned that Wikipedia could be an excellent tool to spread disinformation – a lesson few people realised at the time. And though Wikipedia should have reacted, it didn’t.
Though Seigenthaler’s case received much notoriety, his was definitely not the only case. By December 2006, Brandt had listed several instances of erroneous entries as well as massive amounts of entries literally copied from copyright-protected material. Faking it It was in early 2007 that the WikiWorld was rocked when one of its most prolific contributors and editors, “believed” by the site to be a professor of religion with advanced degrees in theology and canon law, was exposed as being nothing more than a community college drop-out.
The person at the centre of this controversy was “Essjay” – which begged the question as to why anyone in a position of authority should want or need to hide behind a pseudonym. In truth, Essjay was Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old from Kentucky with no advanced degrees, who used texts such as Catholicism for Dummies to help him correct articles on the penitential rite and transubstantiation.
Indeed, the problem began at the very beginning of Essjay’s career, when no one vetted his credentials and when his claim to be a tenured professor of religion at a private university was accepted. He contributed to an estimated 20,000 Wikipedia entries, making up one per cent of the 1,675,000 articles that Wikipedia listed as being online.
Worse, however, was that Wikipedia staff recruited Essjay to work on the site’s Arbitration Committee, which he chaired for two terms, thus granting him almost divine powers without anyone asking him any questions. Fortunately Essjay was only a pretender, not a person intent on spreading disinformation…but he could have accomplished this easily. He was an important player in WikiWorld. The New Yorker, in its 31 July 2006 edition, ran an article on Essjay and his activities, which were then believed to be genuine.
By mid-January 2007, Essjay had posted his real name and employment history on the related Wikia website. However, it was Daniel Brandt who noticed this and made further enquiries. He eventually contacted The New Yorker to say that Essjay’s original biographical information was fake.
On 26 February, The New Yorker made an online correction, stating that Essjay “holds no advanced degrees” and “has never taught”. But worst of all was probably this comment: “At the time of publication, neither we nor Wikipedia knew Essjay’s real name.”
Following the revelation, Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales asked Essjay to resign (in any business environment he would have been fired), stating that “Wikipedia is built on (among other things) twin pillars of trust and tolerance”. It was clear that one pillar had now totally collapsed. But bizarrely, Wales further commented: “It is not good, obviously, but the interesting thing is that Mr Jordan was an excellent editor, credentials or not. His work was extremely positive for Wikipedia.” We wonder how…
The Wikipedia entry on the debacle at the time read: “As a result of the controversy, Wikipedia users began a review of Essjay’s previous edits and discovered evidence he had relied upon his fictional professorship to influence editorial consideration of edits he made. ‘People have gone through his edits and found places where he was basically cashing in on his fake credentials to bolster his arguments,’ said Michael Snow, a Wikipedia administrator and founder of the Wikipedia community newspaper, The Wikipedia Signpost. ‘Those will get looked at again.'”
The site continued: “In reaction to the incident, Wales was reportedly considering a vetting process for all persons who adjudicate on factual disputes. Additionally, Wales said the site would soon develop a way to check credentials of Wikipedia editors who claim to possess them. ‘I don’t think this incident exposes any inherent weakness in Wikipedia, but it does expose a weakness that we will be working to address,’ Wales added.”
Wales may of course change his opinion, but originally he said he was not concerned with Essjay’s invented persona: “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.” After an outcry from Wikipedia users, Wales changed his view.
Larry Sanger, in his Citizendium Blog of 1 March, responded to Wales’s initial statement, stating: “There’s something utterly breathtaking, and ultimately tragic, about Jimmy telling The New Yorker that he doesn’t have a problem with Essjay’s lies, and by essentially honoring Essjay after his lies were exposed… Doesn’t Jimmy know that this has the potential to be even more damaging to Wikipedia than the Seigenthaler situation, since it reflects directly on the judgment and values of the management of Wikipedia?”
Wales meanwhile maintained that the service and its community are built around a self-policing and “self-cleaning” nature that is supposed to ensure its articles are accurate: the “Wikipedia Police”. But are they the “Thought Police” or people who verify facts? Seigenthaler’s entry suggests they are definitely not the latter. “Wikipedia Police” Jack Sarfatti (right) with Uri Geller Disgruntled people at odds with Wikipedia are numerous. The “pseudophysicist” (to quote Wikipedia) Jack Sarfatti considers himself to be a victim of the service and even considered litigation at one point. He found that certain libellous information had been posted about him. Of course, he, like anyone else, can go in and alter that information, which is what he tried to do. He tried posting at various times of the day, but each time, within minutes, the changes were undone – suggesting that the Wikipedia moderators were constantly monitoring certain pages. When he dug further, he came to the conclusion that Wikipedia seemed to be in the hands of a group of sceptical minds, intent on making sure there were no mysteries and no conspiracies.
Indeed, when you consult a variety of subjects on Wikipedia, you will notice a certain “mindset” that excludes certain opinions. Just two examples…
Paul Smith is an ardent sceptic of the Rennes-le-Chateau and Priory of Sion mysteries (which are at the core of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code) and is responsible for most of the Wikipedia entries on the subject. Some of these entries are blatantly biased and others contain serious factual errors. In both instances, I adjusted the wording and removed the errors. At no point did this mean that the Priory was depicted as genuine – far from it. In fact, I felt that an error-free posting would actually bring enhanced value to the entry. In this case, the entries remained up for a number of months, but then were returned to their negative, erroneous entries. The “Wikipedia Police” should have seen that the new entry was less neutral and more biased than what was on there, but they did not revert to the previous version. The question is: why prefer erroneous information over more neutral wordings? No wonder that experts find numerous errors in every article on Wikipedia…when Wikipedia seems to prefer to promote errors over factual statements.
I also tried to add further information about dissenting theories on the Corpus Hermeticum, specifically the work of Leiden University professor Bruno Stricker, giving due reference to his name and publications (including his PhD thesis). In this instance, Wikipedia moderators removed the section themselves, stating that I needed to give “more sources” – though I had actually given more sources than most of the other statements that maintain the status quo in this entry, namely that the Corpus is a second- or third-century AD creation rather than a third-century BC codification, as Stricker (and others) argue.
Examples of such unprofessional editing, with a bias towards maintaining the status quo and specifically downplaying if not removing controversial information, run into the hundreds if not thousands. Paul Joseph Watson of Prison Planet has noted there is a concerted campaign to erase the 9/11 Truth Movement. Furthermore, pages which they and like-minded individuals created, such as “List of Republican sex scandals”, “People questioning the 9/11 Commission Report” and “Movement to impeach George W. Bush” were all deleted. The first-mentioned page might indeed not be seen as important in an encyclopaedic environment, but the “wiki” (a page in the encyclopaedia) for Dylan Avery, the producer of the most-watched documentary film in Internet history, clearly merits a biographical page on an online encyclopaedia. Wikipedia, however, thought otherwise.
These are just some of the examples that people have experienced with the “service”. At best, it is clear that the moderators have never been trained or validated for their credentials. But Sarfatti has also drawn attention to the so-called “Wikipedia arbitration”, which Wales has seen as the “self-cleaning” and the deus ex machina designed to re-establish Wikipedia’s credibility – even though he elected a college drop – out to preside over it.
Upset about his own case and unable to rectify the situation, Sarfatti commented on a private email list: “They have set up a Virtual Shadow Government in which they now have their own courts to adjudicate ‘litigation’.” He made the point that the theory is that whoever controls the Web controls the Earth – and there is indeed that potential. Perform a Google websearch and if Wikipedia has a result on what you search for, the Wikipedia entry will come up on top. So whatever you want to know, you will probably Google it and find it in Wikipedia. “Googlepedia” thus has a virtual monopoly on information and does indeed, as Sarfatti said, control the Web – and knowledge.
Googlepedia offers a one-stop shop for teachers and anyone else who wants to find information. Teachers have stated that this is exactly the case. What is in Wikipedia – and the opinions expressed therein – is almost directly passed on to students. It begs the question as to why there is still a need for teachers, as students are equally able to do a websearch…
And students are more likely to check other hits, perhaps being more realistic about the expectations of Wikipedia – which for many teachers seems to have become gospel. When lies cause detention Taner Akçam So far, only a few egos seem to have been bruised. But Robert Fisk, in the British newspaper The Independent, reported on 21 April 2007 on the experience of Taner Akçam, a Turkish historian and writer. Akçam faces prosecution in Turkey for writing about the Armenian genocide. However, due to the vandalising of Akçam’s Wikipedia entry, which accused him of being a member of a terrorist group, he was detained by Canadian border police on 17 February 2007. This is acknowledged in the Wikipedia entry, which can now only be edited by registered users – though anyone can still register for free, and registration only leaves some trace of who made the entry, nothing more.
Taner Akçam wrote to Fisk, stating: “Additional to the criminal investigation (law 301) in Turkey, there is a hate campaign going on here in the USA, as a result of which I cannot travel internationally any more… My recent detention at the Montreal airport – apparently on the basis of anonymous insertions in my Wikipedia biography – signals a disturbing new phase in a Turkish campaign of intimidation that has intensified since the November 2006 publication of my book.”
Fisk continued: “Akçam was released, but his reflections on this very disturbing incident are worth recording. ‘It was unlikely, to say the least, that a Canadian immigration officer found out that I was coming to Montreal, took the sole initiative to research my identity on the internet, discovered the archived version of my Wikipedia biography, printed it out on 16 February, and showed it to me – voila! – as a result.’
“But this was not the end. Prior to his Canadian visit, two Turkish-American websites had been hinting that Akçam’s ‘terrorist activities’ should be of interest to American immigration authorities. And sure enough, Akçam was detained yet again – for another hour – by US Homeland Security officers at Montreal airport before boarding his flight at Montreal for Minnesota two days later.
“On this occasion, he says that the American officer – US Homeland Security operates at the Canadian airport – gave him a warning: ‘Mr Akçam, if you don’t retain an attorney and correct this issue, every entry and exit from the country is going to be problematic. We recommend that you do not travel in the meantime and that you try to get this information removed from your customs dossier.’
“So let’s get this clear,” Fisk continued. “US and Canadian officials now appear to be detaining the innocent on the grounds of hate postings on the internet. And it is the innocent – guilty until proved otherwise, I suppose – who must now pay lawyers to protect them from Homeland Security and the internet. But as Akçam says, there is nothing he can do,” he concluded.
As the platform on which this false propaganda was offered, Wikipedia should accept part of the blame. WikiScanning revelations This has underlined some serious problems with the second pillar of WikiWorld: tolerance. But what about Sarfatti’s Orwellian claims that Wikipedia is the Ministry of Truth – i.e., Lies? On 14 August 2007, Wired reported that CalTech computation and neural-systems graduate student Virgil Griffith had created the “Wikipedia Scanner”, which “offers users a searchable database that ties millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on who owns the associated block of Internet IP addresses”.
“I came up with the idea when I heard about Congressmen getting caught for white-washing their Wikipedia pages,” he says on his website. Griffith became very intrigued when, on 17 November 2005, an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted 15 paragraphs from an article on e-voting machine vendor Diebold, excising an entire section critical of the company’s machines. Griffith traced those changes to an IP address reserved for the corporate offices of Diebold itself.
Wired concluded that when the new data-mining service was launched, it traced millions of Wikipedia entries to their sources, and for the first time put “comprehensive data behind longstanding suspicions of manipulation, which until now have surfaced only piecemeal in investigations of specific allegations”. In short, Griffith proved Sarfatti and others’ conspiracy theory.
Griffith has compiled lists of different corporations and government branches that have abused the “trust” of Wikipedia essentially to edit the truth out of existence, replacing it with a PR-friendly facade favourable not to the facts or any sense of neutrality but only to the interests of the parties concerned. The WikiScanner page lists a few “favourites” which include the CIA, the Vatican and the Church of Scientology.
You might expect that the CIA would make the biggest use of this tool, to spread propaganda, but such thinking would be too primitive: a multibillion-dollar agency that has existed for 60 years has better and less traceable methodologies at its disposal. Still, rather interesting and somewhat humorous is that, on the profile of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a worker on the CIA network added the exclamation “Wahhhhhh!” before a section on the leader’s plans for his presidency. A warning on the profile of the anonymous editor read: “You have recently vandalised a Wikipedia article, and you are now being asked to stop this type of behaviour.” It seems that one CIA worker also tweaked the profile of Oprah Winfrey – an edit which hopefully occurred during a lunch break. Virgil Griffith More interestingly, WikiScanner uncovered that the Vatican edited entries about Sinn Fin leader Gerry Adams. The edit removed links to newspaper stories written in 2006 that alleged that Mr Adams’s fingerprints and handprints had been found on a car used in 1971 in connection with a double murder. The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit father Federico Lombardi, clarified on Vatican Radio on 17 August 2007 that accusations saying that the Holy See manipulated the encyclopaedia intentionally “…lack all seriousness and logic. It is absurd even to think that such an initiative could have even been considered.” Forced to explain how it could have happened, he said that there are many computers in the Vatican and that anyone could have access to Wikipedia on any one of them.
Equally interesting is that a computer traced to American Airlines (AA) was used to make a significant change about 9/11. The original entry read: “Two American Airlines aircraft were hijacked and crashed during the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack: American Airlines Flight 77 (a Boeing 757) and American Airlines Flight 11 (a Boeing 767)” – to which an AA employee added (somewhat ungrammatically): “Although these flights were daily departures before and a month after September 11, 2001. Neither flight 11 nor 77 were scheduled on September 11, 2001. The records kept by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics do not list either flight that day.” (See here.) What are we to make of this?
But WikiScanner especially revealed that most abuse originates from corporate clients – and politicians. According to the UK Independent of 18 August 2007, Wal-Mart cleaned some statements about its employment procedures, and again, in October 2005, a person using a Diebold computer removed paragraphs about Walden O’Dell, chief executive of the company, which revealed that he had been “a top fund-raiser” for George W. Bush. Such cleaning should be seen as rewriting history. Even if the edits are not correct, Wikipedia’s policy should be to insert “it is alleged” or statements to that effect.
The Independent, along with many media sources, mentioned other abuses. Griffith’s tool also discovered that a computer owned by the US Democratic Party was used to make changes to the site of right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. The changes brand Mr Limbaugh as “idiotic”, a “racist” and a “bigot”. An entry about his audience read: “Most of them are legally retarded.”
An IP address that belongs to the oil giant ExxonMobil was linked to sweeping changes to an entry on the disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. An allegation that the company “has not yet paid the US$5 billion in spill damages it owes to the 32,000 Alaskan fishermen” was replaced with references to the funds that the company has paid out.
The Republican Party edited Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party entry so it made it clear that the US-led invasion was not a “US-led occupation” but a “US-led liberation” – the clearest example of Ministry of Truth’s approved Newspeak if ever there was one.
Also uncovered by WikiScanner was that a computer registered to the Dow Chemical Company deleted a section on the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster (which ultimately killed up to 22,000 people) which occurred at a plant operated by Union Carbide, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow.
It was also reported that Barbara Alton, assistant to Episcopal bishop Charles Bennison, deleted information on a cover-up of child sexual abuse, allegations that the bishop misappropriated US$11.6 million in trust funds, and evidence of other scandals. When challenged, Alton claimed that she had been ordered to delete the information by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori.
WikiScanner also uncovered that staff in Australia’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) had edited entries on topics such as the “children overboard” affair, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 August. PM John Howard stated that he had not asked any of his staff to edit those entries. WikiScanner revealed, too, that Department of Defence staff had made more than 5,000 changes to the encyclopaedia, but the Herald reported that they were now blocked from editing entries (note that a general IP number can be used by several departments). Commenting on ABC News, the chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia, Dale Clapperton, said: “You also have to ask yourself whether it’s a responsible and reasonable use of taxpayer dollars to have public servants trying to sanitise entries on Wikipedia using taxpayer-paid resources to make their point of view more acceptable to the current government.” In a follow-up Herald report of 30 August, the PMC secretary claimed that the IP number did not belong to the department but instead to Macquarie Telecom – a claim that experts and the Herald dispute as highly unlikely, stating they have more evidence than merely an IP address to identify the government department as the source. Disinformation weapon Just before WikiScanner grabbed the headlines in mid-August 2007, there was one Wikipedia incident which received far less attention than it deserved: it revealed that the intelligence agencies had been using Wikipedia for disinformation purposes, thus proving Sarfatti’s Orwellian allegation.
Daniel Brandt posted a summary on The Wikipedia Review website on 1 August. The incident involved Pierre Salinger. He was a White House press secretary to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, served as a US senator from California in 1964 and was campaign manager for Robert Kennedy. Salinger was also a famous investigative journalist who broke many important news stories. When he was based in London, he investigated the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. He and his collaborator, John K. Cooley, hired Linda Mack, a young graduate, to help in their research, which resulted in Salinger testifying at the Camp Zeist trial in November 2000:
“I know that these two Libyans had nothing to do with it. I know who did it and I know exactly why it was done,” he said. Thinking the judge would allow him to present this evidence, Salinger queried: “That’s all? You’re not letting me tell the truth. Wait a minute; I know exactly who did it. I know how it was done,” Salinger replied to the trial judge, Lord Sutherland, who simply asked him to leave the witness box. “If you wish to make a point you may do so elsewhere, but I’m afraid you may not do so in this court,” Lord Sutherland interrupted.
So what does this have to do with Wikipedia? “SlimVirgin” had been voted the most abusive administrator of Wikipedia. She had upset so many editors that some of them decided to team up to research her real-life identity. Attempts to track her through Internet technology failed. This was suspicious in itself, as WikiScanner has revealed. According to a team member, SlimVirgin “knows her way around the Internet and covered her tracks with care”. The question, therefore, was: why? Daniel Brandt patiently assembled tiny clues about SlimVirgin and posted them on his website. Eventually, two readers identified her as none other than Linda Mack, the young graduate whom Salinger had hired. To see her name appear in such a context was of course of great interest. But that was not all.
Cooley, Salinger’s collaborator in the Lockerbie investigation, sent a letter to Brandt which was posted on The Wikipedia Review on 4 October 2006. He wrote how Mack “…claimed to have lost a friend/lover on Pan103 and so was anxious to clear up the mystery. ABC News paid for her travel and expenses as well as a salary… Once the two Libyan suspects were indicted, she seemed to try to point the investigation in the direction of [Libyan President Colonel Muammar al-]Qaddafi, although there was plenty of evidence, both before and after the trials of Megrahi and Fhimah in the Netherlands, that others were involved, probably with Iran the commissioning power… Salinger came to believe that Linda was working for MI5 and had been from the beginning; assigned genuinely to investigate the bombing of Pan Am 103, but also to infiltrate and monitor us…”
Soon after John Cooley contacted Brandt, Linda Mack contacted Cooley and asked him not to help Brandt in his efforts to expose her. Though all doubts about SlimVirgin’s true identity then vanished, as for her motives… Inconvenient truths So, welcome to WikiWorld, a realm where inconvenient truths can easily be removed, while erroneous information – convenient lies and disinformation – can be entered in the encyclopaedia with emotionally upsetting and even worse consequences for the people involved.
This is the modern Ministry of Truth which, together with the liars and no doubt some mentally unstable people, has been put in charge of rewriting history. It labels itself as the “Free Encyclopaedia”, but perhaps the world should be freed from this encyclopaedia before the old proverb is converted thus: “There are lies, damned lies, statistics, and then there’s Wikipedia.”
The problem with Wikipedia is not that it exists, but that it has become the cornerstone for researchers scanning the Internet for information and blindly copying from Wikipedia entries, wrongfully assuming that they are neutral and correct. It has become the “Ministry of Information”, the “one-stop information shop” of the Internet, but no one should fall for the “Newspeak” of a title. Wikipedia has made the task for those seeding disinformation and removing dissenting views easier, more direct and even more anonymous. Lies and Wikipedia, indeed… This article appeared in Nexus Magazine, Volume 14, Number 5 (October – November 2007) Since the publication of this article in the October-November 2007 issue of Nexus Magazine, the world has woken up to some more Wikipedia farces.
When “TV theme king” Ronnie Hazlehurst died, BBC News, The Guardian, The Times, The Stage and Reuters all wrote in their respective obituaries that he also wrote pop group S Club 7’s Reach. However, he had not. It was soon learned that all had quoted – without verification – from Wikipedia, taking its “information” at face value. Of course, the Wikipedia entry was totally erroneous.
The BBC was caught in another incident, when the British newspaper The Independent on Sunday reported that BBC staff had rewritten Wikipedia pages to water down criticism.
BBC staff rewrote parts of a page entitled “Criticism of the BBC” to defuse press attacks on “political correctness”. Also included in more than 7,000 Wikipedia edits by BBC workers are unflattering references to rival broadcasters – and even the corporation’s biggest names. An entry claiming that a BBC report found the organisation was “out of touch with large swathes of the public and is guilty of self-censoring subjects that the corporation finds unpalatable” was replaced with a brief paragraph saying the document “explored issues around impartiality”.
In Germany, a left-wing German politician even filed charges against Wikipedia for promoting the use of banned Nazi symbols in Germany. On the German Wiki for the Hitler Youth movement, Katina Schubert, a deputy leader of the Left party, said that “the extent and frequency of the symbols on it goes beyond what is needed for documentation and political education.” Public display of Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, but they can be used for educational and artistic purposes.
The reactions were surreal: a Wikipedia representative said she didn’t understand the problem, whereas party colleagues seemed to inflate Wikipedia’s ego. “Katina Schubert fails to grasp the self-regulating mechanisms that work in Wikipedia,” said Heiko Hilker, a Left party media expert in Saxony’s state parliament.
Wikipedia is visited by more than 7 percent of internet users every day. However, since the publication of the article and pointing out the dangers of “Googlepedia”, Google has announced it is now working on a rival to Wikipedia. The saga continues.