“You are not currently logged in. While you are free to edit without logging in, your IP address will be recorded in this page’s edit history. Creating an account will conceal your IP address and provide you with many other benefits.” (Wikipedia.org)
It’s not the most threatening of messages. Anyone interested in adding content to Wikipedia, or editing the content already available on the international online Encyclopedia, can do so anonymously. With a simple trip to the computer banks at the local library, one can do so anonymously and virtuously untracabley.
It’a all in the first line of the Wikipedia home page: “Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”
Wikipedia is an invaluable resource. Capitalizing on the fact that there are approximately 1 billion Internet users worldwide, and a large number of them are experts in their various fields, the wiki medium for maintaining an Internet encyclopedia is not only brilliant, but it allows for the transmission of newer and more relevant information to be uploaded to Wikipedia entries all day, any day, every day. Entries are usually updated by intrepid users within hours or even moments of new information disseminated about the topic at hand. This ain’t your father’s encyclopedia.
However, as with all user driven media, the potential for abuse of the Wikipedia system is great. Wikipedia vandals abound, uploading conflicting, incendiary, or just plain humorous information into entries. In a January 15, 2007 blog published in the Sydney Morning Herald writer Stay In Touch, an excellent case of Wikipedia vandalism was recounted. “Last Friday for half-an-hour, anyone looking up the entry for “aspirin” would have been confronted by a first paragraph which began as you’d expect,” read the blog, “but soon switched from science to smut.”
Calling Wikipedia a useful tool for belly-laughs, the blog quotes the vandalized Wikipedia entry about the usually benign NSAID medication. “Aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid (acetosal) is a drug in the family of salicylates. It has also an antiplatelet (“blood-thinning”) effect and is used in long-term low doses to prevent heart attacks and cancer.”
Sounds okay so far.
“Sometimes, I like to touch myself at night,” continued the Wikipedia entry about aspirin. “Although sometimes mom walks in and beats me on the head, hard.”
While the reported matriarchal head beating could support the need for aspirin as a treatment for the resulting headache of the editor of the post, as an encyclopedic entry this information would generally be considered extraneous. Perhaps a linked Wikipedia entry about the effectiveness of aspirin for the treatment of pain due to sudden, non-complicated, external head trauma following the discovery of the masterbatory behaviors of the offspring of laundry exhausted mothers could be deemed relevant, but as an edit to the Wikipedia entry on aspirin, a strong argument could be made that the edits were vandalism of the intended entry.
These final sentences were edited out of Wikipedia after 28 minutes, according to the Syndey Morning Herald.
While the aforementioned Wikipedia entry vandalism seems harmless and silly, there is the potential for a slippery slope, here, that needs to be taken into account. As the American public, natch, as the world grows ever more reliant on Wikipedia as a source of the most current information. Right or wrong, the case for Wikipedia as a source for information is strong, and the potential for abuse of this system is somewhat disconcerting.
Case and point: In the never-ending feud between Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump, O’Donnell stated that Donald Trump had filed bankruptcy- a charge he vehemently denied.
On December 20, 2006, right on the heels of her tirade against Trump’s decision to give beleagured Miss USA winner Tara Connor “another chance,” and of Trump’s venomous rebuttals, O’Donnell posted a cryptic message on her personal blog. Following a lengthy Wikipedia entry pasted into the blog entry about Trump’s bankrupcy history, O’Donnell wrote “loving the wiki – i use it – do u”.
Was Rosie O’Donnell’s post a call to arms for those who are Wikipedia friendly? Could it have been a confession that Trump’s Wikipedia entry, specifically the section about bankrupcy, had been altered by O’Donnell or those acting on her behalf? The information supporting O’Donnell’s cryptic but pointed blog post is ambiguous at best. Regardless of her intent, however, Rosie O’Donnell’s post served as a reminder that with an enormous percentage of people are getting their encyclopedic information from the Internet, and that Wikipedia is one of the most prolific, and vulnerable, sources of information available to the public.
Imagine the doors that could be opened to abuse of this process, now quasi-trusted by the world. The perceived realities of many Wikipedia readers, even by the short term dissemination of information that is later proved to be false and re-edited, could effect documented and referenced information into perpituity.
“Eager to test Wikipedia’s editing process,” the Sydney Morning Herald chose to conduct an experiment on the response time of Wikipedia contributors to unsubstianted, opinionated, or fabricated materials inserted into Wikipedia entries.
“We inserted a clause into the entry for ‘Newspapers’, under the section ‘The Future of Newspapers,” reports the blog… “Into the final paragraph we added the following: ‘Decades have passed, so much so that now a page called Stay In Touch in The Sydney Morning Herald has firmly established itself as the world’s best column.'”
The Wikipedia edit took approximately a day to be edited from the entry about “Newspapers.”
We could be facing the next generation of media wars- the re-writing of existance. Wikipedia existance, that is- but that ain’t small.