Seigenthaler v. Wikipedia

This one is sort of interesting. John Seigenthaler, a 78-year-old former USA Today editor, is unhappy because an article in Wikipedia defamed him, and went uncorrected (and I’d guess, largely unread) for several months: A false Wikipedia ‘biography’.

I’m not very sympathetic to his argument. Yeah, a lot of what’s in Wikipedia is bullshit. You have to be aware of what you’re dealing with. Seigenthaler was all scandalized by it, and apparently even more by the fact that he couldn’t just have his lawyer call up Bell South or Wikipedia and get satisfaction.

Bell South told him hey, if you want to sue the user of the IP address responsible for those edits, then we’ll reveal his or her identifying information to the court. But Seigenthaler apparently didn’t want to do that. Instead, he chose to give the defamatory statements about him a far wider airing than they ever would have received on Wikipedia, by griping about them in an opinion piece in his old paper.

Loons and crackpots abound on Wikipedia. The NPOV policy is no guarantee that you’re going to get some omniscient, easy version of truth from the site. It’s just a practical approach they’ve evolved to allow them to get articles to a fairly stable place, where loons on both sides of whatever controversy is being fought over can feel satisfied that they’ve presented the facts of the matter at least somewhat fairly, leaving it up to the readers to determine the actual truth of the matter.

As a seeker after truth, you can’t give up that responsibility to someone else. The moment you do, you’re a putz. The essential idea behind Wikipedia is that it won’t, and can’t, take responsibility for defending putzes from themselves. It can only try to provide a useful resource for non-putzes. And I think it succeeds at that pretty well.

2 Responses to “Seigenthaler v. Wikipedia”

  1. ymatt Says:

    In a number of ways, I think Wikipedia is the purest expression of what the non-commercial internet is all about. And I think it’s going to take a while for people to get used to what that means.

    One of these lessons is that once you reach a certain (fairly low) level of notariety, some dipwad on the internet is going to slander you and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it beyond simply refuting him. Unfortunately this has to be learned both by the people who will be slandered, who need to chill a little — but also users, who need to learn that the free information on the net is both amazingly complete and useful, and frequently complete bullshit. It’s a boon for the skeptical, but a minefield to the credulous.

  2. Adriana Says:

    Why is it that those who are supposedly the biggest champions of free speech always try to deny others the same? Whenever someone tries to question Wikipedia, he is subjected to personal attacks and denied free speech right. I have an issue with untouchable sanctity of any institution (because it usually means cover up). What I resent Wikipedia is its deliberate false misrepresentation, and for that someone should be held accountable.
    It calls itself Encyclopedia, something that is automatically associated with scientific and factual truth, when it is just a forum (for sharing knowledge).
    Wikipedia claims that vast majority of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet. That’s a lie.
    Wikipedia is ruled by (self-serving) individuals and groups who deny free access and strictly control preservation of generated-only-by them information. The fact that said information is often (deliberately) false to them is of little consequence. If, however, you are determined to set the facts straight, you can’t do so without engaging in a debate. The said debate forum is openly biased, hostile and often quite violent to any outsider, regardless of truth and fact. Editors are rude and act like school bullies; who ever is the loudest wins (in my personal opinion this is why credible experts stay away from Wikipedia, which in turn has defacto already killed its claimed purpose – free content encyclopedia for everyone).
    Everyone has a right to free speech, and there is no more wonderful media to do it than Internet. You can post you content and let it be judged for what it is, by anyone, anywhere. But posting personal opinions and selling it as fact, isn’t free speech – its fraud, because they don’t call themselves Wikipedia Forum (what they are) or even blog, they claim absolute encyclopedic knowledge.
    They post opinions, but only there own, and block anything contradictory (even if true, often especially if its true). To them truth and justice means “just us”.
    Again none of it would be a problem, if only your statement were the truth:

    “As a seeker after truth, you can’t give up that responsibility to someone else. The moment you do, you’re a putz. The essential idea behind Wikipedia is that it won’t, and can’t, take responsibility for defending putzes from themselves. It can only try to provide a useful resource for non-putzes. And I think it succeeds at that pretty well.“

    Unfortunately it’s not (though I honestly admire your faith for the capacity of masses to use reasonable thinking). Serious papers often quote it as a source of information. Kids use it as sole reference for any subject. And even most grown, educated individuals believe it with administering little or no critical thought (I admit, I was once guilty of that).
    Because you can only judge truthfulness of the topic if you already have substantiated knowledge of it, most people are not aware of what they are dealing with, as you put it. Thanks to uncritical celebrating and promoting of Wikipedia, most people are unaware that it should only be used as a reference point and that everything written in it should be taken with a healthy grain of salt.
    Most people are also not aware that all content on Wikipedia is subject to personal judgment of it’s moderators (no qualification necessary). Free speech?
    So if you have an employee (paid or not) editing material, how can you claim no accountability for the final product?
    As I have already said the problem is not they do it (they have every right to do so, and if someone tried to deny that I would challenge them to), the problem is the misrepresentation. They are not open and free, but they don’t issue a warning (there should be one clearly and distinctly placed above every article) that article is composed by anonymous, amateur person/s and represents only his/hers opinion (and if they do, since I never saw one, its all smoke and mirrors technique). No, instead they claim they are an impartial, unbiased encyclopedia, which self evidently they are not.
    There are many suspicious and questionable things about Wikipedia that were never addressed or investigated, at least not by a credible impartial party? For a proclaimed free entity, (to me) their tactics awfully resemble those of “evil corporations” they claim everyone who refuses to blindly support them belongs to.
    As to your trivializing of Mr. Seigenthaler case, you are entitled to your opinion and I have no reason to temper with it. But if you would, imagine your name instead of his (it could happen), somebody has written completely fabricated lies about you, published them for the world to see, when you politely ask for them to be taken down you are “blocked” and called a vandal, and when you try to seek protection of the judicial court you are callously denied the same because «no one is accountable» and instead find yourself condemned in a court of public opinion as anti-free speech goon. If you could survive that (and its consequences, because all it takes is for one right person to read it and believe it) without feeling humiliated, helpless, violated…

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