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.

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