Thursday, May 07, 2009

Stop Wikipedia Vandals

A fake quote attributed to French Composer Maurice Jarre was inserted by Shane Fitzgerald into Wikipedia and fooled newspapers around the world. Supposedly it was intended as a social experiment about globalization and reporter fact checking. While it seems to have shamed the reporters and press somewhat, it is still being reported as a failure of Wikipedia somehow, even though the quote was removed from the article because it had no referenced sources, while Fitzgerald repeatedly added it.

Whenever I tell someone that I looked up something on Wikipedia they often come back with the same crap about how anybody can publish stuff there and it is all wrong. I graciously explain to them that they should always be aware of the potential errors in the source of their information wherever it might be from, and to always read the discussion page on Wikipedia. They can contribute to Wikipedia and make it better themselves as well.

I have heard of other students doing experiments where they added some incorrect content to Wikipedia and how long it stayed up. What do they think they lean from this or what they think they learn from it. Instead of encouraging students to be vandals, how about teaching about adding correct information to an article instead of defacing it, or researching and writing a new one.

Shane Fitzgerald is a Wikipedia vandal. Lazy reporters are bad, but it is also bad to vandalize Wikipedia to make your point. I am so glad the "he was wary about the ethical implications of using someone’s death as a social experiment" - and then still decided to lie anyway.

Am I naive in my hope for people to play nice together in the common areas of the web or is this prank a necessary lesson in journalism and the critical eye with which to read Wikipedia articles?

(via Castro's Favorite Color)


attract wealth said...

This is a perfect example of the double edged sword concept. The internet has allowed us to access knowledge on a scale that did not exist before, but the very nature of it allows anyone to say anything and we often do not question the validity.

The Virtual Ranger said...

I must agree. When I read this story I was not struck so much by the idleness of reporters but by the irresponsible editing of Wikipedia. It's an old game and not a very good one. Especially as the editor in question was a persistent vandal, by all accounts.

The huge popularity of the story has achieved nothing but to weaken the reputation of the site. It's a pity.