Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fixing the Wrong Problem

I love the amazing cluelessness, the ignorance of the real problem, in this article.
By matching users' IP addresses with the public database of addresses registered to different corporations, Griffith's "Wikiscanner" revealed widespread corporate meddling on Wikipedia, as companies attempted to add marketing pitches to their own entries, or hide controversies.
Or, presumably, to correct mistakes about their own articles. After all, who would have more information on those companies than the employees? But I forgot - everything is a corporate conspiracy.

What does this "hack" (yes, people still seem to be using this word - totally radical!) do to thwart the Wikipedia users not with corporate conflicts of interest but with ideological axes to grind? Nothing? Well, hooray, you "solved" a tiny problem while ignoring the massive, systemic problem that makes Wikipedia such a joke! The problem with corporations' employees editing their entries is small because, after all, adding false information and deleting relevant but damaging information are problems that people recognize even without knowing that the editor is conflicted. If someone deleted information on Microsoft's antitrust litigation in Europe, would it really take knowing that that editor was Bill Gates for someone to identify and correct the problem? Truth is truth and falsehood is falsehood, whether the result of some troll's fit of spite (I have never done this) or some corporate goon's whitewashing attempt.

Ultimately, I think that this new development will be a wash. Identifying when certain entities have their own entries edited will simplify the task of looking for conflicts of interest that result in bad information, but, again, sometimes those corporate editors will actually be improving the quality of their entries, and the additional scrutiny may block the useful correction or raise suspicion where none is warranted. Truth is truth, remember? Except when it's not:
"I would say that if people are anonymous, the quality of their contribution is probably much lower," he says. "Wouldn't you want Wikipedia users to be held accountable for what they change?"
[citation needed] on that claim - who says that anonymous editors are worse? It's plausible, I suppose, but I could make a plausible argument that the opposite is true. So, until facts break the tie, could we both shut up about our theories?

I think that the lack of anonymity could tend to chill editing of Wikipedia, and that "accountability" is better when it comes from more knowledgeable people correcting mistakes than people outing anonymous editors - after all, in theory, only people who write false things will ever be "held accountable" anyway.

Ah, Wikipedia. So stupid.


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