Opinion/Analysis: ‘Whackapedia’ and its error fest

As a Wikipedia editor, I’ve made many edits and updates over the years to the American Civil Rights Union’s Wikipedia page without interference. So, imagine my shock when I was alerted this past Monday that someone had made the page revert to a very old version with content deleted and outright errors inserted. I went online and corrected a couple of things, but my corrections were instantly undone. Then, it got worse. On Wednesday, another editor removed a lion’s share of the content describing the ACRU’s activities and issues. Gone were entire sections on election law, environmental regulation, gun laws and religious freedom. Some of the worst damage was done to the personnel section. Judge Robert Bork, who died in December 2012, was updated as a current ACRU Policy Board member. So was James Q. Wilson, the celebrated political scientist who died in March 2012. On Friday, another editor restored the severely outdated issue sections but left the personnel errors. Earlier, an editor “nominated” the entire ACRU page for “deletion.” What might seem at first like a trivial nuisance is indicative of the power those hostile to liberty have over those who defend it. To a new generation, Wikipedia is Britannica — but without factual safeguards. Virtually all of the updates I added over several years were deleted. According to the site history, the revisions by several “editors” began this past April, and continued right up through this week. When I contacted a Wiki administrator who was listed as one of the revisers, I was told that because of my ties to the group (I am an ACRU senior fellow) I have a conflict of interest and could not fix anything myself. Instead, I should review a complicated procedure for suggesting edits — which may or may not be made. My request to restore my previous edits in order to correct the many errors was flatly denied. This is very serious business. It amounts to sabotage. When people want to learn about an organization or person, they often go straight to Wikipedia. While it’s bad form to cite Wikipedia as a sole source, it’s an excellent starting point for research on any topic. Millions of people access it daily, making it one of the top six websites in the world. If viewers see an absurdly outdated, sloppy page, it could deeply affect an organization’s ability to get out its message. Frustrated by the intransigence, I looked up Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy, which is murky and geared toward preventing hostile edits that are defamatory or false, or self-serving inaccuracies, not edits of an entirely factual nature, such as listing current personnel or programs. One of Wikipedia’s cardinal rules is: “If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it.” In the essay, “Wikipedia: Ignoring all rules — a beginner’s guide,” it states, “Perhaps the spirit of the rule could be said in an even better way: Use your common sense over anything else.” Common sense tells me that fixing blatant errors is something that Wikipedia should appreciate.

One would think…  The takeaway here is..  Don’t trust Wikipedia!  Its usually a good starting point.   But, don’t rely on it.  I, too, have done some edits to correct some things on Wikipedia, and have gone back and seen my edits erased.  So, I appreciate what author Robert Knight is saying here.  To read the rest of his op/ed, click on the text above.

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