News, Weather, Mozart, Sports, Eurovision Love Ænema & Perverted Videogames from Vleeptron

NGO_Vleeptron (aka "Bob from Massachusetts") recently featured LIVE on BBC WORLD SERVICE, heard briefly by Gazillions!!!

My Photo
Location: Great Boreal Deciduous Hardwood Forest, New England, United States

old dude, all hair, swell new teeth

11 December 2005

big trouble in Wikipedia's Utopian Truth Paradise

Cliquez Ici, bet it gets bigger and clearer.

Okay okay regular Vleeptroids know that I'm always copy-&-pasting stuff from Wikipedia, The Free Cyber Encyclopedia.

I've always been impressed with Wikipedia. There are Things on Planet Earth which are controversial. Some people say it's A, and some other people say with absolute conviction that the same Thing is Z. So if someone posts an article to Wikipedia that somebody else says is Wrong Wrong Wrong, Wikipedia lets the dissenters post their own versions, so readers can read all sides of the controversy and make up their own minds. You don't get that Total Openness from many other places -- certainly not from an ordinary Encylopedia. Essentially, from its founding, Wikipedia said

"The Moon is made of Green Cheese
(but we might be wrong, if you think we're wrong,
please submit your own different article)."

And so almost immediately, readers get to read the alternate Theory (that the Moon is made of Toenails).

Try it out with the Big Bang Theory. Although there's now an almost overwhelming consensus among astronomers that supports the Big Bang Theory, for decades there were some very prestigious astronomers who supported the Steady State Theory -- that the Universe was always pretty much the same size and shape, and didn't begin at one instant with a little dot (singularity) that contained every bit of matter and energy that exploded to become today's Universe. Wikipedia's mechanism for debating controversial Truth will almost certainly be grappling with that. When Wikipedia's running the way it's supposed to, it posts "minority reports" and dissents with as much dignity and respect as it posts the generally accepted "facts."

Political Truth, of course, is even more controversial. And Wikipedia wasn't afraid of that. If you want to accuse Wikipedia of political Left-Leaning, you have to acknowledge that button that says Submit YOUR Article about the controversy. That's an Open Door Invitation to Right-Leaners (or Center-Leaners, if it's possible to lean to the Center).

Wikipedia is tremendously ambitious, and has a variety of editions in languages other than English, like

So in the Evasive and Tricky Pursuit of Truth on Earth, Wikipedia is Cyber Utopia. Wikipedia is Cyber Paradise.

Surprise Surprise! There's Trouble in Utopia. Big-ass Trouble in Paradijs.


San Jose, California, is in Silicon Valley, and the San Jose Mercury News has evolved over the last three decades to cover the Cyber & Chips Beat which is its local industry.


The San Jose Mercury News (California USA)
Sunday 11 December 2005

Wikipedia needs
safeguards that work

by Mike Langberg

Jimmy Wales has often described himself as the constitutional monarch of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written and edited by volunteers.

Queen Elizabeth II of England and other constitutional monarchs can only intervene in affairs of state on rare occasions of great crisis.

Wales, who co-founded the non-profit Wikipedia in 2001, exercised his royal power last week. But he only took a tiny step in the midst of a crisis where bolder leadership is required.

Wikipedia keeps getting in trouble because its open model -- where anyone can write and edit entries -- is an invitation for character assassination, ideological crusades and outright vandalism, as well as legitimate scholarship. The latest flap involves retired newspaper editor and civil-rights crusader John Seigenthaler Sr., the subject of an anonymously written defamatory entry that lived on Wikipedia for six months earlier this year.

Wales added paper-thin safeguards in response.

They're not enough to resolve Wikipedia's fundamental dilemma: It can't meet what Wales calls the project's primary goal -- producing "a free, high-quality encyclopedia" -- while also clinging to the utopian concept that anyone can contribute without restrictions.

How this crisis plays out will reverberate across the emerging landscape of "social media," where loose groups -- such as Wikipedia's volunteer contributors -- come together through the Web to create news, community forums and information.

The result of Wikipedia's open editing system is predictable: Most contributors provide useful material, while a small number of "trolls" repeatedly deface the encyclopedia (

Wikipedia is also plagued by endless "revert wars," where dueling groups keep reversing each other's changes to controversial articles.

This undermines the credibility of Wikipedia, which now offers an unprecedented 857,000 articles in English, along with versions in more than 100 other languages.

Wikipedia is becoming a first reference stop for millions of people, from schoolchildren to journalists, including me. But many of these users don't realize a small percentage of articles are flawed. Even more troubling, there's no way to know when you've hit one of those defective entries. That's why I never put a fact from Wikipedia into one of my columns without first double-checking it elsewhere.

Seigenthaler, a one-time aide to Sen. Robert Kennedy, brought all this to the surface in an op-ed piece in USA Today on Nov. 30. [Vleeptron re-posts it below.]

The hatchet-job Wikipedia biography falsely stated Seigenthaler lived in the Soviet Union for 13 years, and even implicated him in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

The entry stayed on Wikipedia until October, despite a cursory review by a Wikipedia volunteer.

Last week, Wales took action by banning anonymous submission of new articles, although anonymous users will still be free to alter existing articles.

This is at best a tiny speed bump rather than a barrier, because anybody can become a registered Wikipedia user by simply thinking up a user name and password.

"We want to stay experimental, and not close off any options," Wales told me last week in a phone interview from his office in Tampa, Fla. "Anything top down has to be done very gently."

More small steps are on the horizon. Wales said Wikipedia will soon introduce a "time delay" mode for articles caught in revert wars, where revisions won't become effective for 10 minutes. In that brief period, volunteers would presumably quash inappropriate changes.

In January, Wikipedia will start testing a system that lets readers click a button to rate the quality of articles. This could eventually be used to flag false or substandard entries.

To me, Wales is furiously bailing out a leaking boat without plugging the hole in the bottom.

"There's no substitute for really good fact checkers," said Craig Newmark, founder of San Francisco-based craigslist. His group of Web sites, which offer classified ads and announcements created by users, also gets hit by trolls. But, unlike Wikipedia, postings are clearly identified as the creation of individuals.

"Jimmy has some big problems, and I don't know how to solve them," Newmark added.

Unlike Newmark, I have a suggestion: Wales should issue a royal decree moving Wikipedia to a "gatekeeper" model, borrowed from successful open-source software projects such as the Linux operating system and the Firefox browser.

These projects are administered by networks of trusted volunteers who carefully review additions and changes before they are made, and there's a hierarchy to resolve disputes.

Wikipedia is now big enough, with a core group of 13,000 active volunteers, to pre-screen all of its contents. New entries and edits could still be submitted -- even anonymously -- by any visitor to the Wikipedia site but would be placed in a kind of holding pen until one of the trusted volunteers took a look and said OK.

Some Wikipedia utopians who want the online world to be forever free of rules and boundaries would no doubt walk away. Wikipedia's growth rate might slow. But the permanent banishment of trolls and revert wars would encourage those remaining to stick with their worthy mission to create an ever-expanding and reliable repository of human knowledge.

Contact Mike Langberg at or (408) 920-5084. Past columns may be read at


USA Today (national daily published by Gannett)
Tuesday 29 November 2005

A false Wikipedia 'biography'

by John Seigenthaler

"John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960's. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven."

-- Wikipedia

This is a highly personal story about Internet character assassination. It could be your story.

I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious "biography" that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular, online, free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable. There was more:

"John Seigenthaler moved to the Soviet Union in 1971, and returned to the United States in 1984," Wikipedia said. "He started one of the country's largest public relations firms shortly thereafter."

At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong. One sentence in the biography was true. I was Robert Kennedy's administrative assistant in the early 1960s. I also was his pallbearer. It was mind-boggling when my son, John Seigenthaler, journalist with NBC News, phoned later to say he found the same scurrilous text on and

I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about "the wonderful world of Wikipedia," where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference "facts," composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge -- and sometimes by people with malice.

At my request, executives of the three websites now have removed the false content about me. But they don't know, and can't find out, who wrote the toxic sentences.

Anonymous author

I phoned Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder and asked, "Do you ... have any way to know who wrote that?"

"No, we don't," he said. Representatives of the other two websites said their computers are programmed to copy data verbatim from Wikipedia, never checking whether it is false or factual.

Naturally, I want to unmask my "biographer." And, I am interested in letting many people know that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool.

But searching cyberspace for the identity of people who post spurious information can be frustrating. I found on Wikipedia the registered IP (Internet Protocol) number of my "biographer" -- 65-81-97-208. I traced it to a customer of BellSouth Internet. That company advertises a phone number to report "Abuse Issues." An electronic voice said all complaints must be e-mailed. My two e-mails were answered by identical form letters, advising me that the company would conduct an investigation but might not tell me the results. It was signed "Abuse Team."

Wales, Wikipedia's founder, told me that BellSouth would not be helpful. "We have trouble with people posting abusive things over and over and over," he said. "We block their IP numbers, and they sneak in another way. So we contact the service providers, and they are not very responsive."

After three weeks, hearing nothing further about the Abuse Team investigation, I phoned BellSouth's Atlanta corporate headquarters, which led to conversations between my lawyer and BellSouth's counsel. My only remote chance of getting the name, I learned, was to file a "John or Jane Doe" lawsuit against my "biographer." Major communications Internet companies are bound by federal privacy laws that protect the identity of their customers, even those who defame online. Only if a lawsuit resulted in a court subpoena would BellSouth give up the name.

Little legal recourse

Federal law also protects online corporations -- BellSouth, AOL, MCI Wikipedia, etc. -- from libel lawsuits. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, specifically states that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker." That legalese means that, unlike print and broadcast companies, online service providers cannot be sued for disseminating defamatory attacks on citizens posted by others.

Recent low-profile court decisions document that Congress effectively has barred defamation in cyberspace. Wikipedia's website acknowledges that it is not responsible for inaccurate information, but Wales, in a recent C-Span interview with Brian Lamb, insisted that his website is accountable and that his community of thousands of volunteer editors (he said he has only one paid employee) corrects mistakes within minutes.

My experience refutes that. My "biography" was posted May 26. On May 29, one of Wales' volunteers "edited" it only by correcting the misspelling of the word "early." For four months, Wikipedia depicted me as a suspected assassin before Wales erased it from his website's history Oct. 5. The falsehoods remained on and for three more weeks.

In the C-Span interview, Wales said Wikipedia has "millions" of daily global visitors and is one of the world's busiest websites. His volunteer community runs the Wikipedia operation, he said. He funds his website through a non-profit foundation and estimated a 2006 budget of "about a million dollars."

And so we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research -- but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects. Congress has enabled them and protects them.

When I was a child, my mother lectured me on the evils of "gossip." She held a feather pillow and said, "If I tear this open, the feathers will fly to the four winds, and I could never get them back in the pillow. That's how it is when you spread mean things about people."

For me, that pillow is a metaphor for Wikipedia.

John Seigenthaler, a retired journalist, founded The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. He also is a former editorial page editor at USA TODAY.

© Copyright 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.


Post a Comment

<< Home