The thin end of the wedge?

I don’t think so actually. I am referring to Wikipedia’s plans to introduce “flagged revisions” on articles for living people. This really could just be seen as an improvement on the current practice of protecting or semi-protecting articles that are continually “vandalised” with false and sometimes scurrilous information. The trouble is that this “protection” practice is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, as it usually only occurs when significant vandalism has been occurring for some time.

I have been involved in such a situation, albeit way milder than some of the examples cited in media discussions of the policy change. It all started when, as a reasonably new editor, I removed from an article (whose subject I won’t name, for obvious reasons) the following: “He has a reputation for ruthlessly and warrantlessly savaging younger scholars, perhaps out of professional jealousy and a profound insecurity”. This removal resulted in increasing attempts by an unregistered editor to “weight” the article with negative assessments. The end-result was “semi-protection” by an administrator, whom I had called on for advice when I didn’t know how to handle the situation. This administrator, a volunteer of course, took a lot of flack for his decision, but in the end we brokered an agreement and the semi-protection was lifted. A whole lot of pain, not to mention wasted time, could have been prevented by this “flagged revision” policy.

Jimmy Wales. Shared under: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

Jimmy Wales. Shared under: Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

This policy is currently only planned for articles on “living people”. I assume that it may, if it works, be applied to more types of articles. I don’t see this as a problem – except, and this is no small exception, for the potential of a revision backlog, resulting in out-of-date data AND multiple similar revisions to be sorted out as, say, 10 editors all try to update in a close space of time Tim Winton’s article with his Miles Franklin win! It will be up to the Wikipedia community to design a model that will facilitate rapid throughput of revisions – but, however they do it, the plan is that the previous version of the article will be available for users to search and read.

Wikipedia, as Jimmy Wales is quoted as saying, has “become part of the infrastructure of how people get information”. Those of us committed to it are glad – proud even – that this is happening. But, the model is now getting close to a decade old. Is it wrong to reconsider some of its original practices? Should Wikipedia stay put while all else in the information/communication technology world changes? I think not.

That said, given the proliferation of “wiki” practice throughout the web, this policy change will be watched closely. What will be the ramifications … and how will they affect the exciting and ever-changing world of information creation and distribution?

4 thoughts on “The thin end of the wedge?

  1. Yes indeed it is a but tricky. It’s not just people. I’ve come across people being tiresome over politically sensitive topics (Isreal/Palestine) springs to mind, and have been pleased to see that WikiPedia has taken action to prevent ‘vandalism’. It bothers me that Facebook doesn’t have a similar system for moderating hate comments – which I’ve come across beside Holocaust videos. It will be interesting to see how it all works out.

  2. Seems like you and I think a bit alike. I gather there are those who feel this change is changing Wikipedia’s openness – well I don’t really see it that way. If you are an honest well-intended editor you won’t mind some controls over the editing process will you. But then, I’ve never been averse to a bit of data quality checking!! It would be nice to think everyone was sensible and meant well but that’s not really the real world is it.

    Must admit I haven’t seen anything untoward on Facebook but I don’t wander far there eg have seen very few videos.

  3. I think this is a good idea. I’ve seen way too much stuff on wikipedia which is simply OPINION and not FACT, and that is dangerous for so many different reasons. I’m intrigued that no one has ever sued for libel — or perhaps they have and I just don’t know about it?

  4. I haven’t seen it either but I did wonder whether that (or the fear of it) is partly behind this decision. I think WIkipedia is a really useful thing but as I posted earlier in my blog you have to apply the usual techniques to determine the validity of what you’re reading.

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