Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2005

What's Wrong With Wikipedia

When John Seigenthaler found a fake biography about himself on Wikipedia, the massive Internet encyclopedia, maliciously and falsely linking him to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, he tried to get it corrected, and then wrote about it in USA Today. In that piece he suggests that the problem is the anonymity of Wikipedia authors, and by extension Section 230 of the CDA. Possibly; he could also have fixed the page himself, although that might have led to a recurring war between himself and the anonymous author over the text. In an interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation today Seigenthaler said that he has no interest in participating in the Wikipedia project and thus did not edit the bio himself. He also revealed that a great deal of additional malicious information appeared in the bio, leading to the Wikipedia editors' decision to "protect" the page.

Meanwhile, the story continues to engender debate, not only over defamation on the Internet and the general issue of the credibility of Internet sources, but more specifically over Wikipedia and the measures its founders have taken to fix the problem Seigenthaler's fake bio has brought to light. What was previously hailed as Wikipedia's great experiment--the communal nature of the project which allowed all comers to contribute information to a massive online encyclopedia--has now given way to a new directive which recognizes that a great many people may not know as much as they think they do and some people may not have benign intentions. Only registered Wikipedia users will be allowed to "contribute new pages" although anyone can edit them. During the Talk of the Nation interview Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales explained that once pages are created, they enter a kind of "watch list". He maintains that non-registered users pose less of a danger as editors than they do as creators of pages. Meanwhile, traces of the fake Wikipedia Seigenthaler bio still circulate on the 'net.

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