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Information, cultural knowledge, embarrassment

Vanity and Wikipedia = Public Embarrassment

By Joshua S. Hill

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The "wisdom of the crowds" is said to be the ultimate way to keep information constantly up to date, and Wikipedia is the pinnacle of that thought process. But it comes as no surprise to find that, amongst that crowd, are those who aren't brimming with intelligence.

Recently there has been a spate of "vanity" changes to entries in Wikipedia, caught by enterprising journalists and bloggers. The most recent discoveries concern the Australian Prime Ministers own office and a pair of Dutch Royals.

According to Virgil Griffith -- the man behind the Wikiscanner website, a tool that allows for the tracing of changes made to Wikipedia entries -- someone within the Australian Prime Minister's office made changes to various articles that were theoretically damaging to a government up for reelection. One of the entries in question was that of current Treasurer Peter Costello.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Dr Peter Shergold told reporters that their ISP had made an error, but Griffith countered saying "I can say with very high confidence the internet address is currently owned by someone in the Government."

All in all, I would rather believe Griffith than my own government in a matter such as this. Thankfully, not all those caught feel a need to shift the blame elsewhere, in the case of Prince Johan Friso, son of the reigning Queen Beatrix, and Princess Mabel of Oranje-Nassau.

The pair has acknowledged that they altered an entry concerning a scandal that forced the Prince to renounce his claim to the throne. Jan. 8, 2006, someone using a computer at Huis ten Bosch, the royal palace in The Hague, was recorded by Wikipedia as altering the article, removing the words "and false" from "gave misleading and false information".

Friso and Mabel quickly acknowledged that they were the revisionists once the story began circulating amongst the Dutch media. "They both made the changes together in order to make the entry match the letter which they sent to the prime minister (explaining why they misled him) in 2003," spokesman Chris Breedveld said.

It is an interestingness to witness media reports on issues such as a cult phenomenon as Wikipedia has grown to be, especially when they take a tone of almost polite confusion. The International Herald Tribune commented on the editing of one's own entry saying "…it's considered poor etiquette…" This almost blatantly obvious way of life for us is flung away as a trailing comment for the article, suggesting that such etiquette is not expected of the internet community.

But if you are of that community, or simply want to get to know the inner workings of Wikipedia a little better, than check out WikiRage.com. The site lists the top 100 articles receiving the most individual attention over the past day, hour, 6 hours, 3 days, week and month.

This site may sound like nothing more than a statistical site for the anal-retentive, but there is more to it than just numbers. The numbers correspond to what is culturally popular at the moment, as well as new information or discoveries. For example, as I write this, Richard Jewell is the number one edited entry, corresponding with his recent death.

Wikipedia: a great source of information, cultural knowledge, and embarrassment all rolled in to one. Sort of reminds me of my best friend in high school.

  • www.smh.com.au/news/national/pms-staff-shifts-the-wikipedia-blame/2007/08/29/1188067191576.html
  • www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/08/30/europe/EU-GEN-Netherlands-Royals.php
  • www.wikirage.com/
  • www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/30/AR2007083000324.html
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    Canada Free Press, CFP Editor Judi McLeod