[NetBehaviour] 19.474 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world? (fwd)

Elkin Atwell e.atwell at rave.ac.uk
Sun Dec 4 22:37:26 CET 2005

Who do you TRUST and WHY! interesting topic go to http://www.mazine.ws and
leave a comment


> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2005 10:12:52 +0000
> From:
>      "Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
> <willard.
>      mccarty at kcl.ac.uk>)" <willard at LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
> To: humanist at Princeton.EDU
> Subject: 19.474 Wikipedia: not such a wonderful world?
>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 474.
>        Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                    www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/
>                         www.princeton.edu/humanist/
>                      Submit to: humanist at princeton.edu
>          Date: Sat, 03 Dec 2005 10:07:03 +0000
>          From: Norman Hinton <hinton at springnet1.com>
>          Subject: [Fwd: No wonder some people are skeptical about
> Wikipedia!]
>    Untrustworthy Wikipedia again:
>     A false Wikipedia 'biography'
> By John Seigenthaler
> USA Today (at Yahoo News), Wed Nov 30, 6:50 AM ET
>       "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 Reference.com and Answers.com.
> 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 Answers.com and Reference.com 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.
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