Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wikipedia -- Exposed

I have noted before here that I am no fan of Wikipedia. It can be and has been used as a voice of propaganda, misinformation, and controversy. Why? Because it is completely anonymous, which means that posters have no real responsibility for what they write. People can lie, and often do. One of the more egregious examples was last spring, when one of the more respected "editors" of Wikipedia turned out to be a fraud -- faking his credentials.

I personally don't think it should be shut down -- more power to it -- but I do not trust it, and do not expect any entry in it to be correct. If I want to do a quick lookup of something and I only need about 50-80% accuracy, I will sometimes use it for that.

I will admit that there is one area in which Wikipedia excels: if you want to know if something is or is not controversial in the web world, Wikipedia is truly excellent at that. For example, the entry on "Gun" has had eight edits today (August 21, 2007). One edit replaced a whole section with "HA HA", another added a paragraph on an English usage. So, here is a subject that changes almost hourly as people with competing agendas fight over the entry.

Another example: an edit for Elvis Presley from, again, today has someone asserting that he is still alive.

I say that Wikipedia allows anonymous posts, and that is correct -- except that each entry has as part of its entry the internet address from which the entry was posted. In other words, Wikipedia tracks the IP address of each posting.

IP addresses for most home users are assigned to them by their internet service provider (ISP) on an as-needed basis, when they log in. The IP address is "owned" by the ISP.

However, most institutions have permanent IP addresses which are assigned to them. Anyone in their offices using the web will be using an address from their range. You can find out what institution an IP address is assigned to using ARIN (the American Registry for Internet Numbers) Whois. Type the address there, and you will see to whom it is assigned.

This kid from Cal Tech (where else?), Virgil Griffith, created a tool to scan Wikipedia and show the edits made by IP addresses. This has created quite a storm! All of a sudden, we can easily see what edits were made from people at the ACLU, Apple Computer, Microsoft, the NRA, Fox News... All sorts of places. It is enlightening, and really, confirms my criticisms of Wikipedia.

We have entries by an ACLU address user making derogotory comments on the Pope. We have another entry in which the some using an NEA address deletes criticism about the NEA.

What astounds me is that articles on this are either missing the point by pointing out self-editing by companies such as Apple, Microsoft, or others, or are amazed that "anonymous" is not really anonymous.

But, really, what else can we expect from Wikipedia? That's the point.