Curtailing Anonymity at Wikipedia

Wikipedia.jpgA few days ago, I blogged about an incident involving a defamatory biography on Wikipedia about John Seigenthaler Sr. According to a New York Times story:

The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.

It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.

Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?

According to the article, Wales is planning to address these problems:

Mr. Wales said in an interview that he was troubled by the Seigenthaler episode, and noted that Wikipedia was essentially in the same boat. “We have constant problems where we have people who are trying to repeatedly abuse our sites,” he said.

Still, he said, he was trying to make Wikipedia less vulnerable to tampering. He said he was starting a review mechanism by which readers and experts could rate the value of various articles. The reviews, which he said he expected to start in January, would show the site’s strengths and weaknesses and perhaps reveal patterns to help them address the problems.

In addition, he said, Wikipedia may start blocking unregistered users from creating new pages, though they would still be able to edit them.

The real problem, he said, was the volume of new material coming in; it is so overwhelming that screeners cannot keep up with it.

A CNET article describes some changes that are coming to Wikipedia to address problems such as the Seigenthaler incident:

But Wales said the Seigenthaler incident was an aberration.

“The system failed in this case,” Wales said. “A bad entry was kept for some time until (Seigenthaler) actually fixed it himself. Basically, what I would say is we’re looking right now, and over the weekend, at this particular incident and what went wrong. It seems like the key issue is we’re having some growing pains.”

When Wikipedia articles are first published, they show up on a special page, and volunteers–so-called new-page patrollers–monitor entries in their area of interest.

Wales said the Seigenthaler article not only escaped the notice of this corps of watchdogs, but it also became a kind of needle in a haystack: The page remained unchanged for so long because it wasn’t linked to from any other Wikipedia articles, depriving it of traffic that might have led to closer scrutiny.

Also, Wales said, the entry was unusual in that it was posted by an anonymous user–most new articles are published by registered members, who are more likely to be held responsible for what they write.

Thus, to avoid future problems, Wales plans to bar anonymous users from creating new articles; only registered members will be able to do so. That change will go into effect Monday, he said, adding that anonymous users will still be able to edit existing entries. . . .

The change is one of the first that would specifically limit what anonymous users can do on Wikipedia. . . .

Will preventing the anonymous creation of articles address the problem? I’m not so sure. People can readily post anonymous comments.

In a thoughtful comment to my earlier post about the Seigenthaler incident, Bruce Boyden wrote:

But all it takes is one dedicated person with low scruples, a grudge, and a little extra time on their hands, and the harms skyrocket. You correctly note that Seigenthaler could have corrected his Wikipedia entry; but I suspect his antagonist has far more time to devote to that sort of battle of the edits than Seigenthaler does, so that’s not a viable long-term strategy.

Maybe the answer is to restrict anonymity on Wikipedia altogether. Thoughts?

Related Posts

1. Solove, Fake Biographies on Wikipedia

2. Solove, Suing Wikipedia

3. Solove, Wiki Your Papers?

4. Wenger, Wikimania

5. Solove, A Victory for Anonymous Blogging

6. Solove, Is Anonymous Blogging Possible?

7. Solove, Using Lawsuits to Unmask Anonymous Bloggers

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3 Responses

  1. Wiki Thyself

    In a recent incident on Wikipedia, Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ, was accused of editing an entry on Wikipedia on podcasting to enhance his role in the origins of podcasting. According to a CNET article: Essentially, Curry is accused…

  2. Simon says:

    I actually think the whole thing is, if not solved, then at least ameliorated by encouraging all editors to use their own name. I apply much the same thing to the blogosphere: there is a distinct first tier of blogs wherein people blog under their own names. More people should do so, and not only because anomynity tends to decrease a sense of personal responsibility and foster nastiness. Rather, my argument is: if you don’t believe strongly enough in what you say to put your name ot it, why should I believe it?

    Wikipedia is pretty good at fixing mistakes and vandalism. I have a few pages I watch over (see Wikipedia User profile), and either actively maintain or at least keep an eye out for vandalism on, and the sheer volume of interested users tends to remove vandalism pretty quickly. Wikipedia is a long way from achieveing a sheen of respectability, but it is a highly effective “way in” to a topic. Now if only they’d sort out their dang database server!

  3. al says:

    I agree with Simon, the author giving his name should improve accountability. But my question is more mundane. Hasn’t Seigenthaler “protested too much”? From what I gather, the original article stated that Seigenthaler was considered a possible assasin “for a brief time”. From the reports I’ve read, it was implied that the article says “he was an assassin” this implication by Seigenthaler himself as recent today on C-SPAN. I’m just wondering if anyone at anythime thought he could be the assassin, if so, that claim would be correct, i.e. that he was thought to be an assassin of both John and Bobby Kennedy. Whether or not he lived in Russia for a decade I cannot tell, but he and the vast majority of articles on the web I’ve seen state the original Wiki posting stated he was an assassin and the evidence I’ve seen simply does not bare this out.