Evidently, the motive for encyclo-vandalism is sometimes just humor. According to a report in the New York Times, the contributor who entered false information about Seigenthaler (claiming he’d played a role in Robert Kennedy’s assassination) was playing a joke on some friends. Since then, the perpetrator, Brian Chase, who was ferreted out, has apologized to Seigenthaler, who accepted his apology.
I tested the Wikipedia correction process while reporting for this article. After logging on, without giving an e-mail address, I edited the entry dedicated to musician Tom Waits. In a section on the artist in the 1990s, I wrote that Waits had played a concert with Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, and Mr. Ed (the talking horse). Within 24 hours, the Presley and Mr. Ed references were removed, but the Elvis Costello citation – also false, but not as glaringly so – remained.
There are real, perhaps inevitable weaknesses in Wikipedia’s system. But the Siegenthal ordeal seems to have unleashed a disproportionate number of Wikipedia critics. News site Official Wire, run by Baou.com, is now posting stories that allege “Nazi-style behavior” among Wikipedia contributors and editors.
And this week, a site called WikipediaClassAction.org went live, soliciting feedback and, more significantly, instances of monetary damages caused by Wikipedia. Their goal is to launch a class-action lawsuit against the site. When I called the phone number listed on that site, the person who answered refused to give his name, then rattled off a long series of allegations against Wikipedia. The charges felt specious to me, and were quite vitriolic.
A quick piece of sleuthing turned up a likely explanation: Baou.com also runs an organization called QuakeAid, the Wikipedia entry for which cites some questionable circumstances surrounding the organization and its founders. Furthermore, some of the anti-Wikipedia articles found on Official Wire are written by “Jennifer Monroe,” the same name listed as having registered the domain WikipediaClassAction.org.
Although Baou’s actions imply a multi-pronged revenge campaign, some anti-Wikipedians appear to have more reasonable complaints. Daniel Brandt, the man behind wikipedia-watch.org (and also Google-watch.org), says that until Wikipedia drops its policy of allowing anonymous posts and edits, the quality of the site will suffer. “For research purposes you ought to be able to find [authors],” he says.
But Brandt, too, has a personal reason to be upset with Wikipedia. He admits his opposition to the site came after he learned that it included a page about him with links he considered unflattering. Brandt was a prominent draft resister in the 1960s.