Is Wikipedia a threat or a menace?

Just like the GPL, Wikipedia carries with it responsibilities along with rights.

Wikipedia
Charles Cooper's latest column on Wikipedia lets me talk about what might be called the open source social contract.

Wikipedia represents a form of open source knowledge. The English version, the largest by far, has about 846,157 entries (give or take). Lots of people use it, and trust it.

Cooper's point is that maybe we shouldn't trust it so much, because people can lie in it. He refers to the case of John Siegenthaler, a former Kennedy aide who found that his own entry falsely called him a suspect in his boss' murder.

The fact is that, just like the GPL, Wikipedia carries with it responsibilities along with rights. We can illustrate this by looking at the Wikipedia entry for Dana Blankenhorn.

OK, there is no such entry. But I could join right now and write one.  I could then write a brilliant, laudatory essay on this worthy, and see it published.

Of course, you could join, too. You could create such an entry, and fill it with the most base libel. You might blame me for the Challenger disaster. (I was at Birch Lane Elementary in Massapequa when JFK was shot so I have an alibi there.) And then people might link to it, attack me over it, until I went in and corrected it.

See the obligations? We all have these obligations, when writing for Wikipedia, to tell the honest truth, because lies travel fast, and lies can hurt.

In fact the folks who run Wikipedia face this every day. They have procedures for closing entries, and for taking entries down, procedures which usually work. (Siegenthaler had his entry changed.) But lies can get halfway around the world while truth is just getting its boots on, so what happens in the meantime? And who is responsible for that damage?

You see the problem. But know this. Most of what is in Wikipedia -- 99.44% of it (actually a good deal more) is 100% accurate and fair. The vast majority of people who contribute to Wikipedia are honest, they tell the truth.

And that's true for the Internet as a whole, by the way. That's why it works. That it does work should tell you something very, very positive and very, very important as you enter the weekend.

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