Wikipedia still doesn't get it

Nobody should be surprised that Wikipedia has been sued for defamation.  (See School files defamation claim against Wikipedia.

Nobody should be surprised that Wikipedia has been sued for defamation.  (See School files defamation claim against Wikipedia.)  What is remarkable is that it took so long.  I first wrote about Wikipedia last March (Whats wrong with Wikipedia?).  At that time, my complaint was that its contributors were permitted anonymity.  Such anonymity dramatically compromises any publication's credibility.  Apparently Wikipedia didn't care -- in large part because this forum has become so popular among those who are unwilling to take responsibility for their own words. 

Newspapers, and other sources of news and information often hide behind the First Amendment when their reckless indiscretions do harm to another's reputations (such as that poor hapless security guard that was hounded for months because he was a first responder to the Olympic bombing in Atlanta -- and to the FBI, that made him a suspect.)  Still, newspapers rarely publish anything without a 'byline' and they never publish anything provided to them anonymously -- at least not without checking the information with someone they trust.  Even most 'letters to the editor' now require the contributor to identify themselves. 

The fact that Wikipedia was sued by a school only adds to the irony since Wikipedia wants to be viewed as a place to go for information.  Would Encyclopædia Britannica publish an 'opinion' within its pages?  Of course not!  Which is why it is arguably the most trusted publication of its kind in the world. 

So what is Wikipedia to do to prop up it's credibility?  First, it should cooperate with the courts as it pertains to this particular case.  Second (and this should actually be first), all contributors to Wikipedia should be required to submit their name and credentials (whatever they may be) to Wikipedia before they may make another contribution. 

Wikipedia need not invest time and effort into confirming their contributor's credentials but they should make their contributors aware that Wikipedia expects them to be truthful and ask them to agree to terms and conditions which say as much.  All Wikipedia articles should include the name (and a link to the credentials) of its contributor and should a contributor subsequently come under scrutiny for intentionally distorting the truth, Wikipedia should take it upon themselves to disclose that information to it's readers. 

While I think this particular lawsuit is frivolous to the extent that any institution of higher learning should not take seriously the kind of criticism this article reflects, I think their point is well taken -- if Wikipedia wants to be taken seriously, they must be held accountable for what they publish under their banner -- no matter who the contributor might be.  If they don't know the identity of that contributor, they are publishing at their own risk. 

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