Wikipedia: Why does Essjay need to "protect himself"?

Summary:Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia, has issued a free pass to a Wikipedia editor who lied about his background. In an incredible contradiction, Wales said of Wikipedia editor and Wikia employee Ryan Jordan (nee "Essjay"): "“I accepted his apology, because he is now, and has always been, an excellent editor with an exemplary track record.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia, has issued a free pass to a Wikipedia editor who lied about his background. In an incredible contradiction, Wales said of Wikipedia editor and Wikia employee Ryan Jordan (nee "Essjay"): "“I accepted his apology, because he is now, and has always been, an excellent editor with an exemplary track record.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Jordan lied about his background when describing himself on the pages of Wikipedia, claiming he held a tenured professorship and was anAn excellent editor doesn't lie about their background. expert in canon law, when, in fact, he apparently hasn't graduated college and is 24 years old (far younger than a tenured professor). He fabricated more than a line of his resume, he concocted a fake life to back up his opinions.

An excellent editor doesn't lie about their background. An excellent editor goes on the record and does not, as Mr. Wales contends, need a pseudonym to protect himself from critics. 

Yet, here is what Mr. Wales told reportedly said through a Wikipedia public relations officer, according to The New York Times: “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it. Essjay apologized to me and to the community at large for any harm he may have caused, but he was acting in order to protect himself."

Pardon me, but what protection does Mr. Jordan need? We're talking about a marketplace of ideas, where, even if he was playing an authority in religious issues, Mr. Jordan also was editing Justin Timberlake's Wikipedia entry. St. Timberlake, of course, is the patron of frauds and poseurs.

Jordan didn't need to lie to the audience to participate in any of these discussions. What Jordan believed he needed was credibility, so he made it up out of whole cloth.

Apparently, Wikipedians have the courage to delete that Mr. Wales doesn't. The fake bio of "Essjay" has been deleted. Mr. Jordan no longer works for Wikia.

Mr. Wales should have acknowledged this impropriety instead of demonstrating a Bushian unwillingness to admit mistakes. Furthermore, Wales should explain why lying about one's background qualifies a person to work for a company like Wikia, which proposes to help communities to record accurate information.

Wikia investors Amazon.com and Omidyar Network should demand some accountability from the company. At the very least, they should ask Mr. Wales to refer to Jordan by his real name rather than the pseudonymous name he used when passing as a Ph.D. Preserving the "Essjay" handle only disgraces the company that hired the fraudster.

Accountability is at least as important to the success of crowdsourcing as any individual's repututation. Mr. Jordan should have put his ideas into Wikipedia without falsified credentials and it reflects very poorly on the organization that this fraud has led to his earning a job with Wikia. 

Let's use wikis to improve the world, not pollute it with bad information and fake degrees. 

Disclosure: The author is on the board of advisors of Socialtext, a wiki developer, where Mr. Wales serves as director. You can see a graphical representation of our relationship here, but the investor map fails to reflect the author's common investment in BuzzLogic with Ron Conway.

UPDATE: Jimmy Wales emails: "I did not give Mr. Jordan a free pass, I fired him.  I did not illustrate any refusal to admit mistakes, I did exactly the opposite.  And far from exhibiting a lack of courage in deleting the article about him, I spearheaded the effort." In a separate email, Wales wrote: "I asked for, and received, his resignations from both Wikipedia and Wikia immediately upon learning of this breach of trust."

I have asked Mr. Wales for additional details, such as when he fired Jordan and the reasons for the firing, as well as when he endorsed Jordan in public statements. Hopefully, we can record an interview and get all the facts out so that they can be used to inform future situations involving breaches of trust in crowdsourced knowledge.

Topics: EMC

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Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran journalist, media executive and entrepreneur. He was editor of the ground-breaking Digital Media newsletter in the 1990s and a frequent contributor to ZDNet over the years. He led development of the first Web audio/video news network at ON24, sat on the board of Electric Classifieds Inc. and Match.com, and wor... Full Bio

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