Jimmy Wales defends Wikipedia

This is a debate that has completely escaped me until now, but apparently conservative blogger Robert Cox — who maintains a site called Olbermann Watch, devoted to criticizing sportscaster and news anchor Keith Olbermann — believes that Wikipedia is deliberately censoring him by not allowing him to edit the page at Wikipedia that is dedicated to Olbermann. He claims that comments he makes are repeatedly ignored, that edits he makes are repeatedly changed or “reverted” and that this is clear evidence of a liberal bias.

So Marc Glaser of PBS’s MediaShift got an email debate going between Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Cox, which has some fascinating parts to it. There’s this exchange:

MARK GLASER: So you feel that Wikipedia having a “slightly more liberal” slant than the U.S. is OK? How does it affect the goal of neutral point of view and should you do something to counteract it in some way?

JIMMY WALES: I do not think it affects the goal at all. The question totally misapprehends the process. The idea that neutrality can only be achieved if we have some exact demographic matchup to United States of America is preposterous, as I am sure you will agree.

And then there is a long rant in which Robert Cox details how his changes to the Olbermann page — which he says were made in an attempt to make it more balanced, not just to be critical of Olbermann — were repeatedly erased, and when he made some without discussing them (as Wikipedia rules require) he was turned in to the “Wikipedia cops.” Jimmy Wales has this response:

JIMMY WALES: Just make some good faith edits, and write in a non-hostile manner on the talk page that you have an interest in trying to make the article high quality and neutral. Reach out with love and kindness to your opponents and see what happens. I will watch and not interfere.

Glaser also asks about why the entry on George Bush, which is described as very critical, was “locked down,” and Jimmy Wales describes the process by which some entries used to be “protected” so they wouldn’t be vandalized, and how that has evolved:

Protection to deal with vandalism was overkill. So we invented what is called “semi-protection.” Semi-protection is a state in which articles can still be edited by any user of the site, but not by anonymous IP numbers.

All in all, it’s a fascinating look at the inner workings of Wikipedia, and along with the recent kerfuffle over Digg.com and the accusations of manipulation by senior editors there, it’s a worthwhile look at some of the issues surrounding “social media,” all of which will make great fodder for our discussion of Web 2.0 and society at mesh in May. If you have even more time on your hands, you could also read this transcript of an address given by Jason Scott of textfiles.com about how Wikipedia is flawed in many ways, including the control that Jimmy Wales exerts over it, and also that Wikipedia’s failures have a lot to say about human nature and anonymity.

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