Tag Archives: wikipedia

Who Watches the (Internet) Watchmen?

Self-appointed internet censors mess with Wikipedia.

Everyone loves a bit of self-regulation. But what happens when world-views collide?

Today it has emerged that a ruling by Internet Watch Foundation — a charity-status QUANGO established to help self-regulate internet content in the UK — has led a number of UK ISPs to block access to a (community-regulated) Wikipedia page for heavy metal band Scorpions.

Why? Because the entry includes an image of an album cover which features a naked child. Internet providers began to block access to the page after the IWF warned them the picture may be illegal under UK law. An IWF spokeswoman said a reader had brought the image to the foundation’s attention last week and it had contacted the police before adding the page to their content blacklist.

The album cover itself is a pretty nasty piece of 70s schlock art but it is widely viewable elsewhere on the Internet.

Censorship is a big issue for the Wikipedia community, and policy is hotly debated. In July 2008, Wikipedia community editors then made a joint decision not to remove the Scorpions cover art from the site. According to the discussion page from that time, “Prior discussion has determined by broad consensus that the Virgin Killer cover will not be removed.” Indeed, the current Wikipedia page for Scorpions explains that in the United States (where the websites of the Wikimedia Foundation are hosted), the image is not considered obscene under the criteria of the Miller test, which requires that an obscene work lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (as album art is used to “brand” the album, it is considered to be artistic).

On the other side of the fence, the IWF is a UK-based charity, funded by ISPs and others, and endorsed by the UK Government. It was established in the mid-90s to self-regulate around the issue of USENET porn. Since then the IWF’s remit has expanded to include identification of racist and criminally obscene content, although its focus still seems to be on images of the abuse of children. Unlike Wikipedia, their process and website offers for no community discussion. There is apparantly no way to object to or appeal against their classification.

To us, the message of this story is plain. The kinds of ground-up regulation and consensual decision-making we value on-line only exist — if they exist at all — at the discretion of the State and its possibly-well-meaning but generally opaque proxies. If you want a voice, get out and shout. Yes, you.

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Wikis and Possums

Thoughts on social media and subjectivity

possum.jpgRecently we were discussing Wikipedia‘s anti-business bias: Wikipedians tend to find businesses ‘not notable’ and often dismiss entries about them as them as ‘advertising’. Whilst it is admirable to root out the many articles on Wikipedia which are barely-disguised pat pieces, just because Wikipedians don’t find business interesting doesn’t mean it isn’t. It’s as if the resurgence of the long tail has become its own kind of snobbery — a land where the entry for Anna Nicole Smith can stretch to several pages but where entries about famous businesses get deleted.

A similar debate has been going on on Cute Overload. Put simply: do possums make the cut? A Wiki ‘delete war’ can stretch out for weeks and hundreds of empassioned postings. Cute Overload — understanding the nature of social media, and therefore its community, opened and closed the debate within the space of two posts:

People, it’s tough at Cute O headquarters. We can never decide if possums are cute, or just horribly evil. (There is a fine line, and otters LOVE to jump back and forth across that line, taunting! always taunting!)

But I digest. Check out this dewd with this anerable paws. Don’t look at his schnozzle or ears tho. OK, you can look at his schnozzle.

Rebecca M. claims:

  • They RULE in the Moist Nosicle category.
  • They have a thumb without a nail on their back feet.
  • They have elaborate whiskers.
  • Their ears are pink when they’re babies and turn black as they grow up.
  • They CARRY LEAVES CURLED UP IN THEIR TAILS — Come ON!
  • And let’s not forget they carry their babies in a pouch — North America’s only marsupial.

Wikipedants, take note. There should be a joke here about possums and long tails, but frankly we’ve got better things to be getting on with.

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Something Wikid

Wikipedia reports on the death of Chris Benoit’s wife 14 hours before the police find her body.

Wikipedia was under police investigation today as it emerged that details of the Chris Benoit tragedy were on the site well before police actually found the bodies of his wife and child. Benoit strangled his wife and son during the weekend, placing Bibles next to their bodies, before hanging himself on the cable of a weight-machine in his home, authorities said. No motive was offered for the killings, which were discovered Monday.

According to that Wikipedia entry today:

News of Nancy Benoit’s death was inexplicably posted on Wikipedia 14 hours before the police discovered the bodies. This was initially reported on Wikinews and later on FOXNews.com. The original posting reads: “Chris Benoit was replaced by Johnny Nitro for the ECW Championship match at Vengeance, as Benoit was not there due to personal issues, stemming from the death of his wife Nancy.” The phrase “stemming from the death of his wife Nancy” was added to the English Wikipedia’s “Chris Benoit” article at 12:01 a.m. EDT on June 25, whereas the Fayette County police reportedly discovered the bodies of the Benoit family at 2:30 p.m. EDT (14 hours, 29 minutes later). The IP address of the editor was traced to Stamford, Connecticut, which is also the location of WWE headquarters. After news of the early death notice reached mainstream media, the anonymous poster accessed Wikinews to explain his seemingly prescient comments as a “huge coincidence and nothing more”.

Via CNN.

UPDATE: the wiki editor who predicted Nancy Bedoit’s death has now claimed that the whole thing was an ‘incredible coincidence.’ On Wikinews the following comment appears:

Hey everyone. I am here to talk about the wikipedia comment that was left by myself. I just want to say that it was an incredible coincidence. Last weekend, I had heard about Chris Benoit no showing Vengeance because of a family emergency, and I had heard rumors about why that was. I was reading rumors and speculation about this matter online, and one of them included that his wife may have passed away, and I did the wrong thing by posting it on wikipedia to spite there being no evidence. I posted my speculation on the situation at the time and I am deeply sorry about this, and I was just as shocked as everyone when I heard that this actually would happen in real life. It is one of those things that just turned into a huge coincidence. That night I found out that what I posted, ended up actually happening, a 1 in 10,000 chance of happening, or so I thought. I was beyond wrong for posting wrongful information, and I am sorry to everyone for this. I just want everyone to know it was stupid of me, and I will never do anything like this again. I just posted something that was at that time a piece of wrong unsourced information that is typical on wikipedia, as it is done all the time.

Nonetheless, I feel incredibly bad for all the attention this got because of the fact that what I said turned out to be the truth. Like I said it was just a major coincidence, and I will never vandalize anything on wikipedia or post wrongful information. I’ve learned from this experience. I just can’t believe what I wrote was actually the case, I’ve remained stunned and saddened over it.

I wish not to reveal my identity so I can keep me and my family out of this since they have nothing to do with anything. I am not connected to WWE or Benoit at all in anyway. I am from Stamford as the IP address shows, and I am just an everyday individual who posted a wrongful remark at the time that received so much attention because it turned out to actually happen. I will say again I didn’t know anything about the Benoit tragedy, it was a terrible coincidence that I never saw coming.

I hope this puts an end to this speculation that someone knew about the tragedy before it was discovered. It was just a rumor that I had heard about from other people online who were speculating what the family emergency Chris was attending to. I made a big mistake by posting this comment on his page, since all we had were what we thought was going on and nothing about what actually was going on yet, and sadly what happened turned out to be my speculation at the time. I assumed wiki would edit out my information, which they did, so thats why I didn’t go back to edit it out myself.

I know I keep repeating it but I feel terrible about the mainstream coverage this has received, since it was only a huge coincidence and a terrible event that should of never happened. I am not sure how to react, as hearing about my message becoming a huge part of the Benoit slayings made me feel terrible as everyone believes that it is connected to the tragedy, but it was just an awful coincidence. That is all I have to say, I will never post anything here again unless it is pure fact, no spam nothing like that. Thank you, and let this end this chapter of the Benoit story, and hopefully one day we will find out why this tragedy ever actually happened.

This is Just Weird. It will also be interesting to see what ramifications this has on Wikipedia itself. To whit: “I just posted something that was at that time a piece of wrong unsourced information that is typical on wikipedia, as it is done all the time.”

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Life in the Margins

The behind-the-scenes worlds of collaborative creation.

marginalia2.jpgAs anyone who has ever worked in a team will attest, much of the effort in group creation goes into the meetings, haggling, biting and scratching around the project, rather than into the project itself. With luck, the final creative product will emerge from the scrum relatively intact, and possibly even fit-for-purpose. Generally, unless the history of the end-product is written up by some third-party, its consumers remain blissfully unaware of the scrummage and niggles which led to its creation. So things have been since the dawn of time, and so they remained until the development of social media tools for group co-creation.

Choose some topical news on Wikipedia: Anna Nicole Smith‘s sad demise for example. Or the history of militant Islam. The Wikipedia entries themselves seem relatively sedate and restrained. But take a deep breath, then click on the ‘discussion’ link at the top of the page. Welcome to the world behind the curtain of ‘the authentic’ — a seething cluster of white-hot forums where the content of postings is revised, fought over, denegrated and spat on, by as unruly a rabble of obsessives, freaks and zealots as you could find anywhere on- or off-line. Given at least tacit agreement as to the task at hand, empowered, focussed readers can generate excellent conent. But things get messy when the task is more open-ended. Mosey on over to Penguin’s A Million Penguins project: an attempt to produce a wiki-based collaborative novel. A nasty nasty mess on the surface — but as noted by the good people at if:book:

Far more interesting is the discussion page behind the novel where one can read the valiant efforts of participants to communicate with one another and to instill some semblance of order. Here are the battle wounded from the wiki fray… characters staggering about in search of an author. Writers in search of an editor. One person, obviously dismayed at the narrative’s dogged refusal to make sense, suggests building separate pages devoted exclusively to plotting out story arcs. Another exclaims: “THE STORY AS OF THIS MOMENT IS THE STORY — you are permitted to make slight changes in past, but concentrate on where we are now and move forward.” Another proceeds to forcefully disagree. Others, even more exasperated, propose forking the project into alternative novels and leaving the chaotic front page to the buzzards.

How ironic it would be if each user ended up just creating their own page and writing the novel they wanted to write — alone.

Reading through these paratexts, I couldn’t help thinking that this [the discussion page] was in fact the real story being written. Might [it] contain the seeds of a Tristram Shandyesque tale about a collaborative novel-writing experiment gone horribly awry, in which the much vaunted “novel” exists only in its total inability to be written?

The if:bookers are themselves active explorers of collaborative marginalia — check their Future of the Book site for some lovely examples of ‘networked books’ and commenting tools. We’re particularly excited about the possibilities opened up by their CommentPress plugin for WordPress, which enables comments at paragraph rather than posting-level on sites built with WordPress (as is BST itself).

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Watching Wikipedia

Forget live blogging, how about real time editing?

CNN took an easy pot shot at Wikipedia this week for its ahem ‘live editing’ (otherwise known as breaking news) on the death of Enron executive Kenneth Lay. CNN reports smugly how:

Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, added news of Lay’s death to his online biography shortly after news outlets began reporting it at around 10 a.m. ET (2.p.m GMT).

At 10:06 a.m. Wikipedia’s entry for Lay said he died “of an apparent suicide.”

At 10:08 it said he died at his Aspen home “of an apparent heart attack or suicide.”

Within the same minute, it said the cause of death was “yet to be determined.”

At 10:09 a.m. it said “no further details have been officially released” about the death.

Two minutes later, it said: “The guilt of ruining so many lives finaly (sic) led him to his suicide.”

At 10:12 a.m. this was replaced by: “According to Lay’s pastor the cause was a ‘massive coronary’ heart attack.”

By 10:39 a.m. Lay’s entry said: “Speculation as to the cause of the heart attack lead many people to believe it was due to the amount of stress put on him by the Enron trial.” This statement was later dropped.

By early Wednesday afternoon, the entry said Lay was pronounced dead at Aspen Valley Hospital, citing the Pitkin, Colorado, sheriff’s department. It said he apparently died of a massive heart attack, citing KHOU-TV in Houston.

CNN goes on to note that staff at Wikipedia ‘did not immediately return calls’. But they’re not the reporters are they?

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Digital Maoism

“The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring. Why pay attention to it?”

Back in the day, Jaron Lanier invented Virtual Reality — or at least Virtual Reality in its original 80s form: helmets, 3D, the works. Since then, his pundity has become an intelligent, annoying and often insightful thorn in the side of mainstream digital culture. His latest volley is against a meta-concept that underlies the Wikipedia and much of Web 2.0 — the belief that ‘no-one is smarter than everyone':

The problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it’s been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it’s now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

It’s a good, contrarian, rant. Enjoy.

[Via the ever-stimulating Edge]

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