Who owns your Wikipedia bio?
Web's favourite RPG hits the headlines
#3 - Yes: The Case of Cory Doctorow
But what if you are not the founder, but merely sympathetic to the Wikipedia cause?
In the case of one Cory Doctorow, the answer appears to be an emphatic yes.
"The picture is horrible. Any chance of a less supercilious looking one?" asks a fan. "I think this one is better..."
Not good enough, thinks Doctorow.
"The one you think is better is the one the original poster was complaining about (and it's about 4 years out of date) -- Cory"
Off goes the fan, and soon another offering is made at the shrine, and this one wins the subject's approval.
"PS: I think the photo is great" enthuses Doctorow.
At one stage a Wikipedian questions the masturbatory exercise:
"Frankly it's a little discomforting to have the subject write about himself."
This earns a snappy rejoinder:
"I don't see why not -- it's abundantly clear that I have more domain expertise on things like 'Cory Doctorow's views on copyright' and "the commercial fortunes of 'Cory Doctorow's books' than you do", writes er, ... Cory Doctorow, who adds -
"The Amazon sales-rank example (which I believe you inserted to begin with) is nonsensical and proves nothing. I've cut it."
Then, bizarrely, we discover that the references to the self-references were removed because they violate the Self-Reference policy.
(If only the EFF had a self-reference policy...)
From this example, we can conclude that you can edit your Wikipedia entry - but it will leave you looking very silly indeed. Which probably wasn't what you had in mind when you set out to buff up your reputation.
Where faith triumphs rationality, it isn't unusual to see cult-like characteristics emerge. You could conclude that Groupthink is one of the surefire "emergent properties" once a web initiative is described as "emergent". The enforcement of Wikipedia's biographical guidelines seems less random and more like a loyalty test for participants.
"The results are ... handled by selective enforcement, where popular people are given a pass, while strict wording can be used against those less popular. Moreover, the implications can quickly become perverse, in favoring those with friends who are comfortable with Wikipedia - or perhaps those who are skilled at constructing sock-puppets," observes Seth Finkelstein, in an ongoing discussion.
Or as Brandt puts it:
"All the rules are cancelled if they like you, and all the rules are enforced up the hilt if they hate you."
One thing appears to be certain. Trying to massage one's reputation out on the toxic wastelands of the web can go one of two ways. If the attempt is successful, it leaves you looking as foolish and vain as Doctorow. If unsuccessful, it guarantees an energy-sapping defeat.
The real loser of the Seigenthaler episode in the short-term is the web. In the longer-term, both Seigenthaler and Wales agreed yesterday, there's a greater danger that government will step in and demand media regulation. What an ironic legacy from these unwitting Utopians.®