There's no Wikipedia entry for 'moral responsibility'

Seigenthaler libeller unmasked - thought it was a joke site

The first, and the most immediately absurd of these two defenses, is that since nothing at all can be trusted, er, "definitively", then Wikipedia can't be trusted either. This is curious, to say the least, as it points everyone's expectations firmly downwards.

If you recall the utopian rhetoric that accompanied the advent of the public "internet" ten years ago, we were promised that unlimited access to the world's greatest "knowledge" was just around the corner. This hasn't happened, for reasons cited above, but now the public is now being exhorted to assume the posture of a citizen in an air raid, where every moving object might be a dangerous missile.

Everything you read is suspect! You'd better duck!

Only a paranoiac, or a mad person, can sustain this level of defensiveness for any length of time however, and to hear a putative "encyclopedia" making such a statement is odd, to say the least.

This defense firmly puts the blame on the reader, for being so stupid as to take the words at face value. Silly you, for believing us, they say.

The second defense is rather more intriguing, and repellant.

Wikipedia's defenders point to the open model, where anyone can make changes, as another example of shrugging off responsibility.

This, again, is an excuse we have to savor as much as a lepidopterist might savor catching an undiscovered breed of butterfly - it's an excuse that can only be heard during rare blips in human history.

This one owes its credibility to the fact that the word "publication" has become rather blurry. Wikipedia is a project whose failure is genetically programmed into its mechanisms, and "publication" is one of those things that will trigger the final, fatal sequence of destruction.

We can rest assured that Wikipedia will never be printed - or at least not in countries where defamation laws exist. Perhaps some brave soul will attempt a Wikipedia tome in Borneo. Or Mars. But as soon as it hits print, the blurriness behind publication disappears, and Wikipedia The Book is seen for what it is, an evasiveness based on accident. And the lawsuits will begin in earnest.

So Wikipedia's second defense rests heavily on the assumption that everyone in the whole world is participating, watching, and writing at every moment of the day, and so that a failure to pay attention represents negligence on the part of the complainer. Seigenthaler, the argument goes, was clearly being an idiot when he failed to notice that day's piece of web grafitti. Instead of taking his dog for a walk, or composing an email to his grandchildren, he should have been paying ceaseless attention to ... his Wikipedia biography.

To which the only honest answer is, "we don't owe you anything".

Really, we don't. If they can't get it right, why on earth should we have to clean up the mess. I can't speak for you, but I have better things to do.

"It's the Hive Mind wot dunnit. Not me"

If "publication" by an "encyclopedia" means anything, it means that you have to get those facts right.

More or less. Kinda.

And "publication", therefore, entails some kind of responsibility. The "Hive Mind", or "collective intelligence" that we're told will "self-correct" such goofs is simply absent when it's needed. The only people operating the levers of the man behind the Hive Mind curtain, it seems, are the Wikipedians.

Involvement in Wikipedia has taken its toll on a significant number of decent, fair minded people who with the most honorable intentions, have tried to alert the project to its social responsibilities and failed. Such voices could be heard on the Wikipedia mailing list, speaking up for quality. Wikipedia is losing good editors at an alarming rate, but who can blame them for leaving?

Quality isn't an issue, and now Responsibility isn't an issue either.

We'll leave you with one delicious illustration of Wikipedia's sense of responsibility. We turn - where else? - to Wikipedia's philosophy section.

When a few weeks ago, we looked at how Wiki folk defined "quality", we found a very telling definition, one that was at odds with all others. "Quality" was loosely defined as "general good value".

And Wikipedia hasn't disappointed us now.

Calls for responsibility, we learn, in that unique strangulated prose style that is truly Wikipedia's legacy to the world -

"... often form a pejorative means of attacking political opponents. This habit of demanding behaviour aligned to one's own desires also occurs in other arenas: one expects "responsibility" from children, parents, spouses, colleagues and employees, meaning they should change their attitudes to suit the speaker."

From which the only thing missing is:

".... booooo big bad teecher - I'm not going to skool today. fuck you!!"

Which is terrific stuff.

Now a picture of the body behind the "Hive Mind" of "collective intelligence" begins to take shape.

He's 14, he's got acne, he's got a lot of problems with authority ... and he's got an encyclopedia on dar interweb.

Watch out! ®

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