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Truth, anonymity and the Wikipedia Way

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In his recent piece on Google "Knols," the search giant's answer to Wikipedia, El Reg associate editor Andrew Orlowski points out that Wikipedia articles may be "tightly controlled by a 14-year-old you've never heard of, who has risen to the top of the social backstabbing by seeing off rival 'editors,' by forming cliques and drinking huge amounts of Red Bull."

But that's just one possibility. The point is that if they have enough time and make the right friends, anyone can hijack a Wikipedia article.

Multiple Wikipedia insiders - some who've risen to the very top of the encyclopedia food chain (and we mean the very top) - make it quite clear that rigging the system is terribly easy. Whether you're 14 or 54, you can readily become an administrator or make friends with an administrator. Especially if you have little else to occupy your time.

And once you've done this - once you're in with the in-crowd - you can control an article simply by shouting the loudest.

So, let's say you do it. Let's say you hijack an article simply to push your own agenda. This is potentially a powerful position. After all, Wikipedia is the eighth most visited site on the web. For better or for worse, it's where people get their information.

Then, let's say, someone realizes you're doing this. Let's say they approach the Wikipedia elite with word that you're behind an anonymous account trying to tell the world how to think. Chances are, this rat will be shot on sight. At Wikipedia, attempting to reveal the identity of an anonymous editor is a no-no.

To be fair, one uber-administrator tells us that if someone plays their cards right, there are ways of outing Wikipedia hoaxers. But again, this all boils down to who's with the in-crowd and who's not. If you have the right friends, you have the power. If you don't, your voice isn't heard.

In the wake of the Wikipedia elite banning edits from Judd Bagley's entire Utah neighborhood, the site's Arbitration Committee also considered banning any mention of certain "BADSITES," including Bagley's AntiSocialMedia.net. In the end, the ArbCom took the high road, refusing to lay down such a ban. But part of the committee's decision alluded to Wikipedia's much larger problem - without choosing to actually address it.

"Allowing anonymous editing and forbidding conflict of interest," the committee said, "is an obvious contradiction which necessarily is imperfectly resolved."

Of course, there's an easy way to eliminate this problem. If Wikipedia would simply require editors to identify themselves, so much of this would go way. Yes, there would still be issues. An IP address still provides a certain pseudonymity. But this is certainly a better situation that the one we have now. You'll notice, dear reader, that Google Knols ask that everyone admit to who they are.

Is any of this true? That's for you to decide. The truth, after all, is relative. If you decide The Register is trash, you can safely ignore everything we've said. ®

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