The Spectacle Blog

More on the Wiki Debate

By on 12.13.05 | 9:59AM

Though we didn't know it at the time, there was more consternation over Wikipedia's veracity yesterday. John Seigenthaler, a former administrative assistant to Bobby Kennedy, was implicated in his Wikipedia bio as a part of JFK's assassination. The libeler recanted the post and admitted he made up all the claims, but only after Seigenthaler found out. The Register takes Wikipedia to task, fairly dramatically, but well enough, and here are a few of their stronger points:



1. "The public has a firm idea of what an "encyclopedia" is, and it's a place where information can generally be trusted, or at least slightly more trusted than what a labyrinthine, mysterious bureaucracy can agree upon, and surely more trustworthy than a piece of spontaneous graffiti - and Wikipedia is a king-sized cocktail of the two."

2. "Copyright law exists in a permanent state of tension, and there's a latency between a new technology being invented and compensation mechanisms being agreed upon that spread that valuable, copyrighted material far and wide ... It's the chasm between Wikipedia's rude claim to be an "encyclopedia", and the banal reality of trashy, badly written trivia that causes so many people to be upset about it."

3. "... 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. … 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."

4. "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."

As an answer to the title of the Register's article "There's No Wikipedia Entry for Moral Responsibility", Wikipedia posted one.

Seigenthaler, a retired journalist himself, notes that "Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, specifically states that 'no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker.'" Coupled with the issue of Google's book search and copyright law, this is a debate that will determine the direction of the new media; as well as implicate the old.

It's worth mentioning that part of what has hailed this new era (and it certainly is a new era) was the questionable trustworthiness of American mainstream media -- exemplified by the coverage of Iraq, Kerry's war record, Plame-gate, and Dan Rather's Bush records. The Internet raises new problems, but they're really just new spins on old troubles.

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