Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wikipedia: I hardly knew ye

One of Wikipedia's policies is that "Courtesy blanking" may be employed if something "may potentially cause ... emotional distress".

Facts can be potentially distressing, certainly. And Wikipedia contains a lot of facts, most of them true. Perhaps Wikipedia will one day "blank" itself as a "courtesy" to humanity, which has been plagued throughout its existence by distressing facts! Now if we could just go one step further and "blank" all of human knowledge, after all... ignorance is bliss, n'est-ce pas?

Wikipedia first started down the road to ruin when in 2006 a "biographies of living persons" policy was brought in that said "do no harm". Wikipedia already had policies that called for neutrality, notability, and citations to reliable sources. What's wrong with a neutral article, containing notable facts cited to reliable sources? Plenty, apparently, if such an article creates "distress".

Google "Daniel Brandt" and you'll get almost 50 000 hits. But there is no "Daniel Brandt" article. Why? Because the subject of the article wanted his article deleted (as an aside, part of the reason Wiki admins caved here was because they figured Brandt would dial down his bizarre anti-Wikipedia campaign).

How did Wikipedia get to the point where the truth gets deleted if someone can't handle it? I believe it's because Wiki editors applied a general principle by which many wish to live their lives, namely, "minimize the distress of one's fellows" to the specific job of editing an encyclopedia. In a sense, it's thus an inevitable consequence of "anyone can edit".

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