Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the Wikipedia agenda

A point of pride for "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit" is its declared "neutral point of view".

Just what is neutral, however, seems to depend on one's point of view.

In October 2006 Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee ruled unanimously that
- A website that engages in the practice of publishing private information concerning the identities of Wikipedia participants will be regarded as an attack site whose pages should not be linked to from Wikipedia pages under any circumstances.
and that
- Links to attack sites may be removed by any user; such removals are exempt from 3RR. Deliberately linking to an attack site may be grounds for blocking.

In November 2008, Wikileaks, an organization founded and directed by Julian Assange, published "[t]he names, addresses and telephone numbers of more than 10,000 current and former members" of the British National Party, including persons who asked for "discretion." This disclosure occurred in an environment where persons perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be sympathetic to the BNP were often receiving death threats. As it was, at least one person was fired from his job as a direct result of Wikileaks' posting.

Would Wikipedia extend the same principles that its "ArbCom" said applied to its own "participants" to everyone, by calling Wikileaks an "attack site" in the wake of its leaking of the BNP membership list?

Evidently not, since not only to does the Wikipedia article "Afghan War Diary" (a title drawn from Wikileaks chosen name for what other media dubbed the Afghanistan "War Logs") link to Wikileaks' website, it provides a mirror as well. If Wikipedia didn't helpfully link to a mirror, Wikileaks' servers might be overwhelmed, and given that foundations that support innovative free press initatives have declined to fund Wikileaks, Wikileaks might otherwise be forced to spend money on more server capacity.

Meanwhile, the New York Times makes a point of stating that "[w]e have not linked to the archives of raw material. " A prudent position, it would appear, given that
In just two hours of searching the WikiLeaks archive, The Times found the names of dozens of Afghans credited with providing detailed intelligence to US forces. Their villages are given for identification and also, in many cases, their fathers’ names.

What does Wikileaks director Julian Assange have to say about the the possibility that these informants may be harmed? Assange suggests that they may have it coming to them anyway, by arguing that many informers were “acting in a criminal way” by sharing false information with NATO authorities. Assange also blames the White House by saying the White House could have and should have helped Wikilinks vet that data and declaring that "[t]he United States appears to have given every UN soldier and contractor access to the names of many of its confidential sources without proper protection."

"The most dangerous men" says Assange, "are those who are in charge of war. And they need to be stopped." According to the Wikileaks director, the files he leaked suggest "thousands" of "war crimes" have committed. "I enjoy crushing bastards. So it is enjoyable work" was his comment to Der Spiegel.

Wikipedia's editing community has no problem with linking to Assange's website when Assange deems NATO's informants collateral damage in his battle against American "bastards" or when Wikileaks exposes members of a right wing British political party to hostility, but go on to Wikipedia and link to a site that reveals the mere name of a Wikipedian and you're banned? if people behave so much better on the web when they are anonymous.

A Times editorial argues that "[n]o established news organisation in the world would have published these leaks in full, nor should they." For all the talk on Wikipedia about the need for "consensus", whatever the external consensus is is secondary to the consensus of the internal collection of left-libertarian Wikipedians. Such it is that general "social or religious norms" are declared to be of no concern, despite the fact that the declaration itself creates an internal norm by marginalizing Wikipedians who want to take a more responsible stand on, say, the issue of censorship.

What Wikipedia - and Wikileaks, for that matter - don't seem to appreciate is that they are undermining their avowed missions of bringing knowledge to the world when they play the role of activist because lose that intangible and increasingly rare (on the internet) attribute called authority. Pornographic images and videos (parental advisory re those two links) are on Wikipedia, supposedly to "educate", but how is the education mission really being served when schools will have little choice but to block Wikipedia if it continues down this road?

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