Wikipedia Scanner traces edits made by local mediaWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
People living through a major societal upheaval are the least qualified to judge its historical context. We can discuss the impact and radical changes the Internet has wrought, but it will be generations before our era can be adequately and objectively deconstructed.
One paradox that will be remarked upon by future observers is the increased democratization of information juxtaposed with the decreased accountability and consequence of those disseminating information.
One of the modern wonders I struggle with is Wikipedia. The site, which is edited by anyone with access to a computer and at least one firing brain synapse, is a treasure of fact, trivia and research. But it’s also a cesspool of inaccuracy, unqualified opinion and outright fiction.
When graduate student Virgil Griffiths recently announced he invented Wikipedia Scanner, a way to track who is editing Wikipedia entries, I was not surprised at what he uncovered. Some of the changes, while morally shady, were innocuous. Changes to criticism at Sea World’s entry were made by someone on a competing theme park’s network. But Griffiths also discovered that the CIA, the Democratic Party, the Vatican and voting machine supplier Diebold had made questionable changes to make themselves look better, regardless of fact.
According to the Associated Press, “Vatican computers removed links to newspaper stories about Gerry Adams, leader of Ireland’s Sinn Fein party. Computers registered to the Church of Scientology were used to remove criticism of the church from the page about it. Diebold, which supplied machines used in some controversial votes, removed 15 paragraphs from the entry about it. One had named its chief executive as a top fund-raiser for President Bush. Last year, someone at PepsiCo deleted several paragraphs of the Pepsi entry that focused on its detrimental health effects.”
I disdain anonymous commentators, whether they slime-trail their way through print or electronic media. This is one more example of the dangers of allowing conversation without consequence.
So, who in our local media constellation is editing Wikipedia, according to http://wikiscanner.virgil.gr/?
Starting at home, no Wikipedia edits have originated from Toledo Free Press, although I edited our stub entry to include, “In December 2006, the paper announced it was moving its distribution day from Wednesday to Sunday and increasing circulation from 30,000 to 150,000, with 135,000 free home delivered,” from my home computer last Dec. 22.
Down the street at The Blade, no one from that organization’s network has apparently edited their Wikipedia entry, which contains several unflattering descriptions and comments. Someone at the paper, however, has been busy on other Wikipedia pages, according to Wikipedia Scanner. Edits to pages about “Hollin Hills,” “Purple Heart” and “Laysan Albatross (conservation and behavior)” have been made by someone at 541 N. Superior St.
I tried other local news disseminators from radio, print and TV and came up empty; no one in local electronic news media has been traced to any edits, self-referential or otherwise. The caveat is that they may have registered corporate names, other than the obvious call letters and parent companies, that escaped my searches.
Someone at Adams Street Publishing, home to City Paper and Toledo Area Parent, has spent a lot of time in late June editing the Wikipedia entry for “Sylvania Northview High School,” although most of their work was classified as “vandalism” and removed. According to Wikipedia Scanner, whoever made the edits from the Adams Street network changed, “In 2006, the Northview Wildcats defeated the Southview Cougars” to “In 2006, the Northview Wildcats kicked the living s**t out of the Southview Cougars” and added the charming homilies, “F**k Southview and the motherf**kin’ police” and “Now, in this time of sheer terror, rich, white, republicans roam the barren landscape that is Sylvania.”
Not much to add to that line of thinking, is there?
There is a lot of fun to be had at Wikipedia Scanner; try looking up “Toledo Public Schools” and “University of Toledo” to see what today’s students are interested in. If you own or operate a business in Toledo, you might want to check and see what folks are doing on your network, on your time.
Wikipedia Scanner may be the first step back toward accountability in the Wild Wild West of the World Wide Web. It’s a small step, one that’s easy to circumvent, but it brings the issue to mainstream conversation.
And when our descendants look back and evaluate this era, they’ll honor those who attached their names to their beliefs, as opposed to those who hide and attack in anonymity.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.