I’ve been a contributor for many years now. I guess it started when I needed a means to rehabilitate my name and reputation after the onslaught from the court, the press, my wife, my children, my in-laws, and, ok then, if you insist, the nanny. Doing this enabled me to show that I did have a life, and a professional one at that, well before becoming a part of my wife’s life. And access to the site being free, and knowing the laziness of many journalists and other media folk, I felt that they would check me out there, and leave me alone.
Here I should mention that I love the concept, and admire it in action. They have extraordinary software which takes a while to learn, very specific rules, and on the whole there are built-in safeguards to protect against advocacy. Neutral Point of View, one of their 3 core principles. The others are Verifiability, and No Original Research.
This is all to the good, until it comes up short in their big weakness. How to deal with the BLPs. That is the Biographies of Living Persons. As many of my friends in the industry know, reputations have been shattered, as well as undeservedly exalted, by editors, some of whom are what I call fanboys, and others the exact opposite. Combine that thought with the fact that they actively prevent the target subject from having any hand at all in the creation or editing of the page. I fought long and hard to create my page, and finally I think they got fed up with me, and let it stand, so I got away with it. I haven’t touched it again in years, and now others have taken over, treating me better than I would have done for myself, so thank you! I detect some inaccuracies, but what the heck, they do me no harm! Here, check it out.
Things had been quiet on this front until recently, when a firestorm erupted.
I noticed a featured entry on my old friend, John Le Mesurier, long passed on. The creators of the article linked to many of his co-workers, and it mentioned that he started his radio career with the series Just William in 1946. My name wasn’t mentioned, and I thought, what the heck, I’ll put in my name because I was the first William, he worked with me, was my friend, and link it to the article on me. Well, it was immediately deleted, so I put it back, and this started an edit war, a no-no at Wikipedia. Often article talk pages are more interesting than the articles they discuss. The irony is that when I asked the Just William Society to look into the matter, they found that the biographer of the book which was their source was wrong, he never was in the radio show! And I certainly don’t remember him in the broadcast studio either. So their sourcing policy has serious flaws in it anyway.
What began as a storm in a teacup has blown up to be a big issue at the Wikipedia website, and has even drawn in the founder, Jimmy Wales. As I said, it has to do with the fact that they don’t allow celebrities who have their own entries known as “Biographies of Living Persons” to in any way edit their entries. A “Conflict of Interest” rule. So even if they are misquoted, or sourced to an unreliable mention in a newspaper or book, there’s nothing they can do about it.
Does all this matter? I think it does, because Wikipedia is usually, one might say always, at or near the top of search engines. And because it’s royalty free, the press quotes freely from it all the time. I am campaigning for them to change this rule. “Celebrities” and other sentient groups, should be able to edit too. If Wikipedia claims to be democratic, i.e. for “all the people”, then all the people should be able to edit anything anywhere at any time. And if they continue to ban celebrities? By way of illustration of possible legal outcomes, I made up the following courtroom scenario, and posted it on Jimbo Wales’s user page:
Celebrity vs. Wikipedia, does 1-30 (The does will cover senior editors, founders and 30 users)
CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: My client has been libeled in the pages of Wikipedia in an article written by users who operate under assumed names.
JUDGE: Libeled? Does your client claim privacy privileges which are quite broad?
CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: No your honor, he knows that he is vulnerable to general criticism and accepts that. He is what they call a Notable, and as such becomes part of a category called “Biographies of Living Persons”, and any content may only be changed at the discretion of other users, but not him. That is the crux of this action. He does not accept statements that hold him up to ridicule, scorn, and contempt.
WP ATTORNEY: My client claims immunity as a public website. It merely passes on what is being said elsewhere. All statements are sourced.
JUDGE: Does Wikipedia discriminate against any users?
WP ATTORNEY: Absolutely not. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site, as we proclaim publicly.
JUDGE: Can’t the plaintiff remove the offending language then?
CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: No your honor. Under Wikipedia’s restrictive rules, celebrities cannot change anything in articles detailing their lives, beyond possibly a fact here and there. It contravenes what is known as their Conflict of Interest rule, which is a core principle, and which conflicts with their own rules which my friend just stated.
JUDGE: I see. Then can you state your problem with individual users?
CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: They don’t always provide a source for their unpleasant remarks, and many are the celebrities’ fans, and in this case haters. Often-times untrue statements remain unchallenged.
JUDGE: Then I grant permission for you to bring any such users into court, as I rule they are not exempt.
CELEBRITY ATTORNEY: But how do I find them?
JUDGE: That’s your problem. (raises gavel)
WP ATTORNEY: (Quickly) May I confer with my clients?
(After a short interlude.)
WP ATTORNEY: I think we can settle this, your honor. My clients are willing to change the rule. They will henceforth include the celebrity and notable BLPers as regular users. Of course, they will then have to conform to the same rules as everybody else.
JUDGE: Sounds good to me. I will sign an order to that effect. Case dismissed.