William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Why can’t we have a better Wikipedia dialogue?

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on January 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

Earlier this week, Wikimedia executive director Sue Gardner explained how Wikipedia works (and sometimes doesn’t) in a Los Angeles Times op-ed:

Our weakest articles are those on obscure topics, where subtle bias and small mistakes can sometimes persist for months or even years. But Wikipedians are fierce guardians of quality, and they tend to challenge and remove bias and inaccuracy as soon as they see it.

The article on Barack Obama is a great example of this. Because it’s widely read and frequently edited, over the years it’s become comprehensive, objective and beautifully well sourced.

Using the Barack Obama article is cherry-picking, but it’s true: articles are generally as good as they have contributors for them. Yesterday the Times’ Letters section published a response from a (wait for it) high school teacher, arguing against taking Wikipedia seriously:

Why use Wikipedia when library databases such as Proquest and Opposing Viewpoints, which contain PDF files of peer-reviewed, scholarly articles, are available? When given a choice between an article written by an unknown Internet user and one written by an expert, shouldn’t the choice be obvious?

Wikipedia is the lazy researcher’s source of information. It’s useful for a quick answer to a trivia question or resolving a bet, but it should not be used for serious research.

I thought we stopped arguing about the content of Wikipedia as a source of information awhile back, with the standard reply “look to the sources used as references,” but apparently that hasn’t got around the school district yet.

The problem is that they’re both right as far as it goes, and we don’t really know how far that is.

Maybe what we need to figure out is: what’s the proportion of well-developed, well-cited articles to mediocre-to-worse articles covering important subjects, and how do we determine what that means and how to measure it? What this debate needs is some empirical data.

Audrey Tomason: Newly Minted Star of Washington, and Wikipedia?

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on May 10, 2011 at 11:01 am

Washington, DC (and those outside the Beltway who share its mindset) can’t get enough of celebrity and celebrities. This is why it imports them each April for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This is why phrases such as “famous for DC” and the blog Famous DC and the saying “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people” exist. And it explains, at least in part, the sudden prominence of one Audrey Tomason, the subject of several recent “who is she?” news treatments from the Washington Post, Daily Beast, Daily Mail and elsewhere. She is also now the subject of a one week-old Wikipedia article that has been viewed more than 42,000 times:

Audrey Tomason Wikipedia article

And yet it’s not even agreed that she warrants a standalone Wikipedia article: there is so little information available that one of the few facts currently included is that she “regularly donates to the ‘Tufts Fund for Arts, Sciences and Engineering.’” An outright majority of sources in the article are from Tufts University (three annual report links, one alumni magazine) and one is simply a link to a brief appearance on C-SPAN in which she introduces somebody else. That’s awfully thin.

Wikipedia often chooses to delete articles about people notable for only one event, and in this case one might argue she is only possibly notable for appearing in a famous photograph. On the other hand, the Daily Mail reports that she is Director of Counterterrorism for the National Security Council, which sounds pretty important, although Wikipedia editors have expressed skepticism about the report. As one has pointed out, at this point she is more Internet meme than public figure.

So, will the article survive? It’s too soon to say; for now editors are taking a wait-and-see approach. The answer ultimately may be up to the United States federal government, and whether they are willing to let her talk to the press. Chances are slim, and as the Washington Post points out, Wikipedia itself could even play a role:

If it’s true that Tomason’s job is of the clandestine nature, it’s reasonable to think that this photo will not be good for her career. Neither will her new Wikipedia page.

Osama bin Laden is No Longer a BLP

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on May 2, 2011 at 7:35 am

That is to say, as the world knows by now, the Wikipedia article about Osama bin Laden no longer describes a living person, and he is no longer subject to Wikipedia’s policy for Biographies of living persons (BLP).*

Osama bin Laden, finally dead (on Wikipedia)

Quite something to see this template attached to this particular article. As I type this just before 9am Eastern Time, Wikipedia editors have been extremely active overnight; since early reports of President Obama’s announcement, there have been more (as of my counting) 430 edits to the main bin Laden page and 999 edits to an all-new article: Death of Osama bin Laden. And, of course, there was the obligatory circumstance wherein someone accurately updated the article to reflect his death without providing a citation, leading another editor to revert the change pending verification. And within a few minutes, it was.

*Of course it’s still covered by BLP insofar as other individuals mentioned on the page are concerned, but can we set that aside and take some satisfaction in this moment already?

David Petraeus’ Big Month

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on June 28, 2010 at 8:34 am

In the views of many, Wikipedia tends toward frivolity. After all, the concept of Wikigroaning assumes that articles on pop culture subjects will be given less attention than articles on weighty subjects. While Wikipedia does include plenty of material that Britannica could and would never address, I’ve pointed out before that this isn’t always the case.

Here’s another reason to retain your faith in humanity, and this time not just Wikipedia’s contributors but also its visitors: this month’s traffic to the Wikipedia article about Gen. David Petraeus. He was in the news twice this month, and for very different reasons. First, on June 15, Petraeus fainted while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It’s just the kind of TMZ DC-ready story that gets attention, including video, which always helps. Indeed, the story caused traffic on his Wikipedia article to spike.

But as the chart below indicates, that was only about a tenth of the traffic to his page once President Obama nominated him to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, following the latter general’s unsolicitous remarks about the Obama administration in Rolling Stone magazine. Perhaps this does not reveal too much, as this is undoubtedly the bigger news story, but it is also a much more complicated one, and at least indicates that no matter how many articles about Pokemon characters Wikipedia may hold, people can still find what’s important.

As for the fact that the top day for traffic to McChrystal’s Wikipedia article this month nearly doubled the traffic on Petraeus’ top day, well, I’ll let you judge that for yourself.

Snapshot of traffic to Wikipedia article about David Petraeus, June 2010.

Snapshot of traffic to Wikipedia article about David Petraeus, June 2010.

Traffic statistics courtesy User:Henrik.

The King of Wikipedia Traffic

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on June 27, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Michael Jackson‘s sudden and shocking death just about blew up the Internet this past week, and Wikipedia was no exception, even getting briefly knocked offline. And as the New York Times’ tech reporter Noam Cohen reported, the stunning news produced another milestone for Wikipedia:

The Michael Jackson entry in Wikipedia Thursday evening appeared to have set the record as having the highest traffic in the eight-year history of the online encyclopedia.

In the 7 p.m. hour alone Thursday, shortly after Mr. Jackson’s death was confirmed, there were nearly one million visitors to that article. (In fact, for that hour more than 250,000 visitors went to the misspelled entry “Micheal Jackson.” Even his brother Randy Jackson had 25,000 visits that hour.)

“We suspect this is most in a one-hour period of any article in Wikipedia history,” said Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco.

The article goes on to note that this represented about 1 percent of Wikipedia’s total traffic on the day — this may not sound like much, until you recall the English Wikipedia has more than 2.9 million articles. Writing midday Friday, Cohen predicted that the article could surpass 5 million visits on Friday. As it happens, Cohen set his target a little too low:

traffic-spike-wikipedia-jackson

1.4 million visits is pretty remarkable, but 5.9 million visits in unprecendented. However, there is one discrepancy: yesterday’s estimates from User:Henrik‘s Wikipedia article traffic statistics tool (and Cohen’s article) put the figure at 1.8 million visits, which means the numbers where somehow reconciled downward in the interim. I’ll be looking to find out why. And while Cohen names as a point of comparison President Barack Obama‘s Wikipedia article, which received 2.3 million visits on Election Day, I know of a page that received more traffic still and offers a better comparison:

traffic-spike-wikipedia-palin

That spike you are looking at occurred on the day that Senator John McCain announced Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in the final days of August, 2008 (as previously discussed on Blog P.I.). Between Jackson and Palin we have one well-known but mysterious and one little-known but suddenly very public figure, thrust into the middle of a breaking news story. By comparison, Obama was a highly visible public figure and Election Day was known far in advance. Perhaps that actually makes the 2.3 million that day even more impressive. But it’s hard to read much more into bar graphs such as this beyond acknowledging they represent a sudden and externally-driven interest in the subject.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that the article containing the information people presumably want most, Death of Michael Jackson, has not recorded anything like the traffic of the primary MJ article:

traffic-spike-wikipedia-jackson-death

Why is this the case? Part of the answer is the power of Google, which is the overwhelming driver of traffic to Wikipedia. On that note, I don’t know about you, but in the past 24 hours, Michael Jackson’s official site and his Wikipedia article have traded places on Google, with Wikipedia now ranked first overall. Second, the link to this article is found deep in the primary one, albeit of course at the top of the section concerning his death. Still, 527 is a rounding error compared to 5.9 million. Perhaps the Michael Jackson article itself satisfied their curiosity, before clicking over to iTunes and downloading a copy of Thriller.

And one last, somewhat morbid note: it is strange indeed that the King of Pop is no longer covered by Wikipedia’s Biography of living persons guideline.

Update: In the comments, one of the more knowledegable Wikipedia editors, Tvoz, suggests I’m wrong on the last point:

One thing: actually Michael Jackson’s article *is* still covered by the “biographies of living people” guidelines. Those guidelines protect the integrity of Wikipedia’s articles and intend to thwart defamation, and it is expected that editors will continue to follow the policy and remove poorly sourced defamatory material immediately, even after the death. His family members are alive, and causes of action as a result of such defamatory material could still be brought.

An interesting point, and I think a fair clarification. My inclination is to say this means that Jackson’s family members are still covered by BLP, and this means that any material on the Michael Jackson page must conform to the policy in order to protect them, rather than MJ himself. And of course, spurious information shouldn’t be added at any time — and Jackson’s continued celebrity probably means that this page will be scrutinized more than most.

Don’t Be WorldNetDaily’s Aaron Klein

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on March 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm

As noted yesterday, a recent article by WorldNetDaily Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein about Wikipedia’s alleged “scrubbing” of President Obama’s Wikipedia article resulted in additional coverage that brought to light the probability that Klein himself had made the controversial edits in question and was also the creator and top contributor to his own Wikipedia entry (at least until yesterday, when it exploded with activity.

To be fair, Klein has now claimed (in a letter to Gawker) that he is not in fact Jerusalem21 but in fact only told a subordinate at WND to edit the page:

First, I am not “Jerusalem21,” but I do know the Wikipedia user (he works with me and does research for me), and I worked with him on this story, which focused on investigating allegations I had received from others of Wikipedia scrubbing Obama’s page.

Whatever. Klein is probably satisfied that he has brought to the world’s attention the horrible Wikipedia conspiracy to keep fringe theories out of articles where they don’t belong, but it may come at a price he didn’t expect:

aaron-klein-afd

If you check out the deletion debate itself, it’s not immediately clear which way it will go. Many votes for Keep and many for Delete as well. The fact that Klein (or his subordinate) wrote up a vanity page is not the issue — after all, it can always be changed — but whether Klein meets Wikipedia’s notability requirement certainly is.

Amusingly, some take the position that Klein did not meet the requirement prior to criticizing Wikipedia, but due to the ensuing coverage, he now does. And I think this is may be correct, though I think it’s arguable he met the requirement in the first place. I think the article will most likely survive, even if the decision is “no consensus.” But he may not like that, either — because as long as the article stays, so will some version of this:

Klein removed the name of the editor from the article after reports arose on blogs and Wired News that he might himself be the suspended editor described in the story.

The So-Called Fight Over Barack Obama’s Wikipedia Article

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on March 10, 2009 at 7:27 am

There are two stories going around in the past 24 hours about President Obama’s biographical article on Wikipedia. One, from FoxNews.com, is about the article downplaying Obama’s relationship with the controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright and eliminating all references to erstwhile domestic terrorist William Ayers. The second is from WorldNetDaily and concerns Wikipedia editors reverting attempts to mention the alleged controversy over whether Obama was in fact born somewhere outside the United States, thus making him ineligible for the presidency (misleadingly promoted at Druge as “WIKIPEDIA scrubs Obama page clean of critical entries…”).

While I haven’t done extensive research into the history of this page or its associated talk page, I think there are reasonable questions involved but as we will get to later, this is ultimately a non-story.

First of all, Fox was wise to have ignored WND’s primary concern: there is a big difference between campaign controversies that merited mainstream press attention and those which remained the confined to blogs and message boards. The editor who removed the “eligibility” information the first time cited WP:FRINGE and WP:UNDUE and if neither guideline is familiar, they are worth studying. However, due to the actual lawsuits that were not covered in conjunction with the campaign, the subject is deserving of its own Wikipedia article, and it has one: Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, I can at least envision a case being made that Ayers warrants a mention on this page, although not much more of one than what Wright gets:

Obama resigned from Trinity during the Presidential campaign after controversial statements made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright became public.[200]

This sentence resides in the “Family and personal life” section, and is the closing sentence in a paragraph on Obama’s religious views. This also points to the fact that Wright was, by all accounts, a much more important person in Obama’s life than was Ayers. It’s true, the article does not mention that inspiration for the title “The Audacity of Hope” comes from Wright, but the article on the book most certainly does.

In fact, Fox News’ Joshua Rhett Miller concedes there is less than meets the eye here in this paragraph:

Obama’s controversial relationships with both men have two extensive independent Wikipedia pages: “Bill Ayers presidential election controversy” and “Jeremiah Wright controversy.” The associations, however, are largely downplayed or ignored altogether in Obama’s main Wikipedia entry.

True (see here and here, respectively). There is also a discussion of Wright in the article about Obama’s presidential primary campaign and mentions of Ayers in that article as well as the one about his general election campaign. This is whitewashing?

That said, the concern that supporters of President Obama may zealously guard the page is a real one. Wikipedia has a whole guideline pointing out that no single editor has ownership over any article, which is a pretty good indication that this does happen. Because Wikipedia runs on consensus, it is also possible that a group of like-minded editors are reinforcing each other’s desire to see negative material removed from the article. Likewise, relegating disputed material to another page in order to avoid debates is called POV forking, and is discouraged. However, I see no clear-cut evidence this either the case, and it would take several hours’ research for me to know enough to say.

Meanwhile, what is clear is that the editor whose reverted additions of aforementioned material did a clumsy job, is obviously motivated by political considerations and is hardly a conscientious Wikipedia contributor. As Wired points out:

Of more interest is the identity of the mysterious Jerusalem21, whose courageous disregard of Wikipedia’s ban on fringe material provided WND’s Aaron Klein with his smoking gun in the first place, spawning what will soon be a national wiki-scandal.

Curiously, it turns out that Jerusalem21, whoever he or she might be, has only worked on one other Wikipedia entry since the account was created, notes ConWebWatch. That’s Aaron Klein’s entry, which Jerusalem21 created in 2006, and has edited 37 times.

Who watches the watchmen, indeed.