William Beutler on Wikipedia

The Curious Case of Ryan Coonerty

Tagged as ,
on March 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm by William Beutler

There’s an interesting story from the San Jose Mercury News today about Ryan Coonerty, a moderately controversial mayor of Santa Cruz, California who has a much-contested Wikipedia article:

Young, highly educated and very popular with voters, or a politician who plies his trade by cashing in on resentment toward the homeless in Santa Cruz.

If you get your information online, your view of Councilman Ryan Coonerty may depend on who last edited his Wikipedia page.

ryan_coonerty_public_domainTwo years after Coonerty joined the Santa Cruz City Council in 2004, his supporters created an admittedly glowing Wikipedia profile that they hoped might hook Web-savvy young voters.

Though he has long since been re-elected to the council, what once seemed like hip political strategy has become a headache as Coonerty, 35, engages in an ongoing struggle to control his online image on Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

It has gotten to the point where, “given it all, I would rather just not have a Wikipedia page,” said Coonerty, who in 2007 became the youngest Santa Cruz mayor in 30 years. “It gets looked at a lot. I’ll give a speech and people will print out my Wikipedia page.”

So I’ve had a look through it now and what’s kind of amusing is that even after the article was posted this afternoon, drive-by editors were still taking their shots at Finnerty — only to be quickly reverted by more-established editors. Several hours later the article was drawing vandals who were less critics of Finnerty than out to make fun for themselves — a malady afflicting many articles in the news.

The upshot, however, is that the article seems to have several defenders, including Xymmax (today’s most active) and Delirium (a sometime contributor to the Greek Wikipedia). A more interesting case is Rthunder, a Santa Cruz resident and the article’s most frequent contributor. Rthunder appears to be no supporter of Coonerty, whose good faith edits have been rolled back for legitimate reasons but has also made edits of which Coonerty would undoubtedly approve.

Articles such as Coonerty’s can be difficult to keep neutral, as Delirium explains on the Talk page today:

I do think this is one of Wikipedia’s bigger blind spots in general, though: BLPs [Biographies of living persons] which have a few people who care a lot about them (on either side), but are neither non-notable enough to delete, nor notable enough to attract much attention from neutral editors. One I was involved in a while back, Erwin McManus, was fought over by partisans for over a year before they mostly went away and some more neutral editors showed up. I guess the BLP noticeboard is the best way to pull non-involved people into these sorts of articles?

I think that’s right on the first point, and probably correct on the second. Of course, then there is also the curious case of how public pressure can bring changes to articles, which is another way to pull in other editors. It happened here, and that’s certainly what happened in the much more infamous case of John Seigenthaler, what Wikipedia itself calls the “Seigenthaler incident.”

Oh, and one more thing? The Coonerty article is arguably better than it was yesterday — but it still needs a lot of work.