Thursday, August 23, 2007

Overreaction of the Week

A lot of people and organizations are in a tizzy over companies editing their own Wikipedia pages:
Last year a Wikipedia visitor edited the entry for the SeaWorld theme parks to change all mentions of “orcas” to “killer whales,” insisting that this was a more accurate name for the species.

There was another, unexplained edit: a paragraph about criticism of SeaWorld’s “lack of respect toward its orcas” disappeared. Both changes, it turns out, originated at a computer at Anheuser-Busch, SeaWorld’s owner.

Last year, someone at PepsiCo deleted several paragraphs of the Pepsi entry that focused on its detrimental health effects. In 2005, someone using a computer at Diebold deleted paragraphs that criticized the company’s electronic voting machines. That same year, someone inside Wal-Mart Stores changed an entry about employee compensation.

Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, says the site discourages such “conflict of interest” editing. “We don’t make it an absolute rule,” he said, “but it’s definitely a guideline.”

Internet experts, for the most part, have welcomed WikiScanner. “I’m very glad that this has been exposed,” said Susan P. Crawford, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “Wikipedia is a reliable first stop for getting information about a huge variety of things, and it shouldn’t be manipulated as a public relations arm of major companies.”
Here's what bothers me. It's the purpose of sites like Wikipedia to be as accurate as possible. I think the truth and accurate facts is everyone's goal. Well, who's going to be more knowledgeable about the truth in an organization, assuming it has nothing to hide, than the organization itself?

If the people who work at Sea World say they know more about the etymology of their animals than Joe Orcafan in Cleveland who's been there once but decided to take it upon himself to "update" the Sea World page - well, who are you going to feel has access to more trustworthy data?

It even is more important to clear away editorial data, like the diatribe against the captivity of killer whales that was on the Sea World site and subsequently deleted by an employee. It's fine to criticize something if you feel strongly about it, but a page like Wikipedia could include hundreds of different, even conflicting opinions regarding the treatment of their animals if allowed to.

If someone wants to acknowledge there is controversy, that's fine but make it a link on the page to another site that addresses the controversy directly - not there with the description.

I have no problem whatsoever with a company editing their own Wikipedia page. A lot of paranoid conspiracy enthusiasts will readily see demons and ulterior motives behind every edit, but it's mostly nonsense. It's in a company's best interest to provide factual information about their organization, and if there's a site out there that is providing false or misleading or biased information that purports to be, as Wikipedia likes to think of itself, as an "authority" on these subjects, then they have the right to set the record straight.

My company was in just a predicament one time. A Wikipedia page about one of our affiliates was edited to include some horribly biased, inaccurate information. We contacted the Wikipedia management and it was removed with more basic, truthful information restored. And the page was locked from further intrusion. To some that's corporate hands overreaching their bounds - to me it's responsible stewardship of online information.

No comments:

Post a Comment