An Unfortunate Series of Edits

It takes less effort to vandalize a Wikipedia article than it does to remove the vandalism if you play your cards right. Why is that? Because Wikipedians are naively taught to “assume good faith”. The quality and accuracy of Wikipedia content would be considerably greater than it is today if the Wikipedia community merely assumed that everyone making an edit or contribution was doing so for a biased purpose — until they prove otherwise.

Technically, we argue ourselves into a semantic frenzy that there are no neutral points of view but let’s leave that conundrum for the philosophers. Instead, let’s just focus on the occasional contributors who decide they don’t like the way a Wikipedia article reads and they’re going to “fix” it by inserting the truth, the right truth, their right truth, and nothing but their right truth.

How is the rest of the Wikipedia community to know when these not-so-subtle propaganda campaigns appear in the texts? The best guide is when an expert in the subject matter objects to the edits. The problem, however, is that Wikipedia doesn’t really trust experts in the subject matter very much (in fact, the entire Wiki concept is designed to reduce the weight of expertise and to favor consensus, regardless of poorly informed or misinformed it might be).

So what set me off about this classic example of Social Media Gone Wild? Hm. Basically, someone modified the Wikipedia “Middle-earth canon” article to fabricate the lie that there is an official canon.

The whole “Middle-earth canon” issue only matters to people who want to argue about whether Balrogs have wings (they do! they don’t! they do! they don’t!) or whether Gil-galad is the son of Fingon (he is! he isn’t! he is! he isn’t!). You never see anyone arguing over whether Beren is an Elf (he is in The Book of Lost Tales) or whether Prince Imrahil played golf (Golf was invented by a Hobbit). But people will argue over some pretty stupid things (and, yes, I’ve been one of those people).

If you want to know the truth about Balrogs you have to explain which Balrogs you’re talking about, because no two Balrogs are exactly the same in Tolkien canonical discussions.

All of which is to say that the Wikipedia article is a fish out of water. It was originally composed by the small group of people who wanted to use Wikipedia to create an encyclopedia of Middle-earth (because they didn’t like the Encyclopedia of Arda or didn’t know about the original Encyclopedia of Middle-earth, which was abandoned years ago).

Today Wikipedia has no clue as to what to do with the Middle-earth project. It’s a former featured article that has been shaped and reshaped by propaganda. The information there is critically unbelievable. And I am not the only person out there complaining about Wikipedia is a vehicle for widespread propaganda.

I think it’s ironic that, when I searched Google on Propaganda today, Wikipedia was listed first with the following snippet: “‘Propaganda is the stuped information aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviors of large numbers of people. As opposed to impartially providing …”

Clearly, someone decided to add their 2-cents’ worth to the article (which has since been fixed).

Wikipedia was never in any way a good idea. It presents a constantly changing set of “facts” that you cannot depend on to always be there, be right, or even be complete. There are better resources for very nearly every topic covered by Wikipedia — and those resources are usually protected by guardians who know better than to just let anyone wander in and make changes to the content — who know better than to “assume good faith”.

It’s the assumption of good faith that undermines all Wikipedia stands for because unscrupulous people use that assumption to their advantage. Propagandists know they don’t have to win every argument in order to corrupt hearts. They know they just have to win enough arguments to sway the weight of consensus in their favor, and then it no longer matters who is right or wrong.

The poison pen campaigns that permeate Wikipedia will never go away until someone swallows his pride and says, “Hey — Wikipedia was a mistake. I’m sorry. Let’s just put it behind us.”

Jimmy Wales — how many more people do you want to mislead and humiliate before you admit you were wrong?


SF-Fandom is a fan-run moderated Web discussion community devoted to science fiction, fantasy, history, and mythology. Founded in 2001, SF-Fandom is part of the Xenite.Org Network of science fiction and fantasy Web sites.

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