Don’t Blame Wikipedia for Clinton and Epstein Edits


One of the increasingly many things I find really appalling about politics in Twitterland is the number of people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

Today’s example is the discussion of how Bill Clinton’s connection with Jeffrey Epstein keeps disappearing from Wikipedia. Like:



So I’m going to tell you a (not very) secret: I’m a Wikipedia editor. But then, if you want to bother with it, so are you. You don’t even have to register an account.

Here’s how Wikipedia works: Anyone who cares to can go there and write an article. Someone did for the Southern San Luis Valley Railroad, a topic I took an interest in because my grandfather was one of the owners. Now the SSLV is notable mainly for having been the shortest mainline railroad in the United States, although it did have a real pretty wooden trestle bridge. But anyone can put up an article about anything, and anyone else can edit it.

For a lot of topics, Wikipedia is very useful, especially technical topics. Articles on Math and Computer Science are generally at least pretty good, although sometimes written for a technical audience instead of a general one. But the point is that there’s no such entity as the Wikipedia Editors.

On current events, it’s more like blog comments. The people who care about Wikipedia as a reputable source try to beat that back, but the public nature of the site means that zealots can make any edits they like, and until someone reverses or re-writes them, they stand.

Sometimes zealots become obnoxious enough that they lose privileges or are even blocked — although it’s nearly impossible to block someone who uses a different IP address. But an administrator named William Connolley eventually was removed as an administrator because of abusive edits to climate change pages, and congressional staffers have been blocked for politically-motivated (and libelous) edits to opponent’s pages — not to mention one who is going to prison for doxing members of Congress on Wikipedia.

This is a real, and essential, problem with the Wikipedia model: it can’t both be open to general editing and a reliable source on controversial topics. Wikipedia tries to combat this with various policies, including maintaining a neutral point of view, and a stated policy that it’s “not a newspaper”. But the supply of zealots is unlimited.

So, the conclusion is not to trust Wikipedia on any controversial topic, and trust-but-verify on any topic. But put the blame on bad edits where it belongs — on politically-motivated Wikipedia activists — not on mysterious “Wikipedia editors.”

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