Everybody loves Wikipedia but just how accurate is it?
I remember the story last March when a Wikipedia editor was revealed to be a 'fake professor'. The guy said he taught both undergraduate and graduate theology at a private university. He edited articles on the site and also had the authority to arbitrate disputes between authors. In an interview with the New Yorker in July 2006, he was described as a "tenured professor of religion." In reality he was Ryan Jordan, 24, a college student from Kentucky who used texts such as Catholicism for Dummies to write his entries in Wikipedia. At the time I thought 'What's wrong with that? You've got to be a dummy to be a Catholic....'
Given that the so-called experts might not be all they're cracked up to be, what about the content itself? How much of it is balanced, unbiased information, and how much is mere propaganda?
Well, according to the BBC, Wikipedia itself has a tool - the Wikipedia Scanner - which reveals the identities of organisations that edit the online encyclopaedia’s pages through checks on the IP addresses accessing the site and making the edits.
The tool has thrown up some interesting results. I know that everyone has their own version of 'the truth' but maybe this is going a bit too far.
For example, the CIA has defaced the Wikipedia page about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, adding the exclamation "Wahhhhhh!" before a section on the leader's plans for his presidency. I know the guy's mad but do they really have to make him seem like such a slobbering lunatic?
In their defence the CIA says: "The CIA has a vital mission in protecting the United States, and the focus of this agency is there, on that decisive work." By this I suppose they mean supporting fascist dictators, operating torture facilities and other secret prisons, drug smuggling, kidnapping and backing terrorist organisations.
The Vatican has also changed the entry on Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. They removed links to newspaper stories written in 2006 that alleged that Mr Adams' fingerprints and handprints were found on a car used during a double murder in 1971. I can only think that this is because they're all such good Catholics in Ireland.
The US Democratic Party has made changes to the site of right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh. The changes brand Mr Limbaugh as "idiotic," a "racist", and a "bigot". An entry about his audience now reads: "Most of them are legally retarded." Whilst no doubt true, this is probably the not the most ideal entry in an unbiased online encyclopaedia.
Diebold, a US company which supplies electronic voting machines, has also carried out a bit of creative editing. First they removed paragraphs about Walden O'Dell, chief executive of the company, which revealed that he had been "a top fund-raiser" for George Bush. Then they deleted other paragraphs and links to stories about the alleged rigging of the 2000 election. Dodgy, dodgy.
So what does Wikipedia say about their new tool? "We really value transparency and the scanner really takes this to another level. [It] may prevent an organisation or individuals from editing articles that they're really not supposed to."
That much may be true given what's been revealed so far. But one thing's for certain - despite its obvious drawbacks, if people are going to these lengths to 'polish' entries, the powers-that-be must think Wikipedia has a lot of power to influence the masses.