In a provocative commentary for The Guardian, Seth Finkelstein argues that having a biography in Wikipedia is a magnet for libel:

For people who are not very prominent, Wikipedia biographies can be an "attractive nuisance". It says, to every troll, vandal, and score-settler: "Here's an article about a person where you can, with no accountability whatsoever, write any libel, defamation, or smear. It won't be a marginal comment with the social status of an inconsequential rant, but rather will be made prominent about the person, and reputation-laundered with the institutional status of an encyclopedia."

As someone who contributed several biographies to the encyclopedia, I've held to the belief that as a person's entry becomes more well-read, it will attract conscientious editors at a greater rate than harmful ones. I still have all of the entries I've created on my watch list, and none has experienced the kind of abuse Finkelstein describes.

Like me, Finkelstein hovers close to being too obscure for Wikipedia. His biography only had been edited 53 times in two years before this Guardian piece ran.

When an entry's not well-read, the potential for abuse is greater because an edit by someone with an axe to grind is less likely to be reviewed by others.

The press should follow up on something Finkelstein reveals in his commentary -- Angela Beesley, the Wikipedia Board of Trustees member who recently quit, has been fighting to have her own biography deleted:

I'm sick of this article being trolled. It's full of lies and nonsense. My justification for making a third nomination is that my circumstances have changed significantly since the last AfDs -- I have resigned from the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation. Given that this was previously kept on the grounds I was on that Board, there is no longer any reason for this page to be kept. This has already been deleted on the French and German Wikipedias.

Beesley's clearly too well-known to justify deletion from Wikipedia, considering her position as one of the site's leaders for three years. But as Finkelstein notes, this is a huge no-confidence vote in the Wikipedia concept. If she can't get fair treatment on Wikipedia, and founder Jimbo Wales has resorted to protectively editing his own bio on numerous occasions, what confidence should other living subjects have in their own treatment?

-- Rogers Cadenhead

Comments

Personally, I'm glad that there is already a page on Wikipedia about another Tom Simpson. If there's going to be a biography about "me", I'd rather retain control, and not allow anyboady else to edit it. Granted, I'm definetly in the "not very prominent" category, though.

I sometimes wonder how (if I did want to have a biography there) Wikipedia would handle the biographies of two people with the same name.

The quality of information at Wikipedia has lost a lot of respect over the past year, and anybody that points to an article as a source is usually "called" on it. Most people know how to consider the source, and with Wikipedia, the source is usually questionable.


 

Wikipedia is edited mainly by ignorant egotists who for the first time in their life have some control over things and proceed to get drunk on the power trip.


 

Or maybe that's blog comments that intoxicate.


 

It's worth noting that if it's true "that as a person's entry becomes more well-read, it will attract conscientious editors at a greater rate than harmful ones" then it implies that if you are more likely to be the victim of biography abuse on Wikipedia it is less likely that anyone of consequence will ever actually see it.

And if by some chance someone of consequence actually does see it, what would you do about it? Probably tell that person "Look, it was some goon on the internet posting on an open forum. Are you really going to take their words seriously?"


 

Who cares!


 

How does one go about creating a "watch list" of Wikipedia articles?


 

Create an account on Wikipedia, then click the "Watch" tab above an article to add it to your watch list.


 

Maybe WIkipedia should have a "deep freeze" function, like the locking of articles, but for inactivity, which would be triggered automatically after a certain period (it could be discussed first)… and then, if the subject becomes active or some new information becomes available about it, someone could put in a request to have it thawed by a trusted member of the community.


 

Its an extension of the whole social media phenomenon IMO. Facebook, twitter et al give ordinary nobodies exposure which they would never have had in the old days and it aint necessarily a good thing as in the wiki biographies. I'm not sure the explosion of publishing terrabytes of useless information without any control is good for the web.


 

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