Golfer Fuzzy Zoeller has sued a Florida company for libel over edits made to his Wikipedia entry from one of the company's computers.
Although I reported one of Wikipedia's best-known gaffes -- project founder Jimmy Wales edited his own page to remove credit from a former colleague -- I'm a defender of the project. I think it's an amazing experiment in collective fact-gathering that deserves to be nurtured, no matter how many different ways Seth Finkelstein proves it should've been smothered in infancy.
Wikipedia's response to the Zoeller suit has become another one of those gaffes.
Wales often touts Wikipedia's transparency as a virtue because the site maintains a public edit history of changes made to each page. Last September, in a game of mine's bigger between Wales and Encyclopedia Britannica Editor-in-Chief Dale Hoiberg in the Wall Street Journal, Wales made this observation:
Britannica doesn't display its rough drafts, or the articles before being checked by a copy editor; Wikipedia does. We think this sort of open transparency is healthy and results in greater quality than doing everything behind closed doors.
In response to Zoeller's suit, Wikipedia has removed all edits he claims are libelous from the history of the page. No one can go back and review the drafts that are central to the suit.
The following paragraphs, which are still in the Answers.Com mirror of Wikipedia, are the material that sent Zoeller's lawyers into attack mode:
Zoeller went public with his alcoholism and prescription drug addiction, explaining that at the time he made those statements, he was "in the process of polishing off a fifth of Jack (Daniels) after popping a handful of vicodin pills". He further detailed the violent nature of his disease, recalling how he'd viciously beat his wife Dianne and their four children while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. He also admitted feigning a ruptured spinal disc in 1985 so as to be prescribed a multitude of prescription medication. 
He sought professional help and mended his fractured familial relationships. In May 2006, Zoeller said in an interview with Golf Digest magazine that he hadn't beaten his wife in nearly five years.
The lawsuit, which Zoeller filed as "John Doe," called these paragraphs reckless, false and defamatory and asked for $15,000 in damages. For 13 days, Wikipedia said he was a drunken pill-popping wife and child batterer.
Zoeller's target may be easily found, since the person's edits reveal an '80s hair metal aficionado who can't be hard to ID at a small company.
It's pretty clear that Wikipedia's only as good as the ability to identify and punish encyclopedic wrongdoers. One dirty Ratt fan might have ended the era in which anonymous cranks could edit the 12th most popular site on the web.
1) "Finkelstein", not "Finklestein"
2) "proves it should've been smothered in infancy." is a bit harsh. My position is more "put on a VERY tight leash". Making lists of Pokemon characters is harmless. But real people can get hurt by Wikipedia's self-serving carelessness, and that's another matter entirely.
3) Wikipedia will not end an era because of this. They aren't involved in the lawsuit, because of the infamous "section 230 immunity". That provision is turning out to have some very far-ranging consequences, some of them quite problematic.
Wikipedia's biggest failing is that people who have no lives run it because you have to have no life to both learn all the rules and to deal with the politics.
If it wasn't for anonymous cranks, the volume of blather on the web would shrink by half.
The problems with WP are many, including the issue of not just factual errors and bias, but, even worse, what's been deleted from the entry by a supporter. Combine that with it coming up so high in virtually every search result, and you're looking at widespread misinformation.
If 10,000 people view an article about someone, but very negative information about that person that isn't widely known has been wiped from the article, then 10,000 people have just been misled.
This site is a bit too "humorous" and too inside baseball, but it has some dirt:
And, this is on the Zoeller case:
How dare you impugn the hygeine levels of literally thousands of Ratt fans!
Anonymous cranking is what the web's all about. Thank God - I'd be mortified if Debbie Reynolds knew what I was doing in front of her cast pictures from "Singing in the Rain."
If something is claimed to be libelous and it has not been decided to be libelous or not by a judge, you can't repeat the alleged libel. At least, not in a commonwealth country. Maybe the US is different.
In the U.S., a famous person like Zoeller must prove actual malice -- knowing falsity or reckless disregard for the truth -- to win a libel case.
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wikipediareview.com why wiki drives wacky
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