A few days ago, I watched a clip from an episode of The Propagandist on CNN (the actual title is something archetypally boring, of course: “Live From“), I see them suggesting that Wikipedia begin “screening” it’s contributors and paying fact-checkers, lest the Government Do It For Them.
It was like I was in a time warp back to 1999, when the corporate-owned mass media suddenly discovered there was this “internet” thing, and (horror), anyone could write anything, and other people from around the planet might actually read it! As it turned out, that wasn’t quite how the Internet actually worked (you had to have money to get web hosting, know HTML or be able to figure out FrontPage, and even then your presentation was still likely to suck), but with things like Wikipedia, the production of the important bits (the content) is do-able by anyone with an internet connection, whereas the the less important bits (the design, layout, and choice of fonts) are not. So you can no longer simply write a page off because it’s hosted on Geocities, and uses red, bold-italic, all-caps, Arial-font, headers centered in a table cell with a green background, because now that same content could appear in the relatively benign-on-the-eyes Wikipedia template. You actually have to examine it, think for yourself, and do additional research. If it’s wrong, you are encouraged to fix it so it’s correct when someone else comes along. Intellectual laziness and Wikipedia are incompatible.
Listening to the CNN anchor rant about how the Wikipedia page about her included links to recent discussions on political blogs of a possible right-wing bias was actually kind of funny. Someone who opens the conversation by labelling Wikipedia as “dangerous,” then demands some kind of “controls” (making a spherical, almost-choking, gesture for emphasis), then complains that the site libels her as “some kind of right-wing communist,” whines that she doesn’t “want people to get that impression of her” and follows that up with a discussion on the government censoring Wikipedia because some contributors may libel other (Self?) Important Persons (both media and politcal) has got to be breaking the record for most ironic statements in a single interview.
I do understand the original journalist who started this thing’s complaint: nobody wants to be accused of helping assassinate both JFK and RFK, and someone writing “HE KILLED KENNEDY, MURDERING ***” twenty times on your biography is probably disconcerting (having never been accused of being a gay presidential assassin myself, I can only guess). But when discussions enter that tired room, it’s pretty easy to laugh uncontrollably at the entire situation, and remember it’s just people talking shit on the internet, which is hardly a new activity.
As the Wikipedia founder said, “unlike other sites, you can actually correct it.”