The Wikipedia Issue

For quite a while, rumors have been going around the internet that the media group, CAMERA, was trying to “take over” Wikipedia in order to use it as a platform for pro-Israel propaganda.  Since it is problematic to believe everything you read, this story has been waiting in the wings until I could figure out what is really going on here.  It seems that the facts are these:

  1. CAMERA posted an article on their website called “How and Why to Edit Wikipedia.”  The article explains that many Wikipedia articles on controversial subjects such as the Arab-Israeli conflict are skewed.  They recommend that people get involved in editing the encyclopedia and offer technical instructions on how to do this.
  2. The Palestinian advocacy group, Electronic Intifada (EI), filed a complaint with Wikipedia, and some members of CAMERA were banned from editing Wikipedia.
  3. Honest Reporting claims that, in fact, Electronic Intifada has been manipulating Wikipedia for a long time.

The reason this matters is that Wikipedia is the first search result in a tremendous number of Google searches.  Students and adults rely on Wikipedia as a source of information.  Even people who claim to take Wikipedia with a grain of salt trust that the most basic of facts are accurate.  Since the editors of Wikipedia are anonymous and each article is a compilation of many writers’ work, it is hard to know how trustworthy any given article is.

Most readers of Wikipedia read only the article for each entry, but at the top of each page there is a tab called “discussion.”  Clicking on this tab will display a page where the editors of the article debate and report on the thoughts behind the text.  This can give you an idea of the viewpoints of the editors of the particular article you are reading, and let you know which statements have been contested or debated.

For instance, in the Wikipedia article “Israel” the discussion page reveals that the editors debated whether it was possible to write that the Gaza Strip is occupied by Israel and whether it is accurate to say that Jews in the Diaspora “have long aspired to return to Zion.”

Can Wikipedia be used as a source of information on Israel?  What do you think?

Links in this post are from Solomonia.

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3 Comments on “The Wikipedia Issue”

  1. David Gerard Says:

    From the Wikipedia side, I’m mostly viewing this with amusement. Attempts to push a given point of view on Wikipedia, organised to a greater or lesser degree, happen *all the time*. It’s part of what we routinely deal with. Generally what happens is: (a) Wikipedia regulars are drawn to the problem area, and help keep things neutral (b) the activists frequently get the idea of Wikipedia, and realise that the best thing they can do for their viewpoint is to get a decent representation of it in relevant articles in a neutral form. Because activists do what they do because they want to make the world a better place; and Wikipedia happens to be a good cause as well (freely reusable neutral educational material for the world). So if you look at the process it’s a bit of a sausage factory, but the resulting sausages are at least edible and often very nice 🙂

  2. Hadassah Says:

    I appreciate your taking the time to comment on this issue. If these things happen all the time, it’s probably because the Arab-Israeli conflict is such a controversial topic that a big deal has been made out of it.

  3. Eleland Says:

    In fact, the “How and Why to Edit Wikipedia” article was only posted publicly to CAMERA’s website long after a secret, e-mail-only campaign had been exposed by EI. The webpage dates to 3 May 2008, wheras Gilead Ini of CAMERA had founded a Google Group called “Isra-Pedia,” and sent out invitation e-mails to join it, on 13 March 2008. EI outed this group on 21 April 2008, and WP admins banned Ini and some of his allies on 27 April 2008.


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