Cyberclinic: Who are the editors of Wikipedia?

Rhodri Marsden@rhodri
Wednesday 12 December 2007 01:00

Judging by all the jibes Wikipedia receives, you might have come to the conclusion long ago that it is a collection of fantasies penned by daydreamers. The American satirist Stephen Colbert has even coined the term "wikiality", the process of "creating the reality one wants to believe in".

But the online encyclopedia, which all of us can add to and edit, has a policing structure to ensure there is no foul play. Contentious or mischievous alterations tend to be quickly flagged by a team of administrators, who have been granted privileges to delete pages, lock articles from being changed and deter users from editing.

But rather than be commended, they're suffering more and more accusations of heavy-handedness. Last week, allegations against certain administrators came to a head on a site called Wikipedia Review, where people debate the administrators' actions.

A former member of Wikipedia's arbitration committee has claimed that up to 90 per cent of people who are banned from editing entries are excluded for no good reason. One Wikipedia user living in Utah recently discovered they had been banned from editing; this was because one of their neighbours happens to be Judd Bagley, an executive of a company called Overstock, who has been in a long-running battle with Wikipedia over the content of certain pages. Administrators had simply blocked 1,000 homes in his area, just to be on the safe side that Bagley couldn't get online to make changes.

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, has admitted that the site isn't truly democratic, saying that "the core community appreciates when someone is knowledgeable, and [when someone] shouldn't be writing". But the power that Wikipedia admins have to make those judgements on our behalf will, sadly, always be in danger of going to their heads.

Diagnosis required

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