Wal-Mart undermines the Wikipedia

News & Politics

Altering the Wikipedia isn't just for pols and pundits anymore -- it looks like the Big Blue Giant is getting into the business of trying to self-manage their entry, in the same way that politicians have their staff "clean up" negative information in entries across the open-source fact-gathering site.

(A quick explanation of the Wikipedia, for those that don't know: it's a website designed so that anyone can edit anything on the site; the idea is that the collective community intelligence will ultimately sift out the most correct information available on the topic.)

From Whitedust, who did a quick analysis of the Wal-Mart page's edit history (where you can see each and every change to a page since it was created, along with who made the edits):

The Wikipedia page Wal-mart was originally small and haphazard. Starting in February 2004, there was a sharp increase in edits to the page. In September, 2004, the edit number ballooned, and since then has continued to grow. There has been a lot of work by Wikipedia regulars to bring fairness and quality to the article, but an equal disruptive force has been caused by lobbyists. Now, the page will have over a dozen edits on any average day.

My own short experience with this article makes a fair example. After bringing up discussion on the topic in Wikipedia's generally IRC channel, a fellow user, Bogdangiusca, who had fought for a NPOV on the article as far back as May 1, 2005, added a totally disputed tag[5]. This tag would mean that anyone visiting the page would see a red block at the top indicating that 'The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed'. This tag was removed the next day. The person who did so then defaced Bogdangiusca's user page with a long paragraph demanding that Bogdangiusca stop any contribution to the Wal-mart page[6]. The user claimed to be an employee of Wal-mart and lamented, 'So why don’t you just keep to what you know and allow those that do have facts about walmart to create an accurate picture of walmart for the world.' This pattern has been repeated over and over again about the Wal-mart page. Many users struggling for a NPOV [Neutral Point of View, an official Wikipedia policy] have had their pages defaced, and defacers have in the past been banned.

It's no surprise that Wal-Mart would hire a team of people simply to monitor its Wikipedia entry; these are people who built their own bunker for the apocalypse and/or WWIII, after all. What does it mean for the future of democratic-designed tools with open editing policies, though? Stirling Newberry laments:
The problem with wikipedia as it exists is that its judicial system is breaking down, and the demands for mobocracy exist in a context where there are mobs for hire or rent. The abject failure of wikipedia's leadership to take effective measures has led to a string of embarassing exposures, including Congressional offices editing pages. It's only going to continue, because the demand to allow instamobs to do whatever they want means that rented mobs can too.

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