Wikimedia Scandal: Proof Of Unreliability Or Confirmation That Crowdsourcing Works?

from the guess-who-caught-the-bad-guys dept

While Glyn just recently wrote about Jimmy Wales' effort to stymie UK snooping, it appears there may be other issues to address in England. If Wikipedia has had to fight any stigma, it's been the notion that a crowdsourced encyclopedia in which most anyone could contribute would be so rife with errors and bias as to be unusable. After all, there have indeed been reports of individuals and companies editing negative information out of thier own pages. This perception persists, despite evidence that Wikipedia is every bit as accurate as printed encyclopedias.

And so we have another such story, in which Roger Bramkin, Wikimedia trustee, is being accused of running a pay-for-play system using Wikipedia's "Did You Know" and GLAM projects to keep his day job clients in the wiki bloodstream. Essentially, it appears Bramkin took the country of Gibraltar on as a consulting client and then routinely pumped their stories into Wikipedia.
Roger Bamkin, trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation UK, whose LinkedIn page describes him as a high-return-earning PR consultant, appeared to be using Wikipedia's main page "Did You Know" feature and the resources of Wikipedia's GLAM WikiProject (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) initiative to pimp his client's project.
Now, it would be easy for anyone so inclined to throw their hands around and make a great deal of noise about how this proves Wikipedia's unreliability. Crowdsourcing, it would seem, has led to corruption of the bloodstream. This hand-wringing would be particularly easy in light of a second such Wikipedian in Residence (an editor held in high esteem) being found to have run a similar operation focused on SEO and Wikipedia pages for paying clients. Wikipedians in Residence are typically required to recuse themselves from editing pages in which they have a conflict of interest, and these incidences seem to violently violate those rules.

But here's what is being swept under the rug with all the hand-waving: it was the Wikipedia community members who found all this out and are bringing it to light. This entire incident began on a Wikipedia discussion page over abuse of DYK and that is exactly how Wikipedia is supposed to work. So, while conflicts of interest issues and erroneous entries in Wikipedia are certainly a huge concern, it is selective bias at work to point to them as examples for why crowdsourcing information doesn't work while also failing to mention that the same crowd was responsible for its ceasing.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2012 @ 6:17pm

    The real issue of Wikipedia isn't in the high visibility, highly patrolled pages, but rather what can be put on less important pages. Without informed eyes checking the content on a regular basis, you can get corruption.

    More over, as Wiki is often used as source material for other sites, it means that an error or an outright lie can be replicated many times before it is fixed at the source, but unlikely never fixed in the copies.

    The result is a bit like Techdirt - repeat a lie or an incomplete statement often enough, and people will think it's true. Get enough un-truth out there via a supposedly reliable source (wiki) and you can pollute the info stream entirely.

    It's only a win if the community spots the error before the error gets out. That isn't at all certain in Wiki's case.

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