My Twelve Days as a Wikipedia Editor

I was a Wikipedia editor, for twelve days.

This summer I decided to try my hand as an editor on Wikipedia. This is the “Free Encyclopedia” that can be edited by anyone. Well, anyone but me, apparently.

It all started well. I signed up for an account, chose a nom de plum, and then visited a page for a topic I knew: My hometown. The article I read was sloppy and poorly written. There was so much that needed to be added. So I set to work, adding details about the people and places around town. This was going to be a great article and a tribute to the place I call home. When I finished, I hit “publish changes,” added a comment on what I had edited, and then hit “Publish.”

Bang! There it was, right there on the screen for all the world to see. The details that I had added were right there in black and white. Happy with my changes, I left my computer and headed into the other room to watch some TV.

Then I came back a couple of hours later only to discover that all of the content I had added was gone. Erased. Wiped from history.

I went to the “Talk” page, which is where editors can discuss articles and changes they are making. I found a comment that unsupported information had been removed. My information. Apparently all information needs to be referenced to a newspaper article or other “secondary source.”

I wrote a comment of my own. Why was my information removed? Now I’ve wasted an hour of my time. How am I supposed to add information when nothing has been published? Our town newspaper, which is about the only possible source of information, gets most things wrong. I’m a reliable source of information because I lived there. And why would I lie about things like what the parks are named and where the high school is located?

Apparently the Wikipedia world is smaller than one might think and my brief tirade would come back to haunt me -more to come. I also learned that Wikipedia doesn’t like editors to create material or do their own analysis. They call that “point of view,” or “POV” in buzzy, arcane, Wikipedia speak. They want editors to find a source for everything and then just write what they wrote, but not in the same words since that would be plagiarism. OK, I could do that.

I found a list of famous people from our town (defined as someone with a Wikipedia page) I added one that was missing from the list, linking to an article about him from the local universities website. This time, success! The change remained and was not challenged. At least not yet. One of the references I used, LinkedIn, was challenged and removed. I guess your resume is not considered reliable. OK, some people lie on their resumes, I guess.

Next, I started to edit a page on a radio personality. I had listened him for about 15 years, so I knew all about him. I figured that this would be the perfect place for me to help out. I was an expert. I thought it would be great to add information on what his show was like, link to some of his best audio, and add all sorts of information only a regular listenter would know about.

And speaking of sources, what would be a better source than the actual broadcasts themselves? I could talk about some of the shows and then link to the audio clips to actually let the reader listen to them! What better proof do you need of authenticity? The reader could actually listen to what was said by the man himself.

Well, apparently to Wikipedia, the broadcasts themselves are not good sources. One needs to find a newspaper or news show to do a report on the show or the actor, then reference that. Just because the reader can actually go and listen themselves and verify what is written matches what was actually said is not good enough. Even someone’s own words aren’t a good enough proof of what they said. If the New York Times doesn’t report it, it didn’t happen.

The newspapers can also make things up and it becomes truth. If a reporter in an article flippantly includes the line, “He was a real jerk,” then I can write in Wikipedia that he was a real jerk. In case you haven’t noticed, reporters will often throw in a line or two in an article that appears to be their viewpoint without referencing any source. When they do this, it becomes truth, according to Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia secondary source criteria gives traditional media entities way too much control over history. It gives the ability for a few huge media outlets that qualify as “credible sources” by Wikipedia to create Orwellian memory holes, deleting history they don’t want remembered and even changing or inventing history through their articles. That’s not a good system.

That’s why we started Telling History. We wanted a place where people can tell their stories in their own words. We wanted all of the stories that get lost because they didn’t make the papers.

So, what happened on Wikipedia? Well, one new editor came in and called the individual a “climate change denier.” I questioned whether that was a proper term to use, given that it was obviously created to make people think of Holocaust deniers and thereby think of those who don’t believe climate change is a proven theory as bad people. Well, that created a firestorm, causing the Wikipedia guardian editors to go to their friends, the administrators, saying I was a “disruptive editor.” My earlier tirade was also brought up (they save and link to everything, building up a dossier on you as they go). I was given an “indefinite ban.” I can edit my personal Talk page, as a way to plead my case should I want to be reinstated, but that’s it.

So, here I am at Telling History, where I’m in control. During my 11 days at Wikipedia I spent several hours of my time and did produce some quality work that is still there. I even found a source that the editor that had me banned commented was good work in finding. They can have their world and live in their echo chamber. I’m here to present the other side. The 95% of things that they miss.

So, if you’ve got a great story, write it up and send it in. If we think it’s interesting, we’ll feature it here. Wikipedia can have all of the second person accounts. We want the story straight from the source.

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