Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wikipedia as a Proxy for Left/Right Integrity

The Proprietor at NDegrees makes an interesting observation:

I'm a fan of Wikis and the Wikipedia in particular, but as Orin Kerr points out on Volokh, it's important to know the limitations of the genre. In general, the reliability of the Wikipedia information on a particular topic is inversely proportional to the level of controversy and passion elicited by that topic. Kerr uses the Patriot Act entry as an example and points to major factual errors in the current entry. And if he corrects the problems, Kerr asserts, "someone else will come along and 'correct it back.'" No doubt this is true.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the Wikipedia page on George W Bush. When I went to visit this entry a few minutes ago, the primary picture of Bush had been replaced with a subtle, yet vile, photoshopped version. Being the upstanding citizen that I am, I went in and edited the page and removed the picture (I would have done the same if it were the Kerry page). Within 5 minutes, the photoshopped version was back. I checked the history page and there have been 59 modifications of the page so far today. Of these modifications, the comments on about a third of them read something like "removed vandalism"; another third appear to be substantive changes to the page; the remaining third, one can assume, are responsible for inserting the vandalism.


For comparison, I checked the John Kerry page as well. As you would expect, it has also seen a lot of activity (18 changes today) and some vandalism but not as much as the Bush page.

Now the point is obviously that unregulated populism is unreliable on controversial topics. That is pretty much what "controversial" means -- lack of popular consensus.

But I find it interesting that the Kerry page got fewer modifications, therefore, presumably less vandalism. Could that be taken as a rough indication of the greater self-control and respect for opposing views? Especially since the conventional wisdom is that the demographics of internet users skew to the right?

Well, the first objection would be that this is simply anecdotal information, which doesn't generally prove much. Granted.

A more subtle objection would be that, even if it is significant, the event in question may just indicate that Kerry supporters are less likely to correct the vandalism against their guy, thus requiring fewer actual vandalism attempts from the right. I don't in the least buy this, but without further data it can't be dismissed a priori. But still, this seems to comport with lots of other anecdotal, unscientific impressions I have gained over the years. And quite a lot of my fellow converts from the left seem to have similar impressions.

Anyway, food for thought.

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