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What the MSM Gets Wrong About Wikipedia -- and Why

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If you follow the news about Wikipedia, even casually, you're probably aware that something is changing. What you probably don't realize is that what you've been led to believe is almost certainly completely wrong.

Maybe you saw some recent headlines ominously talking about editorial controls. Maybe you heard something about editorial boards.

Or maybe you read this story on Time.com: "They recently instituted a major change, imposing a layer of editorial control on entries about living people. In the past, only articles on high-profile subjects like Barack Obama were protected from anonymous revisions. Under the new plan, people can freely alter Wikipedia articles on, say, their local officials or company head -- but those changes will become live only once they've been vetted by a Wikipedia administrator."

That's all very interesting, albeit completely untrue.

Imagine if the stories told instead said things like this:

"In a major shift towards greater openness, Wikipedia is taking the first steps towards doing away with controls that kept certain pages 'protected' or 'locked' for many years. Previously, certain high profile and high risk biographies and other entries were kept locked to prevent vandalism by users who had not registered accounts on the site for a 'waiting period' of 4 days."

"The new feature, long advocated by the site's founder Jimmy Wales, eliminates that restriction by allowing anyone to edit these pages, even without logging in. The secret to being able to do this is that the new feature creates a queue where tens of thousands of longtime users of the site can approve these changes - changes that were previously completely forbidden."

What? Really? The solution to the problem of bad speech is actually more speech? Openness and collaboration actually work?

Nevertheless, it is true. English Wikipedia will soon launch a new feature that will allow you to edit, as an inexperienced user, articles that have previously been locked more-or-less continuously for years.

I believe that the underlying facts about the Wikipedia phenomenon -- that the general public is actually intelligent, interested in sharing knowledge, interested in getting the facts straight -- are so shocking to most old media people that it is literally impossible for them to report on Wikipedia without following a storyline that goes something like this: "Yeah, this was a crazy thing that worked for awhile, but eventually they will see the light and realize that top-down control is the only thing that works."

Will the new, more gentle tool, be more widely used than protection was? I certainly hope so. We are always looking for ways to help responsible people join the Wikipedia movement and contribute constructively, while gently asking those who want to cause trouble to please go somewhere else.

Faced with the choice of preventing you from editing at all, versus allowing you to edit even though you might have bad intentions, we have erred consistently for the latter -- openness. The new tool, by making it a lot easier to keep bad stuff from appearing to the general public, is going to allow for a much more responsible Wikipedia that is, at the same time, a much more open Wikipedia.

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