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Just the Facts and Watching our Backs on Wikipedia

Vancouver   There is little argument anymore that Wikipedia, the on-line, crowd built “encyclopedia,” is the first source in the 21st century for innumerable high school and college term papers and much of the information random people get about most of the rest of us.   I can’t count the number of gnarly introductions I’ve gotten in different places around the world that were directly attributable to some mash-up of fact and faction on Wikipedia.  No matter how much all of us use and love it, there can’t be any doubt that no small amount of it continues in computer-speak to be “garbage in, garbage out.”

Derek Blackadder the “Webwork” columnist for the quarterly Canadian labor journal, Our Times, in their fall issue called for a “labor wikipedia initiative” along just these lines.  Not only did he correctly nail the issue that many community and labor organizations are almost constantly under attack from conservatives and corporate shills and web-workers who “manage” their social media presence, but he also pointed out that invariably if you poke around a bit on Wikipedia it’s hard not to stumble over some better rough and pointed edges of bias in the portrayal of progressive institutions.  As Blackadder says in talking about labor:

Sometimes it may be clear, at least to someone in the know, that an entry, or part of an entry, is ideologically anti-union.  Sometimes it is not so clear.  Sometimes the ‘analyses’ look to be genuine, sometimes they look very much like something that is part of an organized effort.

Blackadder for his part calls for a “Wikipedia Labor Initiative” where a dedicated band of volunteers would team-up to scour the Wiki-world to right wrongs and correct inaccuracies.  For labor unions in Canada and perhaps the United States, this might work if they drafted folks from the communications departments of various national and international unions for the project so it was something more than a one-off, when-I-have-a-minute exercise.  The capacity exists for the fix there.  For the rest of the progressive forces less well resourced and staffed, it is likely a harder slog to find some flat ground where only the facts can stand.

Fixing these wiki-problems is not easy, but it’s possible.  Over the last year I with the head organizer of ACORN Canada, Judy Duncan’s help, was able to draft some time from James Wardlaw on the ACORN staff to try and at least deal with our family of organizations and its wiki-footprints.  James had to go through quite a process to get enlisted in the “club” that becomes the “crowd” doing the sourcing for the Wikipedia entries, but at least he prevailed.  Earlier when I had tried to go through the “correction” process for inaccuracies that was a totally fruitless maze.  I even reached out to a colleague who worked for the Wikipedia Foundation looking for a clue or a guide to getting a handle on the process.  He acknowledged that this was a problem, but pretty much could only advise me to “keep trying” and let him know if I had made any progress.  Oh, gee, thanks!  Nonetheless, James kept at it and gradually we were able to clean a good bit of it up, but, wow, what an experience.

The harder job of not just restoring some entries to reality but pushing some of the slants so they are able to stand straight is critical.  I hope our folks have the endurance and take this notion seriously before the fiction becomes so settled in the Wiki-world that there is no longer the prospect for facts or truths in that world.

  • Thomas Kramer

    Wow, and I am sure you will be objective. Can I follow up on your work as well!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.davenport.984 Tim Davenport

    The view that Wikipedia content needs to be accurate is correct and the idea that it needs to be monitored against vandalism and sabotage is uncontroversial. By all means, make sure things are accurate and free of vandalism. New content contributors need to come in with a correct appreciation of what Wkipedia is, however, don’t think of it as a battleground in the war of ideas. It is an online encyclopedia and we, speaking of the so-called “club” of Wikipedians have expectations and needs regarding neutrality of tone, fairness of coverage, accuracy of content, and sourcing of facts. We openly WELCOME anyone wanting to come in an improve content in a neutrally written and well-sourced manner. It’s a complicated community and if anyone needs a tour guide or editing help, don’t hesitate to ask.

    The formal “correction process” — filing of a bureaucratic request for correction, etc. — is indeed complex and dysfunctional, as noted above. If something needs to be fixed, fix it — or if you are concerned about crossing Conflict of Interest boundaries or unclear about the process, find a Wikipedian to fix it. Every article has an “edit history” and every edit history has a list of contributors, and every contributor has a link to their “Talk Page” listed. If something needs to be fixed, find a recent contributor to that piece and leave a nice note for them on their “Talk Page” detailing your concerns. That should work in the majority of cases.

    Again, if you really want to raise a posse to improve trade union coverage on Wikipedia, do that and get in touch with me and I will get you up to speed on how to contribute CORRECTLY and will help familiarize you with the maze of guidelines, policies, and discussion fora. Charging in like Pamplona bulls, while a good way to get adrenaline flowing, will end with picadors and matadors, and nobody wants that.

    Tim Davenport, Corvallis, OR, USA /// MutantPop@aol.com /// “Carrite” on Wikiapedia

    P.S. There is already an “Organized Labour” (sic.) work group on Wikipedia, for what it’s worth. There’s plenty of serious work to do and they can always use new, enthusiastic help.