Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia written and maintained by the millions of people who use it. Anyone can edit Wikipedia, and its contents are free and open.
Open communities of this type have a sordid history on the internet. Without rigorous moderation, these things devolve into a repositories for conspiracy theorists, morons, flame wars, and really twisted stuff like spam. Usenet is the ultimate example. It’s 99% noise, 1% content.
Wikipedia has managed to sidestep these landmines. It’s not perfect, but it does represent the largest and most up-to-date encyclopedia on the planet. For a free, user-operated web site to be that useful is quite an achievement.
Alas, the grubby Mr. Smiths in Washington are spoiling the party. Surprise, surprise. They’re using Wikipedia to airbrush the truth, trash their political opponents, and generally run the joint like it was one of their advertising campaings. Normally they’d get away with it, but on the internet, IP addresses allow these things to be traced.
It’s reached the point where an RFC (request for comment) has gone out to the Wikipedia community proposing that the U.S. Congress have their IP addresses blocked permanently.
If only the voters could block these clowns that easily…
CNet summarized the situation nicely:
We already know, of course, that politicians live primarily for re-election and typically view the truth as an impediment to the higher purpose of unfettered self-aggrandizement.
Still, we can be excused for feeling mildly nauseated when fresh confirmation of this distasteful aspect of modern politicking surfaces.
The latest episode appeared last week in the form of a report that aides to Rep. Marty Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, deleted references to his broken term-limits pledge and massive campaign war chest on Wikipedia.
Then the trusty editors at Wikipedia got together and compiled a list of over 1,000 edits made by Internet addresses allocated to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The IP address subsequently was blocked and unblocked.
An extensive analysis reveals how juvenile official Washington secretly is, behind the mind-numbingly serious talk of public policy.
One edit listed White House press secretary Scott McClellan under the entry for “douche.” Another said of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma) that: “Coburn was voted the most annoying Senator by his peers in Congress. This was due to Senator Coburn being a huge douche-bag.”
(Keep in mind these are the same holier-than-thou political climbers tasked with writing laws telling the rest of the country how to behave. Or else.)
This juvenalia is, of course, thoroughly bipartisan. Another change to the Iraq invasion entry shows that the anonymous congressional editor played up the dubious connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
It’s true, of course, that the cretins who are behind the Wikipedia alterations can (and probably will) do this from their home computers in the future. But the difficulty in policing the political class shouldn’t make us any less alarmed at the most recent evidence of its misdeeds.