Mark Lennihan/AP
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Struggles to Maintain Neutrality

June 10, 2009 07:00 AM
by Rachel Balik
Wikipedia’s recent ban of the Church of Scientology draws attention to Wikipedia’s attempts to eliminate biased information from its pages.

When Wikipedia Is Way Out There

Wikipedia has become a source so trusted that major news publications cite it as a source, sometimes to their detriment, as when several obituaries falsely attributed a quote to the late Maurice Jarre.

For most mainstream topics, Wikipedia has attained an encyclopedic status; in fact, the site has become so popular that Microsoft closed down MSN Encarta, its online encyclopedia, in April 2009. The general perception of the situation was that Encarta, once the primary resource for information online, was “passing the torch” to Wikipedia. Since even Encyclopedia Britannica is now accepting user contributions, Wiki content seems to be the wave of the future.

In many cases, Wikipedia pages have fastidious curators who immediately remove suspect information. Therefore, as The New York Times reports, pages that get frequent visitors often have quite trustworthy information, even when the topic is controversial. Wikipedia is also becoming more regimented, and is maintained through rules, editors and even a special body elected to settle disputes. However, there are still areas where the reliability of the information posted has been called into question, and despite the considerable effort made, Wikipedia occasionally does have trouble ensuring that entries are written from a “neutral point of view.”

To that end, Wikipedia recently banned members of the Church of Scientology from updating pages. Church members were found guilty of a coordinated effort to repeatedly put up biased information about their religion. The Register reports that this is the first time that Wikipedia has blocked off all the official IP addresses of such a “high-profile” group.

Related Topic: Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee Struggles to Retain Neutrality

A 15-member international body selected by a rigorous process, the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) is tasked with ensuring that Wikipedia’s 13 million entries do not contain inaccurate information. The Independent reports that the committee settles “hundreds of editorial disputes every day.”

Recently, an English member of Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee decided to resign after it was discovered that he created a secret username to edit content. David Boothroyd, a London politician affiliated with the Labour party, allegedly used an alias to change information on an entry about David Cameron, leader of the rival Tory party. He insists that his changes were free of bias, but according to the Independent, some might accuse Boothroyd of “sockpuppeting—[using] multiple online identities to create the illusion of support for a point of view, person or organization,” considered a fairly serious online offense.

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