Information control in this digital age

24 Aug

From 2009 students in the NSW HSC Standard English Module C Texts and Society Elective 1: The Global Village will have the option of closely studying Wikipedia. That, I think, is an excellent idea. Intelligent critical study of this extraordinary (and still extraordinarily valuable) resource, and of other aspects of the internet, seems to me something that should be mandatory rather than elective.

Here in Australia we have just been told something that really should not surprise us: PM’s staff edited Wikipedia.

STAFF in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have been editing Wikipedia to remove details that might be damaging to the Government.*

A new website, WikiScanner – which traces the digital fingerprints of those who make changes to entries in the online encyclopedia – points to the department as the source of 126 edits on subjects ranging from the children overboard affair to the Treasurer, Peter Costello…

Defence computers were found to have made more than 5000 edits to Wikipedia entries, including to articles on the “9/11 Truth Movement”, the Australian Defence Force Academy and even the Vietnam War-era Pentagon Papers.

The story surfaced in an overseas context about a week ago. See CIA, Vatican ‘editing Wiki pages’. Others are too: for example, the Scientologists.

Keith Olbermann discusses the issue here:

I have to confess I once edited a Wikipedia article myself, correcting some bad information on the Sydney Boys High entry.

There is a great story here of an HSC student who “tirelessly worked over a year to collect information on an article on the Bangla Language Movement to make it a featured article” on Wikipedia. The bit I like is “that Tarif does not own a computer. He did it all from cyber cafe and using internet via his brother’s mobile phone. If one wills he/she can make almost anything possible.”


On NineMSN: PM denies claims over Wikipedia edits. He can’t deny they happened, because that is objective fact, but he can deny he ordered them — but whether that is merely to deny specific orders rather than a generic nod and wink is another matter. There is, of course, nothing wrong with anyone correcting factual errors in Wikipedia; indeed that is desirable.

…WikiScanner, has revealed people using Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM & C) and Defence Department computer servers had made thousands of changes to Wikipedia articles.

The edits included changes to articles on matters such as the children overboard affair, the Australian Defence Force Academy and the removal of a claim Treasurer Peter Costello was known by the nickname “Captain Smirk”…

Mr Rudd [Opposition Leader] said there was nothing wrong with political staff making factual changes to Wikipedia entries, but public servants should not do so. “On Wikipedia anything can appear,” Mr Rudd told the Seven Network. “It is entirely legitimate for your personal political staff to make changes of a factual nature, but to engage public servants to go out there and re-edit history, it strikes me as odd to say the least.”

The Defence Department has blocked employees from altering information on Wikipedia after 5,035 edits by defence staff were detected. “Defence has closed personal edit access down, though employees will still be able to browse Wikipedia for information purposes,” a defence spokesman said.

NOTE: It is always instructive, even amusing, to click on the “discussion” tab in a Wikipedia article: John Howard for example.

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2 responses to “Information control in this digital age

  1. Daniel

    August 24, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    I find the fact that the Coalition has been editing Wiki to reshape history is unsurprising. Smoke and mirrors has been the symbol of this government over the last decade as Howard has scrambled to elevate his image from that of a mendacious, mediocre, ideologically-driven little man to that of a Churchill or an Eisenhower.

    Unfortunately, he’s failed completely. He is a parody of greatness!

  2. ninglun

    August 24, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    I guess it also has to be said that anyone can edit Wikipedia, so tendentious entries on one side may be corrected by people on the other. It is all quite fascinating, I find.

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