A “sanitizing” team of Wikipedia editors, led by Jimmy Wales himself, worked to keep the story from posting by deleting, blocking and freezing. The story quotes Wales as saying, “We were really helped by the fact that it hadn’t appeared in a place we would regard as a reliable source,” he said. “I would have had a really hard time with it if it had.”
This seems like a convenient excuse to me. A much more common practice with Wikipedia is to leave the information, at least for some period of time, with a disclaimer that the information needs more citations.
I realize that lives may have been at stake here but don’t you think this sets a dangerous precedent? Some immediate issues jump to mind.
- Will Wikipedia set up a new process now for “sanitizing” information and how would one go about requesting “sanitization?” Clearly the normal editing process was not sufficient or the “sanitizing” team wouldn’t have been needed and the story would never have been told.
- What is the line between editing and censorship? Do they need to define what humanitarian circumstances qualify for sanitization? This action blurs the line.
- One of the benefits of Wikipedia is the speed at which information is posted even though it may not be fully supported by citations (very current events rarely are). Will Twitter replace Wikipedia as the information source for events as they happen relegating Wikipedia to a historical account that can be verified by suitable citations?
- What if this “editing” approach spreads thru social media? Could it impact credibility of the whole movement? Will it impact Wikipedia credibility (positive or negative)? Does anyone care anymore or do we just accept Wikipedia now regardless of how they edit?
- “Sanitizing” content implies that the content was dirty (pornography, bad language, etc.) but this wasn’t the case here. This was a decision to actively stifle legitimate information that others may have corroborated had it not been deleted. Building on one another’s contributions until the content is more complete is a fundamental premise of the social computing movement. Did Wikipedia break a fundamental tenet?
I am ambivalent on this one since the whole concept of “sanitizing” in social media is generally anathema, but in this case, lives may have been at stake. What do you think? Was it censorship in the form of exuberant editing? Was it justified? Where do you draw the line?