The Student Who Created a PR Nightmare Via Wikipedia
Virgil Griffith is someone I am proud to look up to. In a moment of inspiration, he created a program called Wikipedia Scanner that lets you know who has been editing articles on Wikipedia and what they've been removing. Not surprisingly, the revelations have left many giant corporations and even the White House staff in a tailspin. For those of you that know me and my "power to the people" philosophy, this is definitely 1-0 to the little guys. (See also: It's a Jungle Out There: Spotting Fake Reviews)
In a story by the MaltaStar, we learn just what prompted Virgil to act and the resulting chaos that ensued. He had "heard about Congressmen being caught for white-washing their Wikipedia pages." (Why am I not surprised that a politician would do such a thing?) But then it hit Virgil that maybe there was a way to discover who had being doing edits in Wikipedia, and what they had done.
The result is a laundry list of changes that makes Wikipedia look like an agent of propaganda and a completely unreliable tool. You can see more of the list of revelations at the MaltaStar, but some of my favorite edits include...
- Microsoft tried to cover up the XBOX 360 failure rate
- In the 9/11 Wikipedia article, the NRA added that "Iraq was involved in 9/11"
- Exxon Mobil edits spillages and eco-system destruction from oil spillages article
- Scientology removes criticism and negatives article from Scientology page
- Dog breeding association deletes whole paragraphs about fatal attacks by dogs on humans
- Fox News removes all controversial topics against the network from the Fox News page
- Walmart removes criticism of outsourcing work. The retailer also changes negative paragraphs of underpaid workforce
- Someone at Reuters calls Bush "a mass murderer"
- Coca Cola removes negative content about its effects
- US University adds the "prestigious" adjective to its page
Why is this important? Why should we care? Well, to many Wikipedia is a source of legitimate information. I'm not even sure how many people realize that Wikipedia can be edited by general users. Yup, anyone can write and submit an article. Comforting thought. But once again, this shows the two-faced nature of so many corporations. The X-Files was famous for saying "The Truth Is Out There" but these days, finding that truth is getting harder and harder.
For those of you who'd like to see the darker side of many corporations for yourselves, I highly recommend a documentary called "The Corporation" by Mikela J. Mikael.
It's available from most stores including the ever-reliable Amazon and probably your local library. I doubt we can lift the fog from these billion-dollar companies, but maybe we can all help other people see that the fog exists at all.