Is Jimmy Wales 2009’s Big Brother, and Do the Newest Changes to Wikipedia Call for Live Updating?

What could the potential fallout be from Wikipedia’s recent policy changes? Well, there’s always this, for starters.

Because Wikipedia stems from such egalitarian roots, it’s far from customary to think of its administrators, it’s difficult to think of its administrators as participants in some kind of evil empire. But that’s not to say it can’t happen. The Times reports that the Spanish-language version of Wikipedia’s site has been aggressively editing out links to the political aggregator rebelion.org, and then aggressively banning any of the users who complain too loudly. The editing isn’t a necessarily new thing (links to Digg.com would be removed from the English version of the site, in favor of simply rerouting to the original content), but by banning contributors, the Spanish stewards of Wikipedia’s empire do seem to suggest that their actions are politically rather than pedagogically motivated.

Despite Wikipedia’s umbrella insistence on article neutrality, the addition of a series of gatekeepers who have the right to approve changes to articles about living people might very well spell the end for true objectivity. Everyone has a bias, even if they don’t wear it on their sleeves, and it takes very little for someone to reject a change to, say, someone’s war record or to someone’s supposed extramarital affair.

In the old days, if someone, I dunno, wanted to change a politician’s religious orientation to “the cult of Obama,” just to cite a recent example, he was more or less free to do so, and odds were, this change would be stripped by another user in seconds, and likely, for that matter, counterbalanced by whatever flowery things this newest editor had to say about said politician. A “Roman Catholic” becomes a “cult[ist] of Obama” becomes a “devout Catholic and devoted family man.” That sort of thing. Objectivity is represented in the invisible pivot point between each valence; someone viewing the page three different times in quick succession would receive a host of opinions on one narrow topic, and by doing so would have access to the full range of opinions on the matter.

If this flickering of opinions is the height that Wikipedia can strive to achieve, is its very ideal, then one reaction might be for the site to move towards live updating of its articles, with incoming changes being transmitted in one color text and deletions hovering in the periphery before vanishing into oblivion. One imagines that the strain this would place on the site’s servers would be severe, but other sites that attract a large volume of traffic like the Huffington Post manage to remotely refresh their content at semi-regular intervals. Rather than locking people out, maybe the solution to Wikipedia’s editing woes is simply to let the lay public in on what flickering changes are going on behind the scenes.

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