The Internet offers a wealth of information, much of it bogus. Thoroughly reliable resources, such as snopes.com, devoted to verifying or debunking urban legends, or the smoking gun.com, dedicated to posting documents obtained from government and law enforcement sources, are scarce and valuable.
One site that’s building up a reputation for reliability is wikipedia.com. It’s an online encyclopedia, much larger than the Encyclopaedia Britannica – and, according to the science journal Nature, equally· accurate. That’s surprising, because Wikipedia is open-source, meaning anyone can add new articles, or edit existing ones. This seeming weakness is actually a strength: anyone can enter false information, but anyone else can take it back out again.
Some articles, such as the one on Abraham Lincoln, provoke spirited discussions on the “neutrality” of the content. Others,.such as the one on George W. Bush, prove so tempt- ing to anonymous vandals that the volunteers who run the
For several days, Wikipedia had to block all Capitol Hill computers from editing because so many of the changes made by them were inaccurate or inappropriate.
site have to put them temporarily off-limits. Still, there are many other articles about many other subjects, including many other elected officials, open to all editors.
“All editors,” of course, includes the paid staffers of those elected officials. Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) admitted to having his staff replace the biography in his Wikipedia entry with a new version, one that omitted (among other things) his broken term-limits pledge. Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R- Minn.) staff took out references to his voting record. Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) deleted a paragraph about combat missions in Vietnam that he’d made up. And the staffers didn’t keep to their own bosses’ pages, either: someone working off the Congressional computer network edited the entry on Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to note that he had been voted the “most annoying Senator.” For several days, Wikipedia volunteers had to block all Capitol Hill computers from editing because so many of the changes made by them were inaccurate or inappropriate.
In “Nineteen Eighty-four,” Winston Smith spent his workdays at the Ministry of Truth altering historical records to match the Party’s version of events. In trying to co-opt one of the Internet’s few reliable resources, our elected officials have shown their resolve to do the same.