The integrity of your institutional wiki now depends
on who wields the editorial pen.
In August, Wired magazine reported
on WikiScanner, a search tool that analyzes anonymous
Wikipedia edits by IP address. The resulting data have exposed efforts by corporations
and other organizations (ranging from
Microsoft and the CIA, to the Dutch
royal family!) to secretly "spin" their own
entries by changing negative information.
Something as simple as editing
Wikipedia may sound innocuous, but
examples of the act cited by Wired bring to mind revisionist history. Someone
with an IP address from electronic
voting machine vendor Diebold, for instance, was found to
have deleted passages questioning the
integrity of the company's voting
devices. Nobody enjoys bad PR, yet the
reliability of voting systems is certainly
an issue that should not be swept under
the rug. Perhaps we also ought to scrutinize
the Wikipedia entry for "US presidential
election, 2000," which seems
ripe for manipulation.
Wikipedia "airbrushing" is so rampant
that even Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy
Wales was caught editing his own bio
on the site. In a subsequent Wired interview he sighed, "I wish I hadn't done it.
[But] if you see a blatant error or misconception
about yourself, you really
want to set it straight".
Ironically, the controversy is now part of
his Wikipedia bio.
The problem is that the line between
setting the facts straight, and revising
history in your favor, is thin. This vulnerability
to bias is one reason why many
institutions discourage students from
using Wikipedia as a research source.
For higher ed, though, the question
should not be whether Wikipedia can
be trusted, but: How can colleges and
universities maintain the credibility of
their institutional wikis? After all, a university
administration maintaining its
own wiki is somewhat like Wales editing
his own bio; self-interest cannot be far
out of mind. Corralling one's inner spin
doctor can be a challenge, especially,
say, if a disgruntled student or employee
writes something negative on a university
wiki. The temptation may be strong for
school administrators to excise the passage.
Yet that act, perceived as biased,
could damage the university's reputation
as well as draw more attention to the
nasty comments. And the coming generation
of Web 2.0-savvy students,
armed with tools like WikiScanner,
stands ready to expose such editorial
One solution: Rely on your students to maintain the college wiki
themselves. They are a built-in
community of experts who have a
vested interest in keeping their
school's wiki in check. While you
may end up with a few more articles
about fraternity party schedules and
critiques of food quality in the dining
hall, you'll also gain the checks and balances
you need to give your wiki truly
--Rhea Kelly, Managing Editor
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