Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2006-02-06/Politicians and Wikipedia

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Reactions by politicians continue

By Michael Snow, 6 February 2006

As news about editing by congressional staffers continued to circulate, the media sought out responses from politicians to see who was editing Wikipedia and what they thought about it. Some additional admissions surfaced, while reactions ranged from critical to glowing.

Beyond the initial revelations about staffers for Marty Meehan (D-Massachusetts) having edited Meehan's article, reports also came in about other cases. For example, one case involved the office of Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota), whose chief of staff admitted having changes made to the article. He also questioned the Wikipedia system generally, asking, "What's to stop someone from writing in that Norm Coleman was 7-feet-10-inches, with green hair and one eye smack dab in the middle of his head?" Almost inevitably, one person took him up on the suggestion by adding just that (and was reverted within the minute).

In North Carolina, The News & Observer followed up with its own local politicians in a report published Friday. According to The News & Observer, the press secretary for Bob Etheridge (D-North Carolina) acknowledged correcting inaccuracies in his article. Similarly, the communications director for Tom Lantos (Democrat-California) admitted editing the article about her boss. She claimed that all her contributions were attributed to sources such as local newspapers, which can be seen reflected in the number of external links interspersed throughout the article's text.

However, one Congressman whose staff clearly had never troubled themselves about Wikipedia was Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), who found himself denying that he had ever been known as "the Flying Cheetah" in high school. That tidbit was added in October by someone who also altered the entry to say Burr represented the 4th Congressional District instead of the 5th, a mistake that was only corrected last week.

Stories about the congressional editing also frequently noted that one of the IP addresses involved, apparently the main proxy server for the United States House of Representatives, had been blocked from editing. It was blocked again on two occasions last week, but now only for shorter periods of time, since it has now been established that different people use it and beneficial edits do result.

With all this discussion in the United States, however, Wikipedia received the endorsement of a politician from a different country last week. President Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic included this praise in his speech at graduation ceremonies last Wednesday for students from English programs at several institutions. According to the newspaper Hoy (Today), Fernández called Wikipedia "the most revolutionary encyclopedia possible in terms of distributing knowledge" (English version). He noted Wikipedia's existence in a number of languages, but emphasized English due to its "hegemony" in the digital world.


Also this week: From the editor

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