Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2006-03-06/Politicians citing Wikipedia

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Politicians move from editing Wikipedia to citing it

By Michael Snow, 5 March 2006

Although the topic of politicians editing Wikipedia has been the subject of considerable attention lately, it turns out that they are also using it for other purposes. The editing, in particular by US congressional staff, was previously reported here and also the subject of a Wikinews investigation. But at least outside the US, where some edits have also been reported and investigated, it seems that some politicians quote material from Wikipedia as well.

Hansard reports have now recorded several instances of parliamentarians quoting Wikipedia in their debates and speeches. Two come from the Australian Parliament, including the most recent just this past week. On Wednesday, March 1, in a speech by Senator Lyn Allison, leader of the Australian Democrats, remarking on the tenth anniversary of John Howard's election as Prime Minister, Allison turned to the Propaganda article for a list of techniques she charged the Howard government with using.

The previous citation of Wikipedia came from Danna Vale of Howard's own Liberal Party on 9 February 2005. Speaking at the opening of Parliament, she used portions of the Totalitarianism article in her comments about the war against terrorism. The cited passages are no longer recognizable in Wikipedia today, as the article underwent a significant rewrite in July by 172, who said it was an unfocused mess that had long had problems with original research and commentary.

Australian Wikipedian Mark Gallagher was not that impressed with the use these politicians managed to get out of it. As he put it, "Referenced twice in Parliament, and both times it's just to say 'Wikipedia says you're a tyrant!'? How sad. Remember when our politicians were eloquent?"

In contrast, a debate last year in the British House of Commons provides an example of a politician using Wikipedia as a factual reference, not just to bolster an argument. On 13 July 2005, MP Anne McIntosh of the Conservative Party quoted two paragraphs from Persecution of Christians while discussing that issue in regards to southeast Asia and China.

In a further example, the library of the Parliament of Canada cited Wikipedia's article on Same-sex marriage as a "related link" in the further reading list for Bill C-38 (An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes).

It remains to be seen whether these are simply isolated events or reflect a growing trend. In any case, it shows that politicians are taking a look at more of Wikipedia than merely the state of their own biographies.

Meanwhile, the fallout over congressional staff editing took an unusual twist last week. In Delaware, where Senator Joseph Biden's office was one whose editing was exposed by the Wikinews investigation, the Republican Party has apparently been trying to use this for political advantage. In particular, attention focused on the removal of information about a plagiarism controversy during Biden's 1988 presidential campaign. Now opinion columnist Ron Williams of the Delaware News-Journal has charged that the Republicans lifted material from another source, thus allegedly using more plagiarism to make noise about Biden's supposed plagiarism. And again like Biden's staff, engaged in some selective editing of the material they were using to remove unflattering information. At this point, good luck figuring out who's the pot and who's the kettle.


Also this week: Millionth article

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