Wiki-ocracy in America

Wikipedia, aid and scourge of journalists the world over, is considering adding a layer of monitoring to protect the site and its readers against vandalism. The update to the Wiki hierarchy, currently in a kind of pilot phase in German Wikipedia, would require an editor to sign off on each update users make before those updates go live. Per the Times’s Bits blog:

The idea, which is called “flagged revisions,” has only been possible in the last few months because of a new extension to the software that runs Wikipedia. It is sure to be a hot topic here at Wikimania 2008, in Alexandria, Egypt, because it promises to enact a goal for “stable versions” of articles that has long been championed by Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales.

In other words, the encyclopedia may cede a bit of democracy in the name of stability.

The announcement comes, as luck would have it, the same week when John Seigenthaler, the former NBC News reporter and weekend anchor, has been in the news for taking the helm of his family’s PR business. In 2005, Seigenthaler became a victim of Wiki-mischief when the following fib spent 132 days sitting on his Wikipedia page:

John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960’s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.

As Seigenthaler noted in a USA Today op-ed about the experience of being Wiki-dissed, “we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research—but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects.”

Looks like those vandals might now have to work a little harder to expose the ink in those poison pens.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.