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IBM Wikipedia Your Rights Online

IBM Employees Caught Editing Wikipedia 112

Posted by timothy
from the primary-sources dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Corporate employees editing Wikipedia articles about themselves or their employers sometimes commit major violations of Wikipedia's "bright line" against paid editing, devised by Jimbo Wales himself, to prevent 'COI' editing. (Consider the recent flap over the firm Wiki-PR's activities, for example.) Yet the Wikipediocracy website, run by critics of Wikipedia management, has just published an article about IBM employees editing Wikipedia articles. Not only is such editing apparently commonplace, it's being badly done as well. And most bizarrely, one of the IBM employees is a Wikipedia administrator, who is married to another Wikipedia administrator. She works on the Watson project, which uses online databases to build its AI system....including the full text of Wikipedia." Reading about edit wars is also far more informative (if less entertaining) than reading the edit wars themselves.
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IBM Employees Caught Editing Wikipedia

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @11:08AM (#46218225)

    What matters is transparency. You can't prohibit people with bias from editing the truth in a "truth by democracy" project - you can only hint strongly to them that they need to better hide their true identity. But you could, if you wanted to put an ounce of scholarly rigour into Wikipedia, make it so that people reveal their biases. There is nothing wrong with IBM employees contributing toward an article on IBM, as long as everyone knows that the perspective is that of an IBM employee - similarly, there's nothing wrong with someone who has invested time and emotion into some political view or war or comic book, as long as they are clear on their opinions.

    The first worst thing about Wikipedia is that editing it is about a tenth as productive as editing just about any other online resource, because you have to continually fight to maintain high standards. The second worst thing is that it tries to pretend that you can eliminate biased people, rather than acknowledge that bias exists and tackle how to be open about it.

  • Edit, but disclose (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @11:43AM (#46218593) Journal
    Often they are in the best position and knowledge to contribute. Only thing I would ask for is disclosure so that others can watch and correct manipulation of pov.

    Personally, I would not like to lose my freedom of expression to express my views on, say, finite element analysis or mesh generation just because I work for a company making commercial products in that area. But if I ever edit the wiki article of my employer, I would make damn sure everyone knows my background so that my biases conscious or unconscious are corrected.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @02:12PM (#46220337)

    So long as what people are adding is verifiable, who cares who they are?

    Well, in my opinion, the only way to really fix Wikipedia would be to allow expert help -- and in many cases, that may actually benefit from having someone with intimate knowledge of something.

    Unfortunately, Wikipedia policies discourage experts from contributing (sometimes by official policy, sometimes just by the attitude of frequent editors). It's really more like the Wild West... with some bizarre lawyer-like class running everything.

    The only way to bias a Wikipedia article while remaining verifiable is to delete stuff, and that's where the wars tend to happen.

    That's not true at all. The "verifiability" requirement is probably one of the most broken elements of Wikipedia, next to the "notability" criterion. Not that facts shouldn't be verifiable: of course they should be, and of course reputable sources should be used. However,

    Verifiable != True

    Nor should we think that verifiability is some sort of useful proxy for truth. There an important reason why people tend to swear in legal proceedings to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

    Stating "facts" without context is useless. I can tell you that the "deadly chemical" X has been found in a number of snack foods, for example. But what does that mean? Normally, people don't actually mention things unless they are notable, so the fact that I mention this seems to mean that there must be a greater significance. It seems to imply that someone put that chemical in snack foods, or that the manufacturer used contaminated ingredients, or that the manufacturer didn't do adequate screening and quality testing, or something else bad.

    But what if I now add the facts: "Chemical X occurs naturally in soil, groundwater, and most food items at a rate of 10 ppb. In the snack foods in question, chemical X had a concentration of 0.02 ppb."

    Now, all of those implications seem way off-base, no? Not only did we make an incorrect assumption from a true statement, but we actually assumed the opposite of what is true: apparently, whatever the manufacturer is doing, they are actually producing a safer-than-average product. But the concentration is still non-zero, as it is in almost all food products.

    You see this sort of thing on Wikipedia all the time from people with agendas, and from people who are just ignorant of the larger context.

    Particularly in low-profile articles on obscure topics (like the humanities), you'll often see citations and quotations from scholarship that is 50 years old and from a book that isn't even on the topic of the article. Yes, it was "published" in a "reliable source" perhaps even in a book by a major university press, so it meets quite high standards of "verifiability," but it's not particularly representative of scholarship or what most people know to be true.

    Someone with an agenda on a topic can really skew things this way. An article has citations to 5 scientific articles published in credible journals claiming X -- well, it looks like X is true. But almost every area of knowledge has some disagreement. What if there are actually 100 articles on the same topic that claim not-X, but they just don't happen to be in Wikipedia? The only person who becomes aware of this is the rare Wikipedia editor who does a search of the scholarly literature in some obscure field. Otherwise, articles can exist for years claiming things that are obviously not true. (In fact, given the propensity for scholars to exaggerate claims and implications in their own research, it's quite easy to even find 5 articles that don't even have data to prove X, but nevertheless assert X to be true in their discussion sections... while there might be 25 articles actually on topic out there which refute X.)

    So yeah, there are loads of ways to skew an article by providing "verifiable facts" from "v

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