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Wikipedia’s editing battlegrounds

Yesterday, we ran an article on the high-end battles being waged on Wikipedia, namely the hot topics where edits are particularly fast and furious – a so-called "edit war." Apparently the ten touchiest topics are:

  • George W. Bush
  • Anarchism
  • The Prophet Muhammad
  • World Wrestling Entertainment employees
  • Global warming
  • Circumcision
  • The United States
  • Jesus
  • Race and intelligence
  • Christianity

Internationally the most controversial topics are:

  • Israel
  • Adolf Hitler
  • The Holocaust
  • God

With any of these pages, if you attempt to enter anything at all, editors will strike back and remove or revise your additions. Wikipedia has a number of unpaid and mostly unnamed guardians of justice who oversee many of the pages.

Even lesser pages, such as my personal entry, have monitors who make sure I am forever condemned for predicting that the iPhone will flop or that the mouse was a disaster (which is bullcrap). There are no references to anything positive that I've ever done out of the 5000+ columns I've written, but if you remove the mention of the mouse or the iPhone gaffe it will be back within minutes. I should be grateful I even have a page.

Many Wikipedia pages have RSS-like feeds so you get a notification of changes. By using these to track changes, you can rush to Wikipedia and undo whatever you believe needs undoing.

Many people, writers included, have a public relations agent creating their Wikipedia page, keeping good news and ousting complaints. Most corporations have a page that they are maintaining in some fashion. This is not what is supposed to happen, but you find it everywhere.

The hagiography on the site is ridiculous. If you want to see an extreme info dump, check out Noam Chomsky's page. It weighs in at a whopping 14,850 words; much of it promotional trivia. Compare Chomsky to Henry Ford, with a mere 10,700 word entry. Britney Spears checks in with 15,800 words obviously because of her cultural importance. My favourite comparison though is Thomas Edison's 9,800 words compared to Madonna's 21,106 words – that's the singer, not the mother of Jesus.

These numbers tell you something about our society. Ask the question: why do we need so much material about Madonna on Wikipedia?

Unfortunately, at this point in time, Wikipedia is necessary as a source of information. On the No Agenda podcast, which I co-host twice a week, we call it the Book of Knowledge, because that is what it has become. Still, users have to be aware of these anomalies and know that there is often an agenda behind any entry.

It's astonishing when someone takes a chance and uses it as a definitive source. It seldom is definitive, but it is convenient.