September 09, 2006

Suing Wikipedia Legal Issues

In earlier comments, Daniel Brandt wrote:

Regarding the Wikipedia legal situation, I'd like to alert your readers to comments published today from Brad Patrick, Wikipedia's interim executive director and general counsel. They are at

He misrepresents the true state of affairs at Wikipedia. I'm still looking for that notice on every page that editors are responsible for their own edits.

Which I take to be refering to:

Q: What is your liability for inaccurate information that's posted on the Web site?

A: Our belief is that since every post is attributed to an individual, is time-stamped and is retained in the database, the foundation itself is not publishing that content. We view individual editors as responsible and have prominently displayed on every edit page that individuals are responsible for their own contributions. We take the position that we are a service provider and are protected under § 230. We try to emphasize to everyone who posts that they, as publishers, have responsibility for what they add.

["§ 230" is immunity of "providers" from certain legal claims]

I'll just use this as an example to point out another way that blogging is somewhere between useless and downright harmful for me. My own views are much less Wikipedia-cheerleading than its Harvard and venture capital boosters (Wikipedia is a publisher with poor quality control that doesn't pay its contributors). But, frankly, my opinion has approximately zero importance, as well as practically near-zero reach. And expounding on it at length is likely just to get me another situation of being flamed by a "Big Head" and not being able to effectively reply. It's not worth it. So much for blogging as such a great "conversation".

Bonus link: Via Michael Zimmer, Social software and Web 2.0 - Seminar and workshop at Aalborg University on Friday October 6th, 2006:

The concepts have been eagerly adopted within seemingly contradictory areas: on the one hand, Web 2.0 and social software have been associated with re-democratisation, empowerment and open content. On the other hand, they are seen as a huge possibility for profit and market control from a corporate perspective.

That "seemingly contradictory" is key - if you grasp that the rhetoric of re-democratisation and empowerment is used for market control from a corporate perspective, it's perfectly consistent. And I'm not being the slightest bit original in that insight. Which is a very sad commentary again.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on September 09, 2006 01:28 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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> if you grasp that the rhetoric of re-democratisation and empowerment is used for market control from a corporate perspective, it's perfectly consistent.

I still have a lot of thinking to do on this topic, but I tend to agree with you here.

Posted by: Michael Zimmer at September 9, 2006 11:47 AM

"But, frankly, my opinion has approximately zero importance, as well as practically near-zero reach."

I don't agree.

"And expounding on it at length is likely just to get me another situation of being flamed by a "Big Head" and not being able to effectively reply."

If you get flamed by the Big Head, then you have reach.

Posted by: Shelley at September 9, 2006 03:21 PM

Web 2.0 is 90 percent hype, just like Google is 90 percent hype. The successful cyberhypster knows which journalists can be fooled. Unfortunately, that includes the overwhelming majority of high-tech journalists.

At Wikipedia, there is a tiny link at the bottom of every page labeled "Disclaimer." If you read this disclaimer, it is very unclear what's going on. Wikipedia says it is not responsible, but then adds that neither is anyone -- casual contributors, editors, administrators, you name it -- who might be even remotely associated with Wikipedia. In other words, no one is responsible. But my favorite peeve is that if you hit the edit button on any unprotected Wikipedia page, assuming that you are not logged in, the first thing you see at the top of the edit screen is this: "As you are not currently logged in, your IP address will be recorded in this page's edit history. While you are free to edit without logging in, registering for your own account will conceal your IP address and provide you with many other benefits."

What does this mean, "conceal your IP address"? It means that since Wikipedia deletes its logs within two to four weeks, soon you cannot be identified at all, even if Wikipedia is served with a subpoena. No email verification is required to start an account. It takes only 15 seconds.

You have Google on one end, saving everything they can about you, and claiming that they are protecting your privacy. You have Wikipedia on the other end, which allows you to destroy the privacy of living persons by starting articles on them, while the destroyer remains anonymous. Then in their next breath Wikipedia is a "service provider" and not a "creator or developer of content," and considers itself immune under Section 230. And of course, anonymous people are immune by definition. In other words, no one is responsible.

It's all hype, and it's all created by cyberhypsters who manage to convince the high-tech media that they're onto the Next Big Thing. All they're really doing is proving that libertarianism doesn't work. What we need is someone or something to inject more accountability into the high-tech private sector.

Posted by: Daniel Brandt at September 10, 2006 02:31 PM

Michael: Sadly, there's no money in that view :-(.

Shelley: If I get flamed by a Big Head, then orders of magnitude more people hear the attack than ever hear my defense. That's not exactly having reach, for me.

Daniel: Unfortunately, I am in no position to do anything effective about it.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 10, 2006 09:11 PM

Trying to be constructive about how to solve the problems with Wikipedia:

It seems that the whole "completely free, anyone can edit" paradigm was created without thinking out what purpose an online encyclopedia should serve. Consider these things that people would use it for:
1) to get information in cases where it's sufficient to be about 80% sure that it's true (e.g. when I'm looking up trivia about 24 and other favorite TV shows)
2) to get information where you'd need a higher-than-normal degree of certainty that it's true
3) to get an article about something that they can redistribute freely
4) to get information that can be attributed to a reputable source, so that it can be legitimately used in a school report, for example

#1 and #3 are not helped by the anonymity of the system, and #2 and #4 are specifically defeated by the anonymity of the system.

It seems like anonymity was built into it because anonymity is just one of those things that sounds good. Of course I strongly support the right to anonymity in general, but I don't see why an anonymously-written encyclopedia article is better than a non-anonymous one.

But there's no need to burn Wikipedia to the ground and start over. For articles like geology that are unlikely to contain anything controversial, let alone legally actionable, it should be possible to find a couple of geology professors willing to sign off on the statements in the articles. (To minimize the imposition on the experts, they wouldn't even have to write anything new, just read what's already there, make any changes, and certify that they stand behind it.) That would instantly make the articles far more valuable to people who are using Wikipedia for purposes #2 and #4.

Posted by: Bennett Haselton at September 11, 2006 07:43 PM