March 04, 2007

New Yorker Wikipedia "Essjay" Fraud Aftermath

With the retirement of Essjay in the Wikipedia scandal over fabricating credentials, attention has shifted to "What Did He Know And When Did He Know It?" type questions for Jimmy Wales. The critic's theory is that Jimmy Wales regarded lying about credentials to the New Yorker as no big deal, but lying in the Wikipedia community was unacceptable to him. Thus, he keeps saying that until this weekend, he didn't realize how much Essjay was lying in Wikipedia, which is probably true, and deliberately passing over the charge that he did know for weeks that Essjay had lied to the New Yorker, but his attitude was "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it.".

In terms of citizen-journalism, I had earlier sent Jimmy Wales some email to check the accuracy of that quote. He replied last night, but his reply didn't help much in disambiguation. [Update: Got some more nice mail from him. I've got to say I'm impressed that he was at least willing to respond.]

It'll be hard to pin him down on this, since he's not stupid, and it's very understandable that given the firestorm, he'd never want to come out and blatantly admit he didn't care about fraud to the New Yorker.

Larry Sanger is perhaps the most prominent of those calling out Jimmy Wales over the issue:

Jimmy, to call yourself a tenured professor, when you aren't one, is not a "pseudonym." It's identity fraud. And the full question is not why you appointed Essjay to ArbCom, but: why did you ignore the obvious moral implications of the fact that he had fraudulently pretended to be a professor -- ignoring those implications even to the point of giving him a job and appointing him to ArbCom -- until now? The problem isn't just that he won arguments on WP by citing his false credentials. It's that he got into positions of authority in WP that way, he was interviewed by The New Yorker that way, and played make believe that he was a professor for six hours straight to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And you had to know all of this before this morning. Your claim, "I want to make it perfectly clear that my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on," seems disingenuous. You fully knew that he was impersonating a professor and you had to know that he had gotten advantages as the reward of his duplicity; and, despite knowing this no doubt last January, you gave him a job and appointed him to ArbCom anyway. --Larry Sanger 01:36, 4 March 2007 (UTC)

The Freakonomics blog also has raised the matter. Right now, it's a battle over who has more power to define the media view of this. Wikipedia has both many who love it, and many who hate it. I won't speculate on which side will win (it sure doesn't depend on who is right ... :-( ).


Andrew Lih catches Essjay in another lie, defaming the reporter

Nick Carr on "Essjay's world"

Rogers Cadenhead - "There aren't many situations in life where an anonymous mob of people, working in an atmosphere allergic to the concept of personal accountability, is relied upon to achieve a societal good."

Shelley Powers - "Interesting how hard items like ethics, honor, and truth metamorphose in the the soft environment encompassed by so-called social software."

Kelly Martin's coverage

[Update, from comments: The critic site Wikipedia Review has an extensive coverage collection. ]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 04, 2007 12:09 PM (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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Daniel Brandt should put out a media press release as I describe here. Also there is a full list of all media and blog coverage available here.

Posted by: anon1234 at March 4, 2007 01:20 PM

When Sanger uses the word "moral" while talking about Wales, I can't help but raise my eyebrows. Wales seems to have some sort of moral aphasia. A lack of awareness of right and wrong. I'm not sure if it's a mental health issue, or simply a result of his well known love of the Ayn Rand cult of selfishness.

I've been telling Wales, via email, about an individual who is far more unethical than Essjay. I've been doing this over seven months. Wales' responses have been of the same desultory type as his initial "fraud doesn't matter" reaction to Essjay.

Posted by: Xed at March 4, 2007 02:09 PM

Based on Jimbo's subsequent remedial measures, what Jimbo knew once upon a time about Essjay is irrelevant. Much more important is that a significant number of Wikipedians with administrator privileges who are still stuck in denial are doing their level best to censor anyone who has anything critical to say about Essjay.

Posted by: Internet Esquire at March 4, 2007 03:12 PM

I wonder if anyone will be doing a diff of WP before and after the Essjay scandal?

Presumably, those with dishonest credentials, but valuable WP ids, will be 'disambiguating' the 'potentially misleading' details of their credentials on their personal pages...

Good thing it's always been ok to copy WP. Should be a few skeletons being shaken out of their closets.

"Oh? You mean WP isn't a fantasy role playing game?"

Posted by: Crosbie Fitch at March 5, 2007 11:07 AM