March 20, 2008

Debunking Wikimedia Foundation "executive chairman" story

[Real journalism here! Not an echo! Even if nobody reads it ...]

There was a gossip-blog story yesterday which claimed that Jimmy Wales secretly retains legal control of the Wikimedia Foundation (the owner of Wikipedia):

A Florida business registration for the nonprofit filed last May shows Wales's title did change -- but to "EC," short for "executive chairman," a worker in Florida's Department of State confirms. On paper, Wales still outranks Devouard. Could he have told her that "EC" stands for "emeritus chair," while secretly keeping legal authority over Wikipedia to himself?

I was extremely skeptical, but since there's been so much dirt coming out recently I didn't ignore it entirely (which I should have). I wasted entirely too much time chasing it around Florida's Department of State. According to what I was told, the above quote is just wrong. A registration can have any set of titles that the organization wants. There's no legal standard. If they say "EC" stands for "emeritus chair", it's up to them. If they wanted to make up a title "Godking", they could. There's no big revelation, the form is exactly a trivial report.

Look, I understand that since the Wikipedia cult functions as a hype machine, with drama and scandal aplenty, figuring out what's reasonable and what's paranoia is not always easy. But this item was out into literal paranoia reaches. It was an accusation of major, major fraud, possible criminality. The number of Board members who would have had to go along with misrepresentation made it dubious on its face.

This sort of stuff is counter-productive for Wikipedia critics.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo , wikipedia | on March 20, 2008 11:59 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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