Thursday, December 08, 2005

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the playpen with his pacifier stuck up his ass...

This editorial piece was posted on USATODAY.com recently.

A false Wikipedia 'biography' by John Seigenthaler

So who is John Seigenthaler? According to the bottom of the editorial:
John Seigenthaler, a retired journalist, founded The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. He also is a former editorial page editor at USA TODAY.


It baffles me that a man who could write this piece would also found a place called "The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center." If this guy were in charge, he'd make Stalin's purgings look merciful. However, this piece also makes me wonder about the competence of this man, so perhaps I am giving him too much credit by comparing him to Stalin. (though I do confess that after typing this I worry about him sicking his attack dogs on me (even though maybe three people, including me, will ever read this post))

The gist of the story is this. Once upon a time this guy was a public figure and so he is mentioned in Wikipedia. Some time ago, some content was added that had questionable truth. It took 132 days for anyone to notice that the content might be wrong, and when that occurred Wikipedia removed the text (after this guy requested it; it's puzzling why he didn't just edit the entry himself). At this point the guy reacts as if the whole world has visited that Wikipedia entry, read the passage on him, and committed it to memory, so the guy feels that there has been a major libel law violation. He does his best to contact the ISP from which the anonymous poster was connected, and of course nothing happened. He gets frustrated by the lack of legal basis for his claims, and then he complains that Wikipedia should not be called a reference source because anyone can post whatever rubbish they want on it.

Let me put it another way. This guy is a big fat whining baby who has a phobia of technology and has trouble seeing the forest from the trees. Additionally, he has trouble getting over the fact that his name can now only be found in the annals of obscurity and is fighting hard to try to make himself feel important one more time despite defaming a perfectly good resource like Wikipedia.

In the end, this guy's attack on Wikipedia is no better (and perhaps worse) than the "attack" he found on him.

Let's look into his piece in a little more detail for fun.

"John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960's. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven."

— Wikipedia


This is the offending text. For all we know, for a brief time he was thought to have been directly involved. There may have been people who thought that. What's wrong with admitting it?
This is a highly personal story about Internet character assassination. It could be your story.


When did this become "highly personal," Jack? When you took the job in the Kennedy administration, were you expecting no one would ever notice you? Were you seriously not expecting the certain amount of fame that went along with it? Isn't this sort of focus something you should expect for taking such a position? Clearly this could NOT be the story of the average person. Even if it was the average person's story (call her Jill Doe), anyone reading the article wouldn't know who Jill Doe is, so there really wouldn't be any harm done.
I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious "biography" that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular, online, free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable.


It went for 132 days because NO ONE CARED. No one noticed. It wasn't broadcast on national news. It has not caused you great financial damages. Your life does not have to change because of this statement. It MAY be libel, but it's not anything that you could prosecute against even if it was written on paper.

At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong.


We're all surprised that you're so surprised and hurt about this. At age 78, you're as naive and as mature as someone of age 8.
I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about "the wonderful world of Wikipedia," where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference "facts," composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge — and sometimes by people with malice.


Oh, calm down! There is no conspiracy. Wikipedia works so well because it effectively aggregates the wisdom of a wide variety of sources. Sure, one source can be incorrect, but as long as there are enough independent contributors who are freely able to publish, things will get corrected. As we will read in a moment, things got corrected here.

You cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. People who are skeptical of the openness of Wikipedia just don't get it.
At my request, executives of the three websites now have removed the false content about me. But they don't know, and can't find out, who wrote the toxic sentences.


Couldn't you have removed the "false content"? Couldn't you have worked within the system?

Are the sentences really so TOXIC? Are you okay? Do doctors think you can surive this?
I phoned Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder and asked, "Do you ... have any way to know who wrote that?"


You don't think this is a bit overboard, do you?

Couldn't you have just used the log files available from Wikipedia? Why are you asking him? Don't you know how this works? Can't you use the resources available to you?

"No, we don't," he said. Representatives of the other two websites said their computers are programmed to copy data verbatim from Wikipedia, never checking whether it is false or factual.


How are they supposed to check? People go to Wikipedia to get information that they cannot find anywhere else.

Additionally, it would cost MILLIONS to be able to employ a staff capable of checking the Wikipedia material continuously in such a way that updates would be able to show up within a reasonable amount of time. Is it really worth the cost when you can just make it open to everybody and let them hash it out? After all, we all want Wikipedia to be useful to us, so plenty of us will work to actually make it useful. The system supports itself.

This one silly example hardly destroys the utility of the tool.

And face it, if it wasn't for the openness of Wikipedia, it would be a surprise that anyone had written anything about you, Mr. Big Shot.
Naturally, I want to unmask my "biographer." And, I am interested in letting many people know that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool.


GET OVER YOURSELF.

Is your skull really this thick and yet your skin this thin?

Is it really that difficult for you to get it?

Are you really that sensitive?

So the guy finds the IP address of the person who posted the note. Then he contacts his ISP. The ISP has an abuse handler and sends him a form letter back. The VERY HELPFUL (to a strange extent) Wikipedia founder explains to him that such requests infrequently get any real handling by the ISPs. So he calls BellSouth's Atlanta headquarters, manages to get through to someone, and gets the explanation that BellSouth cannot release any name unless he files a "John or Jane Doe" lawsuit in which the name can be subpoenaed.

Okay, so why does he even CARE about the name? This guy has sufferred ZERO financial losses. Is he really looking for punitive damages here?

You see, most sane people (a set that seems to exclude this guy) would have encouraged BellSouth to take action against this guy without releasing the name to him. If BellSouth did not respond adequately to him, he could have contacted the BBB (or possibly the AG) and let them handle it. Back when I used to work for an ISP and we had a user who was getting attacked in some form (and this usually meant someone was targetting them with technology and not with words) we would follow this procedure and it worked very well.

But, like I said, this guy seems to be incompetent.

So then he goes on to complain that providers or users of interactive computer services cannot be treated as a publisher or speaker. A tremendous derth of the Internet is on par with a tape recording of everyday parlance among people. It would be wrong to hold this very public resource to some higher standard where only those with money and legal teams could contribute. It would just be silly. It would be an attack on free speech (as well as lots of other important liberties).

So then the whining continues...
Recent low-profile court decisions document that Congress effectively has barred defamation in cyberspace. Wikipedia's website acknowledges that it is not responsible for inaccurate information, but Wales, in a recent C-Span interview with Brian Lamb, insisted that his website is accountable and that his community of thousands of volunteer editors (he said he has only one paid employee) corrects mistakes within minutes.


Mistakes can only be corrected quickly if they are accessed quickly and often. Your name was not. By this very fact it's silly to assume there have been any great damages done!

You want someone to be imprisoned and fined for doing the equivalent of telling a dirty joke amongst a handful of people that you do not know who will probably forget the joke soonafter they hear it. Again, I compare you to Stalin.

And then there's some more stuff that really gets under my skin... But this last part is the best.
When I was a child, my mother lectured me on the evils of "gossip." She held a feather pillow and said, "If I tear this open, the feathers will fly to the four winds, and I could never get them back in the pillow. That's how it is when you spread mean things about people."

For me, that pillow is a metaphor for Wikipedia.


That's... really... beautiful. I sorta have a tear coming to my eye. All those feathers... You just can't get them back! That's so sad... And so true!

...and yet so much crap.

And so I hope his editorial generates more bad things said about him than the original Wikipedia article. I'm tempted to go in and add a page linking to his editorial and talking about his hatred for Wikipedia. I'll give his pillow quote. Yeah, I think that's a good idea. And that way something that is verifiable will be in there, so the Wikipedia people won't remove it, and he and his equally incompetent son will not have the technicaly savvy to figure out how to remove it themselves...

Heck, maybe they'll write an editorial about me. And then I can call the head of USATODAY and complain to him about this great injustice that has been done. Then I can talk to USATODAY's Internet provider and try to get them shut down. Then I can press charges in a federal court... (sound familiar? sound pretty silly? yeah, I think so too)

1 comment:

Annabana said...

Oh Ted, I miss these rants of yours. This piece filled a void that I have carried for years.

Thank you.