Presumptive Republi...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

A recent New York Times story reports that the day before Senator John McCain announced Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, her biographical entry on Wikipedia was being updated significantly by someone who was apparently both very close to Palin (username: YoungTrigg, after Palin’s youngest child, Trig), and “Wikipedically naive.” A more experienced Wikipedia editor (named FerryLodge) cleaned up the entries, removing some of the most flattering and self-serving parts, along with extraneous materials.

YoungTrigg is now listed with a black box as “retired” on Wikipedia, job done.

This is fascinating in that it shows how Wikipedia, which is a major public face for politicians and celebrities, can be used to scan for news. If the news media had been using WikiScanner to monitor all the VP candidates the McCain camp was considering, they might have been able to break the story sooner. Someone should develop a tool like WikiScanner that is more attuned to newsrooms. The time has come.

This example also illustrates how well-kept and transparent the reference work is. Not only was an editor “on it” right after a clearly pro-Palin editor significantly modified an entry, but the editing tracks are clearly marked.

There is a problem, however — anonymity. Both YoungTrigg and FerryLodge are anonymous, with the New York Times keeping FerryLodge anonymous in its report to protect the person from professional backdraft.

Scholarly publishers know the power of accurate author attribution. It keeps people honest. It lets the community exercise standards of behavior. And it allows liars and cheats to be banished.

Given the way Wikipedia can be pimped for political or professional gain, and the increasing importance of identity online, removing this anonymity seems to be a responsible next step for Wikipedia

Or, an Achilles heel.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


1 Thought on "Sarah Palin and Wikipedia"

In my (slightly biased) opinion, this is a very well-written entry, and it hits the nail right on the head regarding Wikipedia’s greatest strength. And weakness.

Nice work!

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