November 03, 2011 Articles

Wikipedia Dispute Resolution

Wikipedia has implemented procedures that address its potential for misuse

by Thomas C. Goodhue

In 2005, an anonymous computer user posted on Wikipedia what he claimed was a biographical sketch of a former assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The sketch suggested that the former assistant—who has since become a prominent journalist—was directly involved in the assassinations of both John F. and RobertKennedy. The article was a shocking hoax. See John Seigenthaler, "A False Wikipedia 'Biography,'" U.S.A. Today, Nov. 29, 2005, at 11A. Only after the former aide appealed to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was the article completely removed from the website.

As common sense suggests and this incident confirms, there are clear dangers inherent in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a web-based encyclopedia written and edited by hundreds of thousands of largely anonymous volunteers. Katharine Q. Seelye, "Rewriting History: Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar," N.Y. Times, Dec. 4, 2005, at 41. On Wikipedia, anyone can register as a user by merely providing a password and user name. See Wikipedia: About, Wikipedia (May 20, 2011, 10:30:30 p.m.). Once registered, a user is free to submit new articles on topics or to edit articles written by others. Using this system, Wikipedia claims to have collected more than  17 million articles in more than 270 languages.

Inevitably, perhaps, Wikipedia users will sometimes publish inappropriate material like the biographical sketch of the former Kennedy aide. Once published, such material has the potential to reach a very large audience. According to one study, in September 2010, Wikipedia was the sixth-most-visited website in the world, ranking it ahead of such popular websites as Twitter, Craigslist, and LinkedIn. Lee Barney, "Fund Firms Get Hip to Social Media Beat," Money Mgmt. Executive, March 7, 2001, at 1.

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