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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Wikipedia, the “Free Encyclopedia

If you plan on writing an internet or business ethics paper you may be tempted to start with the source most professors would dissuade you from using: Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the “Free Encyclopedia,” has turned average internet users into encyclopedia editors, allowing anyone to edit Wikipedia pages as they see fit.

This editing ability is not without those who seek to abuse it. The past two years politicians and corporations have used Wikipedia’s editing tools to place a positive light on their company or cast a negative shadow on their competitors.

The use of Wikipedia by corporations and people to change or remove negative information is going to be harder due to Virgil Griffith and his creation known as the Wikiscanner.

Well-known groups and business have been found to anonymously change information on Wikipedia, including, but not limited, to Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, politicians, the CIA and the FBI.

Corporate use of Wikipedia for free publicity is not illegal, according to NPR. But legality does not equate to ethical.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy Vance Ricks said, “Is it unethical for organizations and corporations knowingly to disseminate false claims? I think that the answer is ‘yes, almost always’.”

Junior George Rossmann, who has edited for Wikipedia, found the actions of certain people and groups amoral.

“It presents a view that misrepresents and misleads,” Rossmann said.

However, Ricks said “Just because a change was made by someone from a corporation, that doesn’t mean that the change was for the worse, even if the motives were self-serving.”

It’s true that many edits are harmless, but not all.

One such example is the company Diebold, which supplies voting machines. In October 2005, BBC News reported a story about a person who, using a Diebold computer, removed paragraphs about Walden O’Dell, Diebold chief executive, which revealed that he had been “a top fund-raiser” for George W. Bush.

Later in that month allegations of rigging the 2000 elections were removed from the Diebold wikipedia page.

Similar examples of using Wikipedia have been discovered thanks to Wikiscanner.

Since the creation of the Wikiscanner it was discovered that someone from the CIA network edited an entry about the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq, editing a graph about the number of casualties and adding in that the numbers were estimates.

The Wikiscanner was created by California Institute of Technology student Virgil Griffith. Griffith’s creation can trace anonymous IP addresses back to the computer network from which the address came.

Griffith stated on his website that Wikiscanner’s existence is to “create a fireworks display of public relations disasters in which everyone brings their own fireworks, and enjoys.”

James Wales, the creator of Wikipedia has spoken enthusiastically of the Wikiscanner.

Wales said, “It’s awesome, I love it. It brings an additional level of transparency to what’s going on at Wikipedia.”

Wikiscanner is not without its flaws though.

Vance Ricks said that getting around Wikiscanner isn’t a difficult task.

“Wikiscanner compiles information about anonymous users. It’s easy to defeat Wikiscanner simply by setting up an account on Wikipedia and making changes while logged in. It’s easy to defeat Wikiscanner by leaving your office, going across the street to the public library, and making changes from one of the computers there,” Ricks said.

Sophomore Elissa Hachmeister feels that the creation of the Wikiscanner won’t make Wikipedia a perfect site.

“It’s useful, but it still won’t be 100 percent reliable,” Hachmeister said.

George Rossmann said he feels creations such as Wikiscanner will be beneficial to Wikipedia.

“It’s a public resource, but it’s regulated to an extent,” Rossmann said. “Without these regulations Wikipedia would be nothing more than a glorified blog.

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