More on CAMERA and Wikipedia

Journalistic colleagues – in the Jewish and general American media – have emailed me to thank me for my recent column on CAMERA’s apparent efforts to slant Wikipedia articles. The notes came with comments like “batten down the hatches” or “hope they don’t throw eggs at your house.” I felt like the kid who took the dare to walk across the yard of the neighbor who keeps rottweilers, or who talked back to the teacher who still uses a paddle.

Knowing those colleagues, I don’t think any of them would pass up a story or a sentence just because CAMERA will attack them afterward. They are folks who have shown themselves to blessedly, professionally foolhardy. I can’t say I’m sure this is true of everyone in the business. This may please some donors to CAMERA, the attack-dog organization that claims to monitor the media for anti-Israel bias and that barks at any report it perceives as negative: See, those nasty media people have had the fear of God put in them.

Me, I’d think that if you cared about Israel, you really would want accurate info about what’s happening here, which means reports on what’s wrong as well as what’s right – as I’d think you’d prefer the doctors treating family members to be honest. You wouldn’t want the pediatrician to be afraid you’d start roaring at her if she said your kid showed definite signs of junk-food addiction and obesity.

Meanwhile, “dajudem,” a member of the CAMERA-organized group of stealth editors of Wikipedia has posted a fascinating comment on my Prospect column :

…If you believe “Israpedia” is the only middle east ‘advocacy’ group on wiki, then *you* are the ones being naive. The group “wikiforPalestine” was here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wikiforpalestine/ until yesterday, when they disbanded. It had 12 wiki editors. I have a screen-shot of their group statement, in which they require *demonstrated proof* of “anti-Zionist” edits on wiki for group-inclusion. WikiforPalestine has been around since 2006 and apparently was never challenged…

To assume that our purpose was to put up lies at wiki is unfair at best. In fact, what becomes clearer to me daily is that in a consensus oriented media, such as wiki, it may not be possible for the “truth” to come out in conflict areas such as this one. Truth can never be determined by a group vote. As such, one can only hope that by presenting opposing views, a kind of balanced tension can be achieved. It will never be achieved, though, if the answer to every argument is to silence one side or the other.

WikiforPalestine has indeed vanished from Yahoo groups, but its statement of purpose lives on in the Google cache :

This group is for experienced Wikipedians actively working to combat anti-Palestinian and pro-Zionist bias in the English language version of Wikipedia…

In order to verify their status as both a Wikipedian in good standing and someone who is pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, those wishing to join this group will be asked to provide their Wikipedia user ID.

I wasn’t naive. In my column, I wrote that Wikipedia’s

two basic qualities — it provides information to millions of people, and it is written and edited by anonymous volunteers — make it an obvious battleground for political conflicts. Why be surprised?

…On Wikipedia, in contrast to a book or an article in the media, there’s no byline to aid the reader’s judgment. While CAMERA’s alleged effort to change Wikipedia was uncovered, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the first such organized effort, or the last.

So another such group has already surfaced. Others will be more discreet. My advice is to get your information from people who sign their names and who expose their work for public review, not from an encyclopedia put together by anonymous writers.

However, dajudem is still trying to deflect discussion of a key aspect of CAMERA’s alleged efforts: the volunteer editors were apparently asked, by a CAMERA staffer, to pick names that would not hint at their interest in Israel. Some were asked to hide their interest long enough to get chosen as impartial administrators who could adjudicate disputes between editors. They were supposed to fake neutrality in order to take sides. CAMERA, a donor-backed organization that demands truthful reporting, apparently had no problem resorting to untruthful behavior to achieve its ends. Shouldn’t that make us wonder: what other fibs is the organization willing to tell?

2 thoughts on “More on CAMERA and Wikipedia”

  1. Actually, Wikipedia edits are not anonymous. Every edit can be traced either to a user (if they sign their name) or an IP address (if they don’t). Of course, it is possible for a devious group to create fictional user IDs and thereby defeat the purpose of associating edits w. specific users (as CAMERA was doing).

    But as you say, Wikipedia isn’t a fully secure space. Bad things can happen there & do. It reminds me of the democratic process. It’s messy and doesn’t always provide the best result. Lots of dumb things happen. But somehow it works out pretty well considering how badly things might otherwise turn out.

    I don’t use Wikipedia blithely as a source in my blog. I read it carefully & quote only portions that seem cogent & realiable. After all, it clearly isn’t the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Another pt., dajudem claimed that in order to join the pro-Palestine Wikipedia group “they require *demonstrated proof* of “anti-Zionist” edits.” If you compare this to the actual mission statement, it states only that you have to provide your Wikipedia userID. That’s some discrepancy–and typical of CAMERA’s distortion of reality.

  2. Wikipedians for Palestine:

    “This group is for Wikipedians actively working to combat anti-Palestinian and pro-Zionist bias in the English language version of Wikipedia. It is not the purpose of this group to introduce a POV bias into Wikipedia; however, this group is for those who are consciously and proudly pro-Palestinian even as they are committed to, and work for, an NPOV.”

    “In order to verify their status as both a Wikipedian and someone who is pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, those wishing to join this group will be asked to provide their Wikipedia user ID.”

    Oops. What other fibs is R.S. willing to tell?

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