Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Vandals in high places

This week's hero in cyberspace is Virgil Griffith, an American academic who, using basic research tools, has put together a webpage to show which established institutions are modifying Wikipedia entries, and what changes those institutions are making. Mainstream media outlets such as the BBC which have picked up this story have highlighted the role of the CIA in making alterations to their own liking, but really: we expect the CIA to be evil; that's what they're there for, to act as the scapegoat for all of our fears about unchecked American power.

What is of far more interest, at least to an evil right- winger like me, are the changes made to Wikipedia entries by respected media organizations such as -- to take one totally random example -- the BBC itself. The most egregious example of vandalism committed by the CIA that the BBC could come up with involved the baffling insertion of the exclamation "Wahhhhhh!" into an entry concerning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; but unnamed employees of the BBC changed the name of "George Walker Bush" to that of "George Wanker Bush" (hilarious that, and so sophisticated), and also substituted the words "freedom fighter" for that of "terrorist" in a context where only the latter designation could be justified.

Another heroic guardian of our liberty from the oppressive Bush- Cheney- Zionist axis which succumbed to the temptation to alter entries was the New York Times, whose minions apparently thought that any article on President Bush would be incomplete without the word "jerk" being added to it ten times in a row, and that Condoleezza Rice could more accurately be described as a "concert penis" rather than a "concert pianist". Pure comedy gold -- or is it meant to be trenchant political analysis? Who can decide?

Now, it's true that Virgil Griffith's page only logs the IP addresses originating within a given organization; no-one should assume that the viewpoint expressed through the changes is necessarily representative of that of the organization itself. But of course this is as much true for the CIA as it is for the BBC and the New York Times. Apparently the media only feels that this sort of petty chicanery is alarming enough to report upon when it is being undertaken (in even the most rudimentary fashion) by US government agencies. When they themselves do it, of course, it's a different story. They are always looking out for your interests, after all, and are thoughtful enough to perform extra services on your behalf that you don't even have to pay for along with your subscription or television licence fee... because that's just the kind of great guys that they are.

(Update: a comprehensive look at Wiki edits can be found here.)

No comments: