Wikipedia scandals: just stories of friends and foes?

People who are criticizing Wikipedia are not necessarily our “enemies”. Sometimes, they may even share our values.

In Wikipedia Weekly (episode-68-wikipedias-nicotine-high) the guys talked about the scandal concerning the Scorpions cover issue. “Internet Watch Foundation” (IWF) in Britain made a Wikipedia article being blocked because of an allegedly indecent album cover (of 1976). According to Wikipedia Weekly, the attitude of many Wikipedians then was “haha, we don’t care and go on with what we’re doing”, and the guys were not happy with that.

The episode triggered a thought I had earlier during the Heilmann scandal in Germany, about the post communist MP who made Wikimedia Deutschland’s blocked for a couple of days. Heilmann was unhappy about some sentences in the German article about him. We Wikipedians (in Germany and elsewhere) enjoyed the huge support we got from the media and also donors. A journalist of FOCUS wrote that hitting a polar bear baby on tv could not have made Heilmann more unpopular.

My thought was and is that these Heilmanns and IWFs did wrong but that they brought up questions we Wikipedians should seriously deal with. Certainly Heilmann should not have tried to sue Wikimedia Deutschland (the national chapter totally innocent about Wikipedia content) but can we be certain that our procedures dealing with such complaints and personality rights are indeed elaborate enough?

I have a problem with IWFs claim that the Scorpions cover is “potentially illegal” (potentially?) and I wonder about the strange “solution” they implemented (the text of the article was blocked, but not the picture itself at Commons) – but in general, I believe that the mission of IWF is a good one, that IWF is advocating something every Wikipedia should agree on.

Of course, a Wikipedian who sees such actions taken against Wikipedia or a Wikimedia organisation feels attacked. Often, however, it is not just a story of “we against them”. We were in fact lucky that usually the case of our opponents was quite weak, and did not appeal well to the public. In 2005 in Germany, the parents of a deceased hacker (“Tron”) did not want their son’s name seen on Wikipedia and went to the judge. First, most people don’t have a positive image of a “hacker”. Second, they think it’s normal that someone works simply under his real name. Third, the article did no harm to the hacker who was already dead. And a former Stasi (East German secret service) employee like Heilmann has not many fans outside certain political groups anyway.

But what if in future a Wikipedian makes a serious error, or even an ill-meant edit, causing damage to a likeable person of public interest? With a more credible assert than in the Seigenthaler case? What if this Wikipedian will get sued? That would not forge the Wikipedians together like the previous cases, but is much more likely to cause a severe rupture. It might make sense to consider the possibility before it such a case happens.


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