Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Information warfare – Burgh style

I am not sure if this rises to the level of what may be called “information warfare” in other contexts, but there is a curious little battle of sorts going on in cyberspace.

Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for Luke Ravenstahl. Not everyone fully realizes that Wikipedia is a collective effort of the public at large. With certain exceptions, anyone can edit any entry on Wikipedia. As a result you can get competing, and ever changing, content. It may be best to think of Wikipedia entries less as the static content of a regular encyclopedia, but dynamic living content. Whether that is good or bad is part of a larger debate. To see the history of changes for LR’s entry you need to hit the “discussion” button that every entry should have.

If you decipher that history a bit you will see the ongoing skirmishes. For example, at one point someone updated the entry to say that Luke died in November. A few days later someone tried to blank the entire page only to have an editor revert the page. Also you see some efforts to give alternative versions of his political lineage and his role in the casino decision.

The battle is not necessarily between competing political actors. Some of these seem childish more than anything else. There seem to be anonymous and apolitical Wikipedia editors out there who revert some of the edits, and make some of their own, as they go. And not all edits are incorrect or biased against LR. A lot of the content seems to be drawn from the Mayor’s own PR and official bio which is positive if not one-sided in its own way.

Does this all matter politically. I doubt it. Anyone reading Wikipedia is likely to have access to plenty of other sources of info to base their decisions on. I have pointed out in the past that given the age of the local electorate I am pretty sure the median voter in town does not use the internet that much if at all.

But this is all still a phenomenon worth watching. At work my colleague Stu Shulman is the new editor of a new journal titled the Journal of Information Technology and Politics, the existence of which is itself a reflection of how important the nexus of politics and the internet has become. This may all be a microcosm of the larger debate on how to use and interpret Wikipedia. Some have felt it to be decidedly false and misleading, while at least one study has found it to be a relatively accurate source of info. It has even been misused in much larger political campaigns in the past, so this mucking around locally is nothing new.

as I type I see there is news today (this hour) about how some countries are blocking the ability to contribute to (not to read) Wikipedia to prevent various forms of net vandalism.


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