Wikipedia and politics, Part 74

The Associated Press reports another story of Wikipedia editing involving politicians (distinct from this one). The entry for Georgia Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, was edited to include an (accurate) reference to his son’s indictment on felony drunk-driving charges. The charges stem from an accident in which the son’s best friend was killed. It turns out, and Jimbo Wales confirms, that the addition is traceable to the campaign manager of a rival candidate for the nomination. Taylor allies say the activity “has no place in Georgia politics” and are calling for the campaign manager to be fired.

Two questions.

First, should the information be in Taylor’s Wikipedia entry? I leave that to the Wikipedians, but they seem to be working it out themselves in typical open-source fashion. A sensible statement on the discussion page for the entry declares that “if information is relevant and verifiable, and if it is presented in a non-prejudicial manner, it is appropriate.” The information is certainly verifiable, and at least as relevant to the article as the other content included under the heading of “Taylor in the News.” But the edit war continues as of this moment. The passage about Taylor’s son was deleted late last night, reinstated this morning, and deleted again; then, while I was still writing this post, the passage was reinstated (36 minutes after it was deleted). Pretty soon, Wikipedia policies intended to prevent endless edit wars will kick in, and hopefully the sensible standard — favoring relevance and unslanted presentation — will win out.

My second question: Precisely why is it out of line to disseminate true information about a political opponent that is intended to discredit him? Is it an objection that the information involves the son and not the candidate-father and so should not be relevant to voters? Is it the fact that the edit was made anonymously? Here is a thought experiment: would it be considered a dirty trick to run a TV ad accurately repeating the same facts, attributed to some advocacy group with a meaningless name (say, Georgians for Good Governors)? I tend to suspect such an ad would be viewed as a hardball but still legitimate tactic. (Whether it would or should influence voters is a separate issue.) If I’m right, then doing it through Wikipedia should be no different. Then this starts to look like just another episode of anti-Wikipedia backlash that is pretty groundless when you look into it more closely. That’s especially so because, even if the opponent’s campaign manager started the ball rolling, the Wikipedians now appear to be resolving the issue on their own.

One Response to “Wikipedia and politics, Part 74”

  1. [...] Yesterday I speculated that a controversy around the use of Wikipedia in a Georgia political campaign was really just another example of people misunderstanding Wikipedia and unfairly holding it to different standards than other media.  Today, given recent developments, I am not so sure. Secretary of State Cathy Cox has fired her campaign manager, Morton Brilliant (great name, eh?), who apparently edited her opponent’s Wikipedia entry to add mention of a drunk-driving incident involving the opponent’s son.  (Well, she “accepted his resignation,” which in this case translates to “fired”).  As reports, both Cox and her opponent’s campaign cast the firing in terms of the drunk-driving issue being inappropriate and not, as I had feared, the use of Wikipedia: Taylor spokesman Rick Dent said earlier Wednesday that the Cox campaign was “exploiting a tragedy for political reasons.” He also asked for an apology from Cox and for Brilliant to be fired. [...]