Chelsea Schilling is a commentary editor and staff writer for WND and a proud U.S. Army veteran. She has also worked as a news producer at USA Radio Network and as a news reporter for the Sacramento Union.More ↓Less ↑
Sen. Barack Obama “is a member of the Nudist Party.”
Sen. Ted Stevens participated in “kinky sex adventures.”
Sen. John McCain “looks like a pig.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s conception was “a complete accident,” and when she was born, “she had clubbed feet and her arms bent the wrong way.”
These are just some of the disparaging claims citizen-editors have made about U.S. senators in their Wikipedia profiles.
The list of vandalized profiles resulting from a study conducted late last year by Gregory Kohs and several Wikipedia Review members is long – with more than 600 incidents of defamatory statements about 92 U.S. senators in just three months.
During that time, nearly 4.3 million people visited the senators’ vandalized Wikipedia pages, many likely viewing the profiles for research. The damaging edits remained for hours, days and even weeks.
According to the study, the median time a vandal’s edit remained was 6 minutes, but the mean duration was a full 24 hours before the entries were fixed.
Some distortions of simple facts might not have been glaringly obvious to everyone.
One stated, “McCain was born in Florida” and another claims he was “held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for twelve and a half years.”
However, McCain was born at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone and spent five and a half years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam.
Another edit claims Sen. Barbara Boxer “was first lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992.”
Boxer did become a senator in January 1993, but she is married to a male lawyer named Stewart and has two children, Doug and Nicole.
Vandals couldn’t get Sen. Chris Dodd’s race or descent correct. One said he is a Jew, while another claimed he is African-American. And yet another editor said he is an “Australian athlete.”
Dodd is, in fact, a white, male U.S. citizen of Irish ancestry.
Sen. Joe Lieberman was said to have appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and announced that he is a homosexual while Sen. Larry Craig was described as “a self-proclaimed gay.”
The “Ellen DeGeneres Show” website has no record of Lieberman’s alleged appearance, and the senator is married to a woman named Hadassah.
Also, as many are now aware, Sen. Craig has emphatically declared, “I’m not gay.”
The 92 senators are not the only ones who have had their profiles vandalized. As reported earlier, WND’s own Editor Joseph Farah was recently described as “an Evangelical Christian American journalist and noted homosexual of Lebanese and Syrian heritage” in his biography this week.
A Wikipedia editor and administrator removed the defamation and placed a block on Farah’s entry within an hour after posting of Farah’s column on the subject. However, the cached version still exists.
However, many Internet users continue to use Wikipedia for research. As WND reported earlier, judges and even homeland security officials have cited the website in their opinions and investigations.
In “Courting Wikipedia,” Jason Richards wrote, “[I]t provides an example of a disturbing trend. More and more law students and law professors are citing to entries in this publicly authored Web site in their papers, attorneys are relying on it in their legal briefs, expert witnesses are using it to support their opinions, and courts are citing the source either tangentially or, even worse, as the primary legal basis for their opinions.”
While Wikipedia has acted to fix many statements that have been brought to administrators’ attention, some critics say vandalized biographies are not easily corrected and problems often recur.
“[K]eep in mind that the Wikimedia Foundation allows anonymous editors to append the article about Hillary Clinton with ‘hillary needs to die and chop of her penis’; or to modify the article about Bob Menendez to say ‘Menendez and Jacobsen have since divorced because he was cheating on her’; all without any meaningful effort to change the parameters of editing to disallow this kind of drive-by hatred and libel,” Kohs wrote.
A Wikipedia spokesman has declined to comment on ongoing issues of vandalism. The self-described “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” claims federal law protects it from liability of its users’ edits because it operates an “interactive computer service.”
Wikipedia simultaneously tells the public, “Don’t be afraid to edit – anyone can edit almost any page, and we encourage you to be bold! Find something that can be improved, whether content, grammar or formatting, and make it better.”