Wikipedia’s editing policies headed for a shakeup


Wikipedia is moving closer to a major policy change that could help keep embarrassing gaffs off the site, like changes to the entries on Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd earlier this year that pronounced the senators dead after an incident at the presidential luncheon on inauguration day.

As of this writing, both men are still alive.

The online encyclopedia, which essentially works under an open-door policy that allows anyone to come in and edit entries, could be moving toward a more traditional editorial framework where — gasp! — changes to an entry about a living person and certain organizations would have to get a sign-off from an editor before they go live.

That kind of fact-checking runs counter to the wisdom-of-the-crowds method of policing the site that was so integral to the incubation of the Web 2.0 ethos. It’s a community, to be sure, and the forum pages of Wikipedia are rife with spirited debate over how the entries should be constructed.

But that quicksilver culture of information sharing — where speed is paramount, accuracy secondary — has led to no shortage of high-profile inaccuracies showing up on Wikipedia over the years, some innocent mistakes, others calculated strikes.

The self-policing mechanism of the Wikipedia community generally ensures that they all get cleaned up, eventually. But Jimmy Wales, cofounder of the site, has been wondering if it might not be better if they never saw daylight in the first place. So, enter the editors.

As one might expect, some Wikipedians are less than thrilled about the proposal to set up an editorial queue to fact-check revisions and curb the practice of vandalism on the site.

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