Our 3rd grade son has been writing a book report on an biography he read about Albert Einstein for several weeks, and our combined research (it’s been a family effort) for his report has provided us all with some interesting insights into WikiPedia and the way in which this global information resource is “policed” by others to undo the disruptive work of virtual vandals and trolls. The WikiPedia official page on “Dealing with Vandalism” includes the following definition:
Vandalism is any addition, removal, or change of content made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia. The most common types of vandalism include the addition of obscenities to pages, page blanking, or the insertion of bad jokes or other nonsense. Fortunately, these types of vandalism are usually easy to spot.
Going through the history page of a WikiPedia article like the one for Albert Einstein can be quite eye opening. It took me about fifteen minutes this evening to rediscover the following article version from January 20th:
While best known for the theory of relativity (and specifically mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2), he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his 1905 (Annus Mirabilis Papers) explanation of the photoelectric effect and “for his services to Theoretical Physics”. In popular culture, the name “Einstein” has become synonymous with great intelligence and genius. Albert was born in the hoodlum area of Los Angeles, but his parents were from Sweden. One day some gangsters found him and they tought [sic] him how to rap. The famous rap song, “We Fly High” was originally by Albert Einstein, but after he died, some other gangsters claimed to have written it. One day his mom was beaten by a gang in a dark alley. After that incident, Albert refused to rap anymore.
That particular revision of the WikiPedia article on Einstein was one my wife happened to pull up on Saturday, January 20, 2007, when helping our son with his research for his book report. Alarmed, she read the above paragraph to me aloud and asked, “What do I do?”
I suggested, “Hit the refresh button in your web browser.”
Sure enough, when she hit “refresh” a new version of the page loaded, that had been reverted back to the “last good” version by WikiPedia user Antandrus. We were both amazed at how fast this update occurred. I HAD expected a WikiPedia Einstein page watcher would revert and ‘undo’ those edits to the page at some point, but less than 60 seconds was beyond my expectation of editing speed! This was a classic lesson in the ways of WikiPedia, our abiding need for information literacy, and the value of a community-based resource that is policed and constructed by a dedicated base of users.
When you peruse the history page for a WikiPedia entry like Einstein’s, which was recently “locked” so that “unregistered or newly registered users” can’t edit or contribute to it, you see a large amount of edits by anonymous folks (identified only by their IP addresses) and subsequent “reverts” by other WikiPedia authors acting (officially or unofficially, but most often on a volunteer basis I suspect) as “policemen of accuracy.”
I created a small Flickr set this evening with several of the images I captured, showing important elements in this process of “policing WikiPedia.” By selecting a comparison of the vandalized and edited/reverted WikiPedia pages, the differences in the two versions are shown side by side:
This particular act of virtual vandalism was committed by the WikiPedia user “Bobthebuilderfixitup,” who created his/her account on Saturday, January 20th and made a total of nine edits:
Fourteen minutes after making the vandalized edit about Albert Einstein being born in “the hoodlum area of Los Angeles” WikiPedia user “Bobthebuilderfixitup” was blocked from ever logging in and making further WikiPedia edits by WikiPedia user (and administrator) Edgar181:
Clicking on the WikiPedia talk page of “Bobthebuilderfixitup” now shows the following:
The WikiPedia user page for Edgar181 states:
I am a medicinal chemist with a PhD in organic chemistry working in the area of drug discovery research. I have been adding and improving articles related to organic chemistry, particularly heterocyclic compounds and natural organic compounds.
Additionally, Edgar181 is clearly a defender of accuracy and truth when it comes to the life of Albert Einstein! My thanks to Edgar181, Antandrus and others who are working to keep WikiPedia as vandal and troll-free as possible.
If you have not done this before, spend some time comparing edited versions on the history page of a WikiPedia article, like I’ve discussed here. I think this is an activity we should introduce all our teachers and students to. It raises the importance of being critical consumers of information and not believing something simply because “it’s on the web” or “it’s in an email message.” Today more than ever, none of us should take digital information at face value.
WikiPedia is a tremendous informational asset, but it is qualitatively a different informational resource than a traditional textbook or encyclopedia. In many ways it has greater value as a digital information resource, but it also requires a different set of critical literacy skills than those many people were taught in schools in the past.
In addition to accessing resources like WikiPedia in our web 2.0 or read/write web era, I strongly contend that learners of all ages should be encouraged to help CONSTRUCTIVELY write articles for WikiPedia. I was excited last week to discover the WikiProject Oklahoma, and hope that in the context of creating a variety of digital resources relating to the Oklahoma Centennial this year we’ll be able to get many students and teachers engaged in collaboratively adding to this growing resource about our state.
Digital tools, like analog tools with which we’re all more familiar, can be used or abused. It’s a question of ethics and choices. I think an extensive list of WikiPedia contributions would make a great addition to a student’s portfolio of work when applying for entry into a college, trade school, or new job. A student who has earned a Wikipedia Barnstar has demonstrated literacy skills that may be beyond those reflected by many grades on an official transcript. We should help our students understand the value of making constructive contributions to virtual projects like WikiPedia, instead of engaging in temporarily amusing but ultimately useless acts of virtual vandalism. Directing students toward constructive uses of digital skills relates also to White hats. Know some kids who are hackers or hacker wanna-bes? They can use those skills for good or evil. Part of our job as educators should be helping those learners understand the benefits of putting their digital skills to constructive use.
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On this day..
- Great Class Castle Build in MinecraftEDU - 2015
- Cbus Flex-Gel iPad Cases: Fit Great in a Bretford iPad Cart - 2014
- Toffler on Feeling Overwhelmed (in 1980) - 2013
- Scratch Playing with Media Friday Meetup Cancelled (8 Feb 2013) - 2013
- Playing with FeedWordPress: Planning for the Classroom Newspaper of Now - 2013
- Don't Blame School Officials if Your Child Chooses to Look at Porn on His Laptop - 2012
- Individual vs Team Blogs for PreService Edu Students (Comparing KidBlog & EduBlogs) - 2011
- Dangerous Winter Temperatures - Snow in Houston! - 2011
- Ideas for a Google Reader Assignment? - 2011
- IMPACT Oklahoma Grant Workshop 2010 Notes - 2010