Stephen Colbert promotes Wiki vandalism

Colbert then urged his audience to find the Wikipedia entry on elephants and create an entry that stated their population had tripled in the last six months, a fact he freely stated to not know if it was “actually true,” with his sidebar stating “it isn’t.”

Guess what happened next? Scores of internet users took Colbert’s bait, repeatedly vandalizing approximately 20 articles on elephants before all being placed under a lock. The move also subsequently caused Wikipedia administrator Tawker to block Stephen Colbert from the website, reportedly to verify his identity [source].

The truthiness finally got to Stephen Colbert as he virtually promoted Wikipedia vandalism on his show. He actually logged on Wikipedia during his show and insert his personal view on an entry on his show. Thus, he shows how easily it is to vandalize public space and anonymity that the net offers you gives people just the incentive to do so. Wikipedia, according to me, is an amazing Internet creation; even one of the best. It has almost proven that adage about million monkeys and Shakespeare. But then, it takes only one ass to make a mess. Censoring or restricting the access might not be the solution but instead making the identity public might prove to be a disincentive to the vandals.

“wikiality,” the reality that exists if you make something up and enough people agree with you – it becomes reality, as Colbert put it perfectly is a fine example of truthiness. After all, if Fox News claims to provide a ‘fair and balanced’ view of the news, anything is game in the world of truth.

Update: One of the better articles on the Wikipedia phenomenon, it is pretty neutral on the ultimate authority of Wikipedia but I choose to believe that right now, the benefits far outweigh the liabilities. I loved the following quote by its founder, Jimmy Wales:

“Wikipedia is to Britannica as rock and roll is to easy listening,” he suggested. “It may not be as smooth, but it scares the parents and is a lot smarter in the end.”

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  • Sriram

    Funny, but I remember you quoting Wiki as a source. this is why wikipedia as a source doesn’t stand. Anyways, Stephen did an awesome job, kind of putting the spotlight on Wikipedia.

  • Patrix

    Sriram, Wikipedia as a source for looking up quick facts is still fine and I continue to do so. Remember, we differed on if Hezbollah was backed by Iran and I hope other ‘sources’ also corroborated that fact. Wikipedia for research papers; probably not such a good idea.

  • Shodan

    Doing my best to introduce random silliness to the discussion : )

  • Ashutosh

    I agree. Wikipedia as a general, quick source of information is good. For research purposes or serious study, I would always double check what I read on it.

  • Patrix

    Shodan, I read that article somewhere else. Totally awesome.

    Ashutosh, exactly! As long as we aren’t citing them in our research papers, I don”t see any harm in using the Wikipedia as a reference point (at least now). Just treating it like any other ency. is probably its purpose. Truth anyway is relative :)

  • Mark

    He should be held accountable for the vandalism he caused and incited. He has knowingly and intentionally set out to vandalize public property.

    To suggest that he should be praised for pointing out that Wikipedia’s have weaknesses is like praising the arsonist for revealing to society the weakness of books against fire. Yes books are vulnerable to arsonists and yes Wikipedia’s are vulnerable to jerks.

    The accuracy of any reference source is never going to be 100%. Every single one of the computer books I have purchased over the years has contained a good share of errors.

    In my experience with using Wikipedia the accuracy of the information has been on par with any book I have purchased and perhaps even better.

  • John

    Mark, How exactly does Wikipedia qualify as public property? And how would you propose to hold him accountable? I think that having his account blocked is consequence enough.

    Also, comparing Colbert to a book burning arsonist is a bit much.

  • Mark

    John, it is public property as defined by Wikipedia’s currently being an asset for the entire networked world to freely use and enjoy.
    I agree that it may seem a bit much to compare Colbert to a book burning arsonist but I believe that widespread vandalism of Wikipedia’s that have millions of appreciative users can negatively impact society just as much as the loss of a few burned book stores.