[Air-l] Wikipedia and defamation: Man Apologizes After Fake Wikipedia Post

Jimmy Wales jwales at wikia.com
Tue Dec 13 07:47:22 PST 2005

Joseph Reagle wrote:
>>"He [Seigenthaler] also said he doesn't support more regulations of the
>>Internet, but he said that he fears "Wikipedia is inviting it by its
>>allowing irresponsible vandals to write anything they want about anybody."
>>*sigh*  Facts about our policies on vandalism are not hard to come by.
>>A statement like Seigenthaler's, a statement that is egregiously false,
>>would not last long at all at Wikipedia.
> Not trolling, just want to be clear: doesn't the  WP architecture and 
> policies allow "irresponsible vandals to write anything they want about 
> anybody."? It's not condoned, counter to the norms, is eventually corrected 
> -- sometimes immediately. I'm not getting the distinction you are drawing.

The distinction that I'm drawing can best be illustrated with my
hopefully-someday-famous analogy between the design of software for
social interactions and the design of restaurants.

Imagine that we are designing a restaurant.  This restuarant will serve
steak.  Because we are going to be serving steak, we will have steak
knives for the customers.  Because the customers will have steak knives,
they might stab each other.  Therefore, we conclude, we need to put each
table into separate metal cages, to prevent the possibility of people
stabbing each other.

What would such an approach do to our civil society?  What does it do to
human kindness, benevolence, and a positive sense of community?

When we reject this design for restaurants, and then when, inevitably,
someone does get stabbed in a restaurant (it does happen), do we write
long editorials to the papers complaining that "The steakhouse is
inviting it by not only allowing irresponsible vandals to stab anyone
they please, but by also providing the weapons"?

No, instead we acknowledge that the verb "to allow" does not apply in
such a situation.  A restaurant is not _allowing_ something just because
they haven't taken measures to _forcibly prevent it_ a priori.  It is
surely against the rules of the restaurant, and of course against the
laws of society.  Just. Like. Libel.  If someone starts doing bad things
in a restuarant, they are forcibly kicked out and, if it's particularly
bad, the law can be called.  Just. Like. Wikipedia.

I do not accept the spin that Wikipedia "allows anyone to write
anything" just because we do not metaphysically prevent it by putting
authors in cages.


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