Wikipedia intends to thwart vandals
San Francisco – Wikipedia is testing plans to thwart pranksters and vandals by stalling edits to English articles about living people until the online encyclopaedia verifies new information.
The tightened editing practice being mulled by the communally crafted repository of world facts is called ‘flagged revisions’" because proposed edits are marked for review before being allowed on public pages.
"We are getting close to deploying flag software," Wikipedia spokesman Jay Walsh told AFP on Wednesday. "We are testing it. Volunteers want to put it through its paces and break it in to find any problems."
Wikipedia already does flagged revisions of all proposed edits at the German version of the online encyclopaedia and would be extending the practice to English-language articles about people who are still alive.
Flags are posted to article revisions submitted by anonymous people who have no track record of valid Wikipedia edits. Communally-crafted Wikipedia relies on volunteers to keep articles current and comprehensive.
The job of validating flagged revisions falls to “veteran” editors who have been signed up at Wikipedia for at least a couple of days, according to Walsh.
"Basic factors suggest that most people who have ill intent are looking for rapid satisfaction," Walsh said.
"They come in and they want to be jerks; just like vandalism or graffiti in the real world. This system takes out the immediacy."
The flagging system would check information to prevent entries from being twisted to taint the reputations of politicians, celebrities, athletes and other high-profile people.
Some Wikipedia faithfuls decry flagged revisions as betraying the online encyclopaedia’s founding principle that valid entries will trump misleading information in an online world of free edits.
"This doesn’t undo Wikipedia’s democratic spirit," Walsh said.
"People have a perception Wikipedia is straight forward; it’s open and belongs to everybody. That is true and is not changing."
When Wikipedia launched in early 2001, it allowed unfettered editing by anyone on the Internet.
False information pumped into articles about controversial people or organisations caused some pages to be ‘locked’, meaning changes could only be made by authorised editors.
Only a small percentage of the more than three million articles in the English Wikipedia are locked, according to the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation behind the online encyclopaedia.
Switching to flagged revisions would allow Wikipedia to remove locks from pages because a fact-vetting system would be in place, Walsh said.
"People ask if accuracy is more important than being 100 percent open; we think taking responsibility is very important," Walsh said, adding that Wikimedia is "confident" flagged revisions will be implemented.
AFP / Expatica