Wikipedia: on the Value of Information and the Concept of Censorship

On: September 20, 2009
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About Charlotte van Brakel
My name is Charlotte van Brakel. I'm a 23 year old student at the University of Amsterdam where I currently participate the master of New Media studies. Before that I studied 'Kunsten, cultuur en Media' at the 'Rijksuniversiteit Groningen'. It took me 5 years to get my bachelors degree because I attended a lot of extra activities next to my classes. I was among other things a member of the board of the cultural studentorganisation of the university in Groningen which is similar to CREA in Amsterdam and I also founded and organized the music festival 'Preipop' for three years.

Website
http://charlottevanbrakel.blogspot.com/    

It’s a fact that people more and more gather information from the internet and other digital sources instead of learning -to master- that information. What will be the long term effects of this development? Does the posibility to search and read about almost everything that exists increases our knowledge and understanding of the world or will it lead to people who can’t function without it and don’t know anything anymore by themself? A well known example of this are the instructions for all kind of activities you can find nowadays on the internet such as how to make mashed potatoes. This way people won’t bother to memorise anymore how this is done because they can easily find a tutorial for this on the internet.

Another consequence of this development is that they learn and gather information from websites such as Wikipedia. What are the possible effects of this encyclopedia on the general knowledge of people? Hereby we foremost have to study how the information on this so called online encyclopedia is gathered. How is the value of the written information determined? When is certain information valid and when not? Who decides what’s true and whats not?

To show the importance for a critical look I would like to refer to the case of the Wikipedia page of the Scientology Church. There was a lot of fuzz about it because it was used by the members of that church as a medium of propaganda. Wikipedia has even banned members of the church to contribute to their page. There is an article about it written on Wired. This raises the question were the boundaries lie on the use of Wikipedia and who exactly decides what’s reasonable and whats not. This topic though is already discussed by a lot other members on the blog. Where I want to concentrate on is that when I searched for information about the Scientology event, I bumped into another article on Wired which tells us that a lot of compagnies adjust their pages on Wikipedia for their own good. They even pay specialists to engage in astro-turfing to remove critical opinions as is stated by the Centre for Internet and Society. This means that the information on those pages is certainly not objective or legitimate. However the Society Church case was the first case that the site has taken such drastic actions to block those edits. The above article reveals that although it seems that the information that is published is well chosen and selected, there is a lot inaccurare information to find. It’s interesting how this will develop in the future. Will it be possible to make all the information on Wikipedia objective and neutral or will there always be a certain sense of subjectivity and what could be the consequences of that when people more and more rely on it?

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