Wiki’s Political Point of View?

On: September 22, 2009
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About Harro Heijboer
In 2008 I graduated from Rotterdam University of Applied Science, after a course in Communication and Multimedia Design. In 2009 I finished the pre-master Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam and currently I'm a master student Media and Culture with special interest in Copyright, Net Neutrality and Software Studies. Beside my very active schedule as a student I'm working as an independent freelance new media producer, specialized in technical web applications, and 2 days a week I'm appointed as Community Manager for a medium sized hardware producer in Rotterdam. In my spare time I'm politically active for the Socialist Party in The Netherlands on all kind of subjects and on the Internet as independent voice against Copyright and pro Net Neutrality.

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A conflict usually has two or more oppositional factions. They all have their own reason for this conflict, they all have a different point of view on this conflict, and most important; they do not agree with each other on who is right or wrong. These points of views are not only visible in what the opposing factions say but also how they say it. A huge part of the conflict is a conflict of terminology, which in a lot of cases seems to be supported by media coverage. Media seems to express the point of view of the country they are located in, or have alliances with.

The words terrorist and freedom fighter for example are politically charges words. A terrorist implies a negative approach, the use of violence and threats to coerce a curtain political purposes. The use of the word freedom fighter on the other hand, implies a positive approach; it is a use of violence to battle against established forces of tyranny and dictatorship. Both words however carry the load of the word violence and they both seem to strive after political change. It seems that the word terrorist and freedom fighter is used depending on the side of which the people, politicians or the media are on.

For example; in 1988 a bombing took place on flight Pan Am 103. The plane crashed nearby the Scottish city Lockerbie and took 270 lives (incl. 11 on ground). After years of investigation and allegations the Libyan agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was convicted for the bombing and got a life sentence. The speculated reason for the bombing was revenge for the conflict between Libya and the USA in 1981 in the Gulf of Sidra, where two Libyan radio ships were destroyed. In august this year Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was released, putting the spotlight back on this (political) issue. Western media spoke of the terrorist being released while in Libya Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was praised as a freedom fighter and a hero. This issue seems to be a great example as a conflict of terminology.

For the record, I do not agree with both terminologies of a terrorist or a freedom fighter. Especially as a scientist or media reporter you should always, at least try to keep a neutral point-of-view, the same point-of-view Wikipedia for example tries to ambition. It seems a good intent to ambition such a point-of-view, but will it reach? Wikipedia is a media as well, a worldwide media. Does this mean that is has a worldwide point-of-view on all issues? And what exactly is such a worldwide point-of-view? Is it neutral? And what about all the different languages that are supported on Wikipedia, do they all have the same point-of-view?

With this in mind, I observed the different pages that are about the Lockerbie bombing on Wikipedia. I started out with the Dutch Wikipedia entry about the Lockerbie bombing. It clearly states that it was a terrorist attack, carried out by a Libyan terrorist. Not really a very neutral point-of-view in my opinion. Taken a look at the Arabic entry it opened up an entire new point-of-view. Not only does the entry not speak of terrorists – related to this event – but it even accuses the United States of blaming different countries for the bombing bases on their political benefits of that time. It even states that the trial was “a political trial, not criminal” (translation from the Arabic Wikipedia entry) and that the outcome was already determined before the trail even started.

Based on this small observation I was under the impression that Wikipedia might had a segregation between Western entries and Arabic entries (concerning this subject). When taken a look at the English entry the word terrorism appears about 6 to 7 times, which could confirm my hypothesis of a segregation between Western and Arabic entries. When taken a look at the Swedish entry, a country with a democratic socialist background, it only mentions terrorists once, in a quote of the UN Security Council Resolution 748. Why was the word terrorist on this western page not mentioned more than once? Would it have anything to do with the political climate of the country of origin? The Netherlands and England entries, both countries with a rich history of labour parties in power, mentioned the word terrorist multiple times. Sweden a country with a socialist background mentioned it only once, in a quote. Would Wikipedia be a country or language point-of-view bases media?

Until then I had only checked the Dutch, English, Arabic and Swedish entries of the Lockerbie bombing. I took two extremists countries first before examining them all. France and Italy have recently changed to a right-conservative political climate, president Sarkozy (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) in France and prime minister Berlusconi (Il Popolo della Libertà) in Italy. To my surprise the France entry did not contain the word terrorism at all, and the Italian page mentioned it only once. Shattering my theory of a country / language point-of-view for Wikipedia.

What makes it that some Wikipedia entries speak of a terrorist attack and what makes it that other speak of it from a more neutral point of view? Or in the case of the Arabic entry, a complete opposite view of the Lockerbie bombing as not begin a terrorist attack. Could it be that the conservative population of France doesn’t care about Wikipedia and that neutral contributors are in the majority? Or are some editors, like the Dutch and English editors, not doing their job correctly in checking for a neutral point-of-views?

This blog entry off course is just a small observation, not a complete research. Maybe there is no correlation between how many times the word terrorism is used and the language the entry is written in, maybe there is. I propose more empirical research toward this subject. The amount of time Wikipedia is now being consulted for information is exponentially grown the last few years. Their claim of a neutral point-of-view seems not to be true, and users of Wikipedia should at least be notified about this. They should definitely change their policy dramatically like the BCC did. With the small observation I have done, I think I can claim for sure that Wikipedia does not have a neutral point-of-view. My hypothesis of Wikipedia having a western of country / language based point-of-view seem to be false as well. My observations were only limited to the search for the word terrorism or related words. I did not real all entries to analyse their standpoint. Analysing the complete entries and perhaps find out who are responsible for the Wikipedia entries for each country would shed some light on this issue.

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