Communications, Wikipedia

The reach of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an ever-evolving record of the newsworthiness of a given topic. Good or bad, it all could end up in a Wikipedia article. And if the news is properly sourced, it definitely deserves to be included on a page.

What happens when someone tries to remove or conceal a negative newsworthy item? It can get into an editing war, which can quickly get complicated.

 

When Wikipedia edits become newsworthy

This week, it was revealed that Carol Cable — wife of current Oakland Raiders Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable — edited out accusations of violence linked to her husband. (Here’s a link to a New York Post article also on the topic, in case you don’t have a WSJ content subscription.)

Tom Cable is the subject of an editing conflict on Wikipedia.

Tom Cable

Carol Cable repeatedly removed negative information from her husband’s article, only to have it restored by vigilant Wikipedia editors, sometimes within minutes of her deletion.

Among the items deleted in a subsection entitled “Allegations of violence”:

  • The mention of a lawsuit against Tom Cable after an alleged physical attack on a fellow coach.
  • Physical abuse allegations made by former wives and an ex-girlfriend of Tom Cable, including mention of a settled civil suit involving one of the women.

Here’s a link to the Tom Cable entry on Wikipedia; you’ll have to scroll to the bottom to find the section.

In the Edit Summary field on the article’s history page, Carol Cable argued that the accusations were slanderous and unfounded, and therefore should be removed. However, editor after editor rebuked her, pointing out that reliable media sources (ESPN, SF Gate, East Bay Times, Associated Press) had reported the various allegations.

Finally, the editors addressed her directly on the article’s Talk page; one editor asked her to improve the article rather than “whitewash history.”

 

Conflict of interest editing

It’s understandable that Carol Cable tried to defend her husband’s reputation. However, she made two major blunders:

  • As his spouse, she is immediately in a Conflict of Interest situation by Wikipedia’s editing rules, so must be extra dedicated to edit with special care and transparency — which she did not do.
  • She removed material that had been properly sourced. Unless she had new well-sourced material to add to the article to balance the earlier news, she simply should not have touched it.

Carol Cable’s failed attempts to polish her husband’s Wikipedia presence should be a lesson to anyone who thinks they can dive in to any article they please and remove or add content at will. The rules of Wikipedia editing are clear and are strictly enforced by the volunteer editing community that built this global online encyclopedia.

Mastering the editing process of Wikipedia requires reading and understanding the often turgidly written guidelines and rules, and considerable editing experience. Unfortunately for the novice, no shortcut to successfully navigating Wikipedia exists. That’s one of the reasons why we offer Wikipedia Consulting Services, which includes a training course for those who want a clearer guide to help them figuring it out. Contact us to learn more.

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