Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why wording matters

"Who cares what the article says, it's just a Wikipedia article, after all, and everyone knows those aren't very reliable. The exact wording doesn't really matter."

Jonathan Hochman (User:Jehochman on the English Wikipedia) writes about a number of topics, including why that's not a good view to hold in Using Wikipedia To Reveal Web Traffic Data, a posting on He is coming at this from the angle of using WP search/hit results to help determine how to optimize one's own website, and so forth, but the numbers revealed are telling.

Quoting the section about Waterboarding, a highly contentious article (and focus of its own ArbCom case as well as extensive checkuser investigations):

The article on waterboarding, ranking first, ran between 2.8k and 74.6k visitors per day during February 2008.

A total of 465k people viewed the article that month. Since the United States presidential election season began, editors have been fighting over the article lead that says, "Waterboarding is a form of torture." The phrase appears on the search engine results pages in a way that creates severe negative publicity for the Bush Administration. Several conservative editors have tried every which way to remove the incriminating phrase from Wikipedia. They finally became such nuisances that they were banned from editing.

What this tells us is that there ARE people out there who will try to use WP to further their own ends. We knew that already, but it's good to be reminded. Further, those of us that are active editors and care about the project really should try very hard to keep the project principles in mind, especially the Neutral Point of View. It's not easy, but it's critically important.

Wording does matter. The entire Waterboarding conflict, in essence, turned on one word, "torture", and whether that word was or wasn't an accurate thing to use in describing waterboarding. Removing that word was considered so vital that much skullduggery ensued.

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