Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Wikipedia’s Brett Kimberlin mindwipe

Jerry Stratton, May 27, 2012

Remember your mother’s advice, if you can’t find anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all? That’s very bad advice for an encyclopedia, but in some cases Wikipedia does follow it.

On the day before the blogburst as I wrote my entry in blog about Brett Kimberlin day, Wikipedia had no entry on either Brett Kimberlin or the Speedway bombings. It may be that there was never any Speedway Bombings entry, but it’s hard to tell—I also couldn’t find any systematic means of searching Wikipedia for past entries. But there was a Brett Kimberlin entry, and it was deleted because no one could think of anything good to say about the bomber:

It was sourced, but was also unduly negative, and written by people who “had an axe to grind”. Although some of the facts were sourced, there was an undertone of maliciousness in the way that the article was written.

Mr Kimberlin was not a paragon of virtue, but the article as it stood simply painted him as a man with no positive qualities at all, which is obviously problematic in a neutral encyclopedia.

Well, no, it’s not problematic for an encyclopedia when the truth is that a violent criminal lacks “positive qualities”. This is the same definition of neutrality that gets newspapers in trouble: that they should not report the truth accurately unless they can find someone to balance the truth with falsehoods. The truth can’t be balanced without turning it into a lie.

The problem is that, just as in newspapers, this definition is only invoked as an excuse to veil the real reason. There are other violent criminals on Wikipedia just as obscure as Kimberlin with no redeeming qualities listed. The Larry Fisher entry is all of three paragraphs and talks only of his murders and rapes, and of the man he let go to prison for twenty-three years in his place. The Richard Speck entry is extremely detailed, going into Speck’s family history, his marriage, his rapes, his murders, and his insanity. But if Speck ever did any good work in hospitals, it isn’t mentioned.

The difference between Speck and Fisher, and Kimberlin, is probably this:

You are a right-of-centre blogger who has an interest in a left-of-centre individual.

The truth, in this case, is seen as “right of center” and the truth impugns someone considered “left of center”. That’s what makes it not neutral.

The biggest problem with Wikipedia is what’s often touted as its biggest asset: that there is no single person with responsibility for its content. There’s no one to hold accountable for poor decisions and lies. Its decisions—at least about deletions—are hidden behind a group consensus that is itself hidden and ephemeral. In the only search I could find on Wikipedia, for example, it appears that the “consensus” to remove the Brett Kimberlin entry consisted of all of three people: users with the nicknames “Sandstein”, “Sadads”, and “Chase me ladies, I'm the Cavalry”.

There’s an “OTRS ticket” mentioned, but it requires a login.

This isn’t the first time that Kimberlin has attempted to use “left of center” as a reason to evade his crimes. That appears to have been part of his defense in the Speedway bombings case: that he was “a quiet vegetarian who sold natural foods and earth shoes”.

Fortunately, the blogburst has resulted in a Speedway Bombings page being added, with the name “Kimberlin” all through it. But, as of yet, no article on Brett Kimberlin, even one comparable to the bare-bones Larry Fisher article.

Unlike Shannon Bell, I don’t completely avoid the use of Wikipedia, although I can understand his stance. I am always very uncomfortable using a site that avoids responsibility for changes through appeal to a “mass consensus” rather than an appeal to facts and truth; and that is so willing to use the ideology of its subjects as a reason to whitewash its entries. Wikipedia can never be a primary source.

When I do use Wikipedia—or any online source—I always save an archive version or a screenshot of the page. In Safari, this is save as “web archive”; in Firefox it is save page as “web page, complete”. This gives me something to compare to if, later on, a page changes or even completely disappears.

I strongly recommend getting into the habit of doing this. All Wikipedia articles are available to be shared—there’s no copyright violation in reposting a deleted Wikipedia page if you follow the rules of the Creative Commons license that Wikipedia uses. And because of the way Google works, that repost would likely become the “wikipedia” result for any page that Wikipedia itself deletes.

In response to Brett Kimberlin abuses a very abuse-friendly court system: Convicted serial bomber Brett Kimberlin is taking advantage of a court system that assumes good faith to harass bloggers doing nothing more than telling the truth about his convictions.

  1. <- Speedway Bombings