Examinations and tests have shown that on average, Wikipedia now rivals Britannica or other “real” encyclopedias in validity. Of course that is a very broad sample of topics, and modern day events and pop culture are not found in Britannica. This means we must rely on the collective common knowledge to give us the information we need to be amused or informed about the most current events in the world around us.
Wikipedia is a large wiki – hence the name. It is a large system that collects the knowledge of a large population working under the theory that the collective knowledge of enough people will be correct. To help solidify information, it requires references and annotations of entries.
If I were to add an entry in Wikipedia, you can easily come in behind me and edit that entry. You can change it to whatever you want, but in reality you’ll probably just add a few things I left out or change some wording to make it more concise and valid. Over time, hundreds, or maybe thousands, of visitors and editors will make small changes until the Wikipedia entry reflects a common consensus. If everyone agrees the entry is correct, it most likely is.
There have been a few problems with this system. One is the content wars that go on between editors. Two individuals, or more, can get into a heated debate about the validity of a point and keep changing an entry back and forth until someone above them locks it and puts an end to the debate.
Other problems are webmasters or editors who create entries as blatant advertisements. Still other visitors purposely change text to be misguiding on entries unlikely to be edited quickly by others. Finally, some individuals who are mentioned in Wikipedia have gone in or had their agents go in and make changes to reflect them in a more positive light.
Now the practice has spread beyond celebrities and their egos.
The United States government has made changes to Wikipedia. CIA and FBI computers have edited entries on hot topics such as the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now purists are screeching that the government has not followed the rules of the site by making changes to things like the Iraq death toll or removing aerial photographs of Guantanamo Bay.
Editors are certainly allowed to make changes to entries if they have conflicting interests or can support the changes with factual sources. In this case, however, the government has gone a bit beyond conflicting interests. Many are already skeptical of news on hot topics from the government. This is just more of the same.
Of course, the government is not alone in a few bold edits. Exxon-Mobile changed its entry regarding the Exxon Valdez, and Dell carefully deleted a section from its entry about outsourcing overseas. It appears vanity and public image are not isolated to overexposed celebrities.