Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Truth and fiction

Say it isn't so. Please tell us that all will be well, and that the news we've read today is just a horrible horrible fabrication. We can't allow ourselves to believe that there are falsehoods being spread around the series of tubes we call the Internet, least of all at the bastion of truth and research, Wikipedia. Please, Essjay, tell us that all will be well.

Okay, now that we've gotten the histrionics out of the way, we can move on to the story. As it turns out, Essjay, one of the most prolific editors Wikipedia had, was not simply using his powers of editing and conflict resolution for good. Oh no, Essjay took a piece of the truth into his hands and disfigured it, until it resembled what he wanted people to see. In other words, the man lied lied LIED about who he was when filling out his online profile. Sure, he claims that he created the persona of a tenured professor of religion as a way to keep others from portraying him in the online world, but it all seems to be a very tenuous explanation for a site that purports itself to be as truthful as possible.

Of course, this type of news shouldn't really come as much of a surprise. After all, Stephen Colbert coined the phrase "wikiality", meaning reality by the popular vote, largely due to the fact that Wikipedia did seem to have some level of popularity contest towards getting entries approved and disseminated. During that time, Colbert even challenged his viewers to insert him into random Wikipedia articles, something which has, theoretically, been rectified. And yet the basic nature of Wikipedia, with a small team of editors and a global population of submitters, can still lead to stretching of the truth, or opinions being presented as fact.

When someone has a specific background to qualify as an expert on a subject, it's difficult to not want to take their perspectives at face value. When you learn that someone merely created the perception, and used that perception to make their opinions carry more weight, it's hard not to think of them like one would Frank Abagnale. When you don't know that they're an imposter, you can accept what they say. When you find out the truth, you suddenly wonder if they ever really loved you in the first place, and you really need to get that gemstone appraised for proof of value.

Of course, with the anonymity of the internet, people are bound to continue to make false credentials for themselves, and to use those credentials to support their views. It makes for good reading, and good drama when the truth is finally unveiled. Still, when a professor of religion edits things about Justin Timberlake, purging information he "knew to be false", one should question. When Stephen Colbert's fan can accomplish the goal he set out for them, even for an hour, one should keep an open mind towards these things. When the world continues to believe that the mission was accomplished despite the continuing insurgency, one should take reality with a liberal dash of hard liquor.

And that's why we here, at the CSM claim to be exactly what we are. We're slightly bitter, snarky, hopefully humorous worker drones who happen to find something interesting within the news of the world, and hope to be able to cast it all in a new light. Sure, it won't lead to Leonardo DiCaprio playing us in a movie of our lives, but we can sleep a lot better knowing that such a concept isn't even possible.

No comments: