To Wiki or not, that is the question

In the election season, Wikipedia can be politically useful—but for some it poses a mean temptation

Photo: Ryan Olbrysh

State Senator Bob Beers loves Wikipedia. The conservative politician and former computer consultant—like pretty much everyone else—uses the user-edited and maintained encyclopedia to do everything from look up TV shows to analyze Nevada history.


Beyond the Weekly
Bob Beers on Wikipedia

But what happens when you’re not merely a user but a subject of the site? For politicians such as Beers, former state senator and current U.S. House of Representatives candidate Dina Titus or beleaguered Gov. Jim Gibbons, websites such as Wikipedia can help educate voters, which can turn into decisions come Election Day. But as with all things on the ’net, change is rapid, fleeting and potentially destructive.

Titus’ page was recently locked to unregistered users by Wikipedia staff after the page was repeatedly changed to accuse Titus of being, among other things, a bad UNLV professor and a communist. Vandals have even erased the entirety of her page on numerous occasions. “It’s unfortunate, but we realize that with Wikipedia there is the potential for this to happen,” says Titus spokesman Andrew Stoddard. “We just make sure we are paying attention to what is on the senator’s page and that it is accurate.”

Meanwhile, he says, Titus will continue to use sites such as Wikipedia, MySpace and Facebook to reach out to constituents. “We have seen a surge in registered voters … many of whom are young people,” Stoddard says. “Wikipedia, Facebook and similar forums will be critical to reaching these voters and earning their support.” In July 2006, accusations arose that Gibbons’ staff had edited his pages to remove less-than-positive quotes about “hippies” and “communists,” says Hugh Jackson, editor of the Las Vegas Gleaner website. (Gibbons’ spokespeople were not available for comment by press time.) “The Internet is a significant tool for making decisions,” says Beers (who has seen his own page tampered with), adding that the temptation to omit and vandalize is always there. There’s only one problem: “It’s too easy to get caught,” Beers says. “And all the steps can end up leading right back to you.”


Aaron Thompson

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