I <3 Wikipedia

400 million people go to Wikipedia for information every month. The CIA, the Vatican and Bell Pottinger are among those who have tried, and failed, to subvert the integrity of Wikipedia’s content. Use Wikipedia to share your research and make the world a better place.

I love Wikipedia so much that last week I gave the people running it £5 of my hard-earned money to help keep the site free from commercial influence. I’d previously thought that giving money to Wikipedia undermined the principle of it being “free”, but then I realised that this kind of thinking was symptomatic of the hippy mindset that ruined so many “free” music concerts in the 1960’s and 70’s when the musicians had the audacity to ask for a contribution to the petrol for their tour bus and vengeful hippies smashed the place up… so I put my hand in my pocket.

In return for my small donation I got a nice email saying, “I thank you for joining us in our effort to make the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Your donation makes the world a better place.” And this brings me on to the point of this post: Wikipedia is one of the most popular places that people go for information (over 400 million users a month), so the people providing that information are having a significant influence on readers around the world. And Wikipedia is edited collaboratively, so anyone can be an editor and use their research to improve content.

The open access nature of Wikipedia inevitably leads to concerns about content accuracy and bias, but policies and tools are in place to minimise this, such as the ‘conflict of interest policy’ supported by the Wikiscanner tool. This policy has been used to remove biased editing by the likes of the CIA, the Vatican and Bell Pottinger. Bell Pottinger is a PR and Marketing company whose services include “clean-ups” of Wikipedia which involve editing out information which casts clients in a bad light and adding positive information to improve the reputation of the client.

So here’s a short example of an improvement I made to a Wikipedia page which has been viewed around 5,000 times since I made the edit three weeks ago.  To check the stats of any Wikipedia page click here.

One of the many new and unpleasant things I learnt about when following the Jimmy Savile revelations was the existence in the 1970’s and 80’s of a group called PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange). If you’re interested in the history of child protection and policy-making in the UK then this group is worth researching. The Wikipedia entry for PIE had the following paragraph in it:

 “Legal action against members

…It eventually became clear that one person had corresponded with most of the accused but had not been tried. After the trial, it emerged that there had been a cover-up: Mr “Henderson” had worked for MI6 and been a high commissioner in Canada.”

So who was Mr Henderson? I narrowed the list of high commissioners down to four names based on the time period PIE existed, and then searched for those names + “MI6”. One name matched, so I searched a news archive for the name + “PIE”. With a few more quick pieces of fact-checking I was then able to expand the Wikipedia entry to say:

“…Mr “Henderson” was later revealed via Private Eye to be Sir Peter Hayman. In 1981, Geoffrey Dickens MP asked the Attorney-General “if he will prosecute Sir Peter Hayman under the Post Office Acts for sending and receiving pornographic material through the Royal Mail”. The Attorney-General, Michael Havers (Baron Havers of St Edmundsbury, who represented the Crown in the trial and appeal of the Guildford Four and also of the Maguire family (known as the Maguire Seven), all of whom were wrongfully convicted) replied, “I am in agreement with the Director of Public Prosecutions’ (Sir Thomas Chalmers Hetherington QC) advice not to prosecute Sir Peter Hayman and the other persons with whom he had carried on an obscene correspondence.”[5] Dickens asked, “How did such a potential blackmail risk come to hold highly sensitive posts at the MOD and NATO?” He also asked the Leader of the House (of Commons) to investigate the security implications of diaries found in the diplomat’s London flat which contained accounts of sexual exploits”[6] There was much debate and condemnation in the World’s press of these events[7]”

Footnote: for those interested in these issues it may be of interest to consider the Hayman case in the context of the CPS statement about Cyril Smith.

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