Update from Anne Crockett: Yalto points out he did not originate the Islamic Christian Forum postings. My mistake. He more recently added, “Frankly, I am disgusted by Spencer and the hypocrisy that he practices. I find the level of pure hatred and bigotry expressed on the JihadWatch site, by both “commenters” and staff, to be disgusting and un-American.” Kind of proves my point about Wikipedia’s lack of objectivity.
Yalto when exposed, took his marbles and went home (although what is to keep him from coming back under another name I have no idea). In his whining “Farewell Address”, he said, “On the issue of bias, at least I can admit mine but still feel compelled to make changes try to make the article more fair to Spencer.” Clearly he is not as clever at hiding his opinions as he thought. His edits looked biased, he was called on it, and he finally admitted it.
Before leaving he complained that several changes which I thought were his were not. The point of this article is about Wikipedia, not the august person of Yalto who is only a screen name. If you really care about Yalto his oeuvre can be found here: You can see that editing Islam in the United States and Robert Spencer take up most of his time. How about that?
By clicking on the link marked “diff”, you can see which changes Yalto made. For example, in his first signed edit, he took it upon himself to change the correct spelling of denunciation, take out Spencer’s words, add in Hugh Fitzgerald’s while attributing them to Spencer, to change the neutral phrase “Spencer’s Jihad Watch features unmoderated forums, with a disclaimer by Spencer” to the insinuating “Spencer claims”¦” and to bring the defunct Christian Islamic Forum back to life.
However, I am happy to remove Yalto’s screen name where he was only taking up an argument begun by someone else. The point is not who said what, but that it was said at all.
Jihad Watch News Editor Anne Crockett, who many of you may remember for her superb work on the site while I was out of the country in November, has informed me that she has been engaged in a series of pitched battles at that bastion of objectivity and pillar of truth, Wikipedia — over my own biography. I appreciate her kindness and persistence in tilting at this particular windmill, and thought her caveat emptor about her experiences and Wikipedia in general was worth sharing with you:
Bravo for life’s little ironies: Wired News reports recently that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has edited his own biography — in spite of Wikipeida’s policy that “You should not write about yourself, since objectivity on the subject is hard “” but you can assist by providing references, by challenging unsourced statements, and by assisting other editors.”
Why do I mention this at Jihad Watch? Because some time ago I noticed some odd things about Mr. Spencer’s Wikipedia entry. Not only the strange entry about imaginary sephardic ancestry, but also odd diatribes about his Inside Islam coauthor Daniel Ali that had also — in a coincidence that strains all credulity — popped up on other web sites at the same time. The other web sites with accountable editors noticed them and deleted them as irrelevant, but not Wikipedia. Once I noticed them I tried to correct the record, only to have my changes reverted and various accusations thrown about suggesting that I was in fact Robert Spencer (last time I checked I was both beardless and female so I rather think that I am not) by people seemingly unfamiliar with the concepts of a routers or computer networks. Yet even as a volunteer at Jihad Watch, I was warned by “editor” and Wikipedia scribbler “Yalto,” who was bickering with “editor” “Chalko,” that I was probably too close to the subject to post. After checking the above policy I more or less confined myself to comments on the talk page. When I asked “Yalto” what exactly his interest was in the subject, he of course, declined to answer.
A choice snippet from the discussion page:
“His religious affiliation is Roman Catholic. But his handlers don’t want anyone talking about it or his board membership in a Catholic Group (the Christian-Islamic Forum) that works to convert Muslims to Christianity.”
Handlers? Come on. But the more important issue (aside from another opportunity to make merry at the expense of the terminally paranoid) is this: Wikipedia’s own rules enforce the kind of shoddy research that would get any journalist fired. According to Wikipedia, the one thing you absolutely must not do is contact a source. Not even Spencer’s own website is considered as reliable as third party sources that write about him. What nonsense!
Mr. Spencer is no longer on the board of the Christian-Islamic Forum, which is a group more or less defunct while Mr. Ali pursues some new avenues that opened up for him. As anyone can see, the FAQ on the Jihad Watch site explicitly disavows any religious agenda. But when I posted a note about this, as well as the information that the group was defunct, both were removed. You would think that Mr. Spencer’s bio would be a pretty authoritative source, but no. Some Wikipedia editor thinks that the affiliation with the group is all-important to reveal Mr. Spencer’s true motivations, even if Spencer has denied this. This person repeatedly emphasizes that the Christian-Islamic Forum is “a Christian group that targets Muslims for conversion to christianity (sic).” “Targets” is a pretty provocative word for a neutral commenter. He further demonstrated his neutrality by posting long quotes from Daniel Ali, “out of concern that the information will disappear” (I guess he fears Mr. Spencer’s mysterious “handlers” could go down to Virginia and threaten Marcus Grodi of the Coming Home Network, to whom Mr. Ali spoke the quotes in question). Yet he seems not to have noticed that the quotes from Ali are not about the Christian-Islamic Forum at all, and are in fact about Ali’s reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks, which occurred a month after the founding of the forum and so could not possibly have played a role in his motives in founding the group. But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? The fact that there is no evidence of any activity by the group at all — no references to activity, no website, no nothin”– does not, to the conspiratorial mind, suggest that it is inactive, but rather that it has successfully cloaked its insidious designs in secrecy.
And while the actual question of fact whether or not Mr. Spencer is still on the board of the Forum is sort of silly, it demonstrates the worst flaws of Wikipedia and its stated bias for cyberspace references to research and fact checking. To quote their policy, “Original research refers to material added to articles by Wikipedia editors that has not been published already by a reputable source.” Thus an error once published will take on a life of its own. (P.S.: Wikipedia asks that you think carefully before editing that policy I just linked to, but anyone can. Thus tomorrow morning the policy might well read, “Only original research is acceptable at Wikipedia,” or “Editors who have not smoked sufficient quantities of marijuana in the past 24 hours are discouraged from posting,” and so on).
All this would be a silly joke except that, astonishingly enough, newpapers and schools have been using Wkipedia as a reference. Accuracy in Media reports:
Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago, and an ordained Lutheran minister for more than 50 years, had just written his 55th book, “When Faiths Collide.”
The Post article said that “talk of religion’s role in the disaster irks Marty. Following the devastation in Lisbon in 1755, priests roamed the streets, hanging those they believed had incurred God’s wrath. That event ‘shook the modern world,’ he notes, changing people’s idea of a benevolent, all-caring God.”
That sure sounds like Marty was making the claim that priests were roaming the streets and hanging people who they believed had incurred God’s wrath. But in fact he never said that, though he was interviewed for the article. The author of the article, Jose Antonio Vargas, has admitted that Marty never said that, and that his source was Wikipedia.
When John Seigenthaler took exception to being falsely implicated in JFK”s assassination on Wikipedia, a number of people wisecracked, “Didn’t he see the Edit button?” Aside from the fact that editing an article about yourself is frowned upon, what would have been the point? A persistent prankster would revert changes time and time again, and if he access to a source of dynamic IP addresses he couldn’t even be banned. A more potent question is, “How can anyone use this as a source? Don’t they see the edit button?”
When visiting a Wikipedia site, the reader can look up previous versions if he likes. But the main article is just the product of the latest “editor.” Any Stalinist who wants to come along and airbrush out comments he doesn’t like can do so. Unlike a blog’s comments where the best cure for bad speech is more speech, Wikipedia editors can simply wipe away viewpoints with which they disagree. The most persistent wins.
Google is a far better way to get information, all though you do have to go to all that horrible trouble of thinking and evaluating sources for yourself when you use Google. On the plus side, because Google lists page according to how many people have found them to be possible answers to the questions they are asking, you will get exactly what Wikipedia claims to offer: an internet consensus. In addition, you will probably find some alternative points of view you can evaluate, if you feel up to the rigors of making decisions for yourself in a marketplace of ideas.
There were other problems with the Wikipedia article. It quoted CAIR and ADC charges against Mr. Spencer, but when I added his responses to those charges Yalto informed me that no one, but no one, had responses to criticism of them on their Wikipedia pages. So I guess you can write that someone claims that Mr. X or Mr. Y likes to knock over banks to raise extra cash, but no one is allowed to write, “He denies the charge.” Also the Spencer “biography” quoted Hugh Fitzgerald and Daniel Ali extensively, and guess who hardly at all? (Let me give you a hint: his initials are R.S. and he is the putative subject of the article). Nor did it quote Hugh or Mr. Ali writing about Robert Spencer, but rather about Islam, Christianity, immigration, and whatever else got the editor’s knickers in a twist. I pointed out that this was bad writing and that if Hugh or Mr. Ali deserve such full length treatment, they should each get their own article instead of having the bulk of the Robert Spencer article be guilt-by-association quotations about and from them. I am still waiting for a response.
I myself am no longer involved in the discussion between Wikipedia editors Chalko and Yalto. When I told Mr. Spencer about the whole controversy, his reaction was, –˜Chalko”? “˜Yalto”? What is this, an episode of Star Trek?” But he agrees that there is no use correcting what is essentially a book of sand. Whatever form a Wikipedia article takes today might bear no resemblance to what it will be tomorrow.
Our Jihadist friends have been using the internet to spread their propaganda for some time, and Wikipedia gives them an ideal platform. Even if their changes don’t last forever, any Typhoid Mary who is dopey enough to use Wikipedia as a source can spread the disinformation. Only yesterday a page came up in the referrer page on Jihad Watch from a Wikipedia entry tagged “marked for deletion” about the Islamist-Nazi Alliance in World War II. Yes indeedy, let’s flush that down the ol” memory hole. Two Jihad Watch readers also wrote in complaining that they had been barred from editing Wikipedia for being “anti-Palestinian,” or “anti-Muslim” — so it seems that contrary to their slogan, Wikipedia is not the encyclopedia “anyone” can edit, just those who do not commit thought crime.
Without some sort of quality control implemented, and soon, Wikipedia will go the way of 1990″s dot-bombs like Pets.com, Value America, and e-toys. I would urge anyone to be extremely skeptical of Wikipedia as a source, and to be very vocal in demanding accountability from them. Until we get that accountability, caveat emptor, and remember, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, is worth exactly what you paid for it — or even less.