In May 2009 a lot of media reports claimed that “Scientology was banned from Wikipedia”. Nothing is further from the truth, as usual, when it comes to reporting about Scientology. It took a while to grasp what happened but here we go. The following is a very short explanation and I preventively apologize to Wikipedians for simplifying things for the sake of a better understanding.
Wikipedia.org is a website that hosts about 2 million English articles about any conceivable subject in the world. Amongst those are several articles that deal with Scientology or related subjects. Anyone can edit in Wikipedia, i.e. change the articles in alignment with a complex set of Wikpedia Policy such as “WP:RS” that says that any fact statement in an article has to be backed up by a reliable source. “Reliable source” (RS) then is defined as secondary literature such as news articles or peer-reviewed expert opinions. Documents such as certificates, diaries, religious scripture are not or only exeptionally allowed as sources for the articles. So far, so good.
In real life articles in Wikipedia are subject to the editor’s opinion, personal viewpoints etc that color his/her edits accordingly. In an effort to control this Wikipedia does not allow representatives of organizations to edit their own articles.
As “anyone can edit” Wikipedia does not require to give any credentials or personal data to become an editor. Nameless editors however get registered with the IP address (internet connection) their computer is using at the time of the edit. Registered users can choose a nickname. The more edits a user does the more “status” he/she gets on Wikipedia (which should indicate that the “top editors” of Wikipedia are either very rich, on social welfare or without a job/student, i.e. they seem to have a lot of time to research and increase article content).
In December 2008 a committee of high status, elect editors of Wikipedia took on a task to investigate why articles about Scientology have a lot of noise surrounding them, for example lots of changes back and forth and hostile “discussions” about the articles. Their investigation revealed a pro- and an anti-Scientology faction heavily violating another of Wikipedia’s Policy: “Neutral Point Of View”. In short this means, editors should be “neutral” about the subject they write about (Not “disinterested” or “careless” though it could be understood that way).
As a result of the investigation the above committee, formally called the “Arbitration Committee”, ruled to ban 13 pro-Scientology and 15 anti-Scientology editors from further editing any Scientology remotely connected with “Scientology” (about 430 if my count is right), with the purpose to remove the debatants from the article area. This ban is enforced by another group of uebereditors (called “Administrators”) that have the power to cancel accounts and block internet computers from logging onto Wikipedia.
Also, the 12 ArbCom members decided to block any edits coming from computers that are connected to internet lines that are rented or owned by the Church of Scientology. This part of the ruling somewhat lacks evidence that the Church of Scientology has been involved in editing articles on Wikipedia (not that the media would care about this minor detail) but consequently IP addresses officially registered by the Church of Scientology are now supposed to be blocked. So anyone working inside a Church of Scientology would be technically blocked from editing the articles (unless he/she uses a wireless internet line or jumps over to Starbucks to log on from there). The whole “ruling” will be reviewed in six months. Meanwhile banned editors could – if they chose to – register under a different name and continue editing as before. This is what seems to be happening in the article now (June 2009).
And what is the viewpoint of the Church of Scientology?
Who cared to ask the Church about their viewpoint on the above “ban” was sent a statement of the Church of Scientology International that said the following:
STATEMENT ON THE WIKIPEDIA CASE
This is a routine internal action by Wikipedia to clean up its editing process. We understand that postings from the Department of Justice and CIA have also been blocked from time to time. This is not new. However, more importantly is the fact that Wikipedia finally banned those who were engaged in unobjective and biased editing for the purposes of antagonism as opposed to providing accurate information. We hope the decision will result in more accurate and useful articles on Wikipedia as the site evolves. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to know about Scientology should visit scientology.org where they can find more than 300 individual videos, totaling over 4 hours of information.
And now what?
The Wikipedia committee took somewhat over six months to decide to restrict the editing rights of Wikipedia editors for somewhat under six month. I say: The Wikipedia concept of anonymous editors does not work for polarized subjects, namely religious, philosophic or political issues. It also does not work for brands whose competitors want to screw their competition.
References / more information:
The “Arbitration Commitee” ruling, 28 May 2009
The Register “Wikipedia Bans Scientology”, 29 May 2009
The Register, ArbCommember resigns after being caught violating Wikipedia rules, 26 May 2009
Wikipedia about Wikipedia
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