Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Internet vandal tarnishes Quincy

Internet vandal tarnishes Quincy
Mar 13, 2007
By David Cole
Herald staff writer

Wikipedia entry attacks city
QUINCY -- Wikipedia no longer describes Quincy as stampeded by gang members, teeming with teenage pregnancies, constant shootings, stabbings, drugs and excessive consumption of booze.

But it did, for 12 days.

"Quincy is also known as 'Q-town,'" the entry on Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, stated. "It is over populated by gang members and individuals of hispanic decent who often believe they are of african background. Smoking marijuana is very popular and is often practiced by all age groups in the area."

The entry, posted on Feb. 28 and removed Monday, also touted the town's abundance of robberies.

"Quincinians like to use the phrase 'lets pound em,' which translates to drinking alcoholic beverages excessively usually by minors," the Web site stated.

Sandra Ordonez, a spokeswoman for Wikipedia, said the Web site's entry for Quincy was "vandalized." It's one of the most serious obstacles Wikipedia faces, she said. It's a common occurrence when all content is collaboratively written and edited by Internet users.

"We're really trying to find a way to combat it effectively," Ordonez said Monday by phone from the Web site's St. Petersburg, Fla. headquarters. "Any type of vandalism undermines our efforts."

The timing couldn't be worse as Quincy was still basking in the national spotlight following an article published last week in The Wall Street Journal, "One Tiny Town Becomes Internet-Age Power Point." The article focused on increases in housing prices as Microsoft Corp., Yahoo! Inc. and Intuit Inc. build data centers in the town of slightly more than 5,000 residents.

A review of Wikipedia entries for other Grant County cities, towns and communities found drastically different information.

"Ephrata remains a desirable bedroom community to the neighboring communities," according to Wikipedia. "Good schools, low crime, aesthetically appealing downtown, close central proximity to the major retail center of Moses Lake, and comparatively low cost of living, contribute to making this a community of choice."

The users responsible for recent postings of malicious information about Quincy are now banned from posting information on Wikipedia, Ordonez said.

"Vandals are caught extremely quickly, I'm really surprised this took 12 days to be caught," Ordonez said. Most vandalism is discovered within three to five minutes, she said.

Quincy Mayor Dick Zimbelman said Monday he wants criminal charges filed against those responsible and asked the city's attorney to take action.

Zimbelman suspects those responsible are from a neighboring town.

"It's just not right," the mayor said. It's too easy, he said, for users of the Web site to post malicious content.

"I could go on there today and call Moses Lake the worst place in the world, saying it's nothing but a mud hole," Zimbelman said.

Jose Saldana, a Quincy City Council member and owner of Quincy Realty, said gang activity is not unique to Quincy. Saldana said the terms "Q-Town" and "let's pound'em" are rooted in Quincy High School sports, but were used out of context.

"It is disgusting, it's not what Quincy is all about," Saldana said. "It's not like we have 20 or 30 girls pregnant in the high school."

Harriet Weber, public events coordinator for the historic Reiman-Simmons House in Quincy, said the town's entry on Wikipedia was ridiculous.

"I know Quincy doesn't have marauding gangs," Weber said today. "I don't really put a lot of stock in Wikipedia. I guess it doesn't surprise me that something like this could happen."

Weber teaches for the Wenatchee School District. She said instructors there were recently advised not to use Wikipedia.

"The nickname for Wikipedia is 'Wikidpedia,'" Weber said. Some content on the Web site, she said, is not suitable for students.

Quincy City Council member Rebecca Young said Wikipedia is a great Web site, one she uses frequently.

"The beauty of it is that anyone can contribute to its content, so we can all share information with each other," Young said.

But, Young said, it also means comments like these can be found on the site until they're found and edited.

"I don't think this is a 'Quincy problem,' I think this just means we have Internet-savvy pranksters," Young wrote in an e-mail Monday.

The "more eyeballs" viewing each of the more than 1.6 million English-language articles on Wikipedia, the better the quality, Ordonez said. Errors or vandalism are found quicker, she said.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of visitors make tens of thousands of edits, from expert scholars to casual readers, according to the Web site.

Ordonez said Wikipedia doesn't guarantee its articles are 100 percent accurate.

She pointed to a decision in January by professors at Middlebury College in Vermont who voted to ban students from using Wikipedia as source material for student's academic work.

"We actually thought that was a very sensible policy, because we're not an authoritative source," Ordonez said. "The articles are alive and constantly changing."

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