Internet, posted: 22-APR-2007 11:01
"There is no end to the Internet's circle of hate," writes Robert Fisk in his article, Caught in the Deadly Web of the Internet, published in the Independent. Fisk, in case you've missed it, is a well-known British journalist whose critical pieces on Western policies the Middle East especially are seen, to put mildly, as controversial.
Even if you don't agree with Fisk, read that Independent story. In it, Fisk recounts the experience of Taner Akçam, a Turkish historian and writer. Akçam faces prosecution in Turkey for writing about the Armenian Genocide at the beginning of the century in that country - yes, the Turks are that sensitive about it still.
However, due to vandalising of Akçam's Wikipedia entry, which accused him of being a member of a terrorist group, he was detained by Canadian border police on February 17 this year. This is acknowledged in the Wikipedia entry, which can now only be edited by registered users.
Based on the detention and what US Homeland Security officials told him, Akçam now believes he can't travel overseas anymore because of the Internet hate campaign against him.
If you think about it, would you take your chances with border police after YouTube videos labelling you a "former terrorist"?
That's serious enough, but the Fisk also mentions Wikipedia's role in the the case of Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who was murdered in January this year. Apparently a false quote attributed to Dink spurred his murder.
Fisk's own Wikipedia entry carries this notice on top:
Editing of this article by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled to prevent sock puppets of currently blocked or banned users from editing it. If you are prevented from editing this article, and you wish to make a change, please discuss changes on the talk page, request unprotection, log in, or create an account.
While it's easy to say "don't trust anything you see or hear on the Internet", reading Fisk's story, it appears that the Canadian and US authorities did just that. And why shouldn't they? Wikipedia styles itself as an encyclopaedia, not a libel and defamation publisher.
In the past, attacks on people tended to be contained to Usenet postings and later on, websites. Now however we have "the wisdom of the crowds" on sites like Wikipedia and the ability to easily assemble images, audio and video that appear very believable - and, Google finds it all.
Countries, corporations and individuals alike can be targeted on the Internet, and it doesn't take much effort either. Just pander to people's prejudices, and they'll believe you.
It's the Internet Samizdat cutting both ways. You will find the truth but also falsehoods, sometimes very damaging ones. That's the core of the issue Fisk's article points to: how do you know which is which any more?
By Juha Saarinen