Friday, November 25, 2005

Wikipediaphiles beware

I spend a fair chunk of my on-line time hanging around the Flickr photo-sharing site. I originally started using it as cheap off-site storage for my photos but then gradually got sucked into the photo sharing and community side of the site.

I have made many virtual friends

Oh dear, that’s quite sad isn’t it.

Anyway, one of my virtual friends was a character called ‘Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer’ aka Clicky McPhotographer. As the names suggest, he was even more virtual than most of the characters you meet on the Internet. His entire portfolio consisted of blurry photos of half eaten packets of economy cheese, used ashtrays and pictures borrowed from other sites, particularly a gay podcast group. The face chosen for PPWP was that of Patrick Litchfield. PPWP’s persona was that of an arrogant old multimillion photographer who thought his pictures were the greatest ever and who enjoyed perverted sex in public places with like-minded individuals.

My understanding is that the genesis of PPWP began in the rude, crude, (and wonderful), ubergeek b3ta site, and his behaviour was consistent with that background

PPWP’s very existence annoyed a very large section of the Flickr community. He was banned from numerous groups within Flickr and blocked by many users. Earlier this month the inevitable finally happened and Flickr management deleted his account.

By a curious twist of fate the real Patrick Litchfield took sick and died less than a week later.

Anyway, all this is of limited interest to anyone not directly involved with PPWP.

PPWP’s wider legacy is of slightly more general interest though. Even though he was deleted, PPWP merchandise is still available from the Cafe Press site and he still is on record in Wikipedia for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 1999

1999: Clicky McPhotographer, for his undercover work investigating an international ring of underage male prostitutes, based in Luton (UK)

This entry has remained uncorrected for months.

This isn’t the first time I’ve personally encountered misinformation in Wikipedia. Just in the last few months I’ve seen an entry that described my local MP Kate Hoey as an ardent supporter of the London 2012 Olympic bid when she was an ardent opponent and some dubious comments made about the use of acetone peroxide, the explosive supposedly used by the alleged 7/7 bombers. Both entries have since been corrected.

Now, I quote Wikipedia regularly, it’s a source of handy summaries, but only if an entry is confirmed by other sources. But there’s a wider issue than just the integrity of a single on-line reference work here and it's a point I've made before. I have seen too many examples of ‘shilling’ on the internet to ever trust material I find on it without a healthy side helping of scepticism; from on-line product reviews through to accounts of supposed terror attacks.

If you accept the possibility that there are people out there deliberately poisoning the well it’s only logical to assume that government and business are aware of the potential of Internet disinformation and exploit that potential. You should expect Trojan Horses of all kinds to abound on the Internet, from individual comments through to entire websites and blogs. And they do.

My advice is to trust no one. Well, except for me obviously.


jackenstein of all trades said...

That's like sayin' "Dont trust the internets" Fwah! That's crazy talk, where u getting that from?

Geek's Girl said...

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day and he was saying "I was reading Stef's blog and..." such and such and such. He was quoting you and it was quite a serious discussion.

Should we believe everything you write? Probably not. But I do trust you to get me thinking about things.

Apprentice said...

I have several mates who regularly write pages and corrections for Wikipedia, including our mutual friend Pete Ashton. I'm wondering why you think the interweb is any less a source of 'truth' than any other? Is it because it is so easily edited?

Someone really needs to write up that Clicky McPhotographer page. I keep meaning to do a bit myself. Whomever does it really will need to link to this, too. You are after all, obviously to be trusted.

I know Kate Hoey's brother. Pity is how I feel for anyone who lives in her constituency, but then in the end I wonder how much that matters. She does love the Olympics and is crazy for the Orange Order, but you probably knew that already.

Stef said...

@apprentice: oh please don't misunderstand - I trust virtually no one. On the Internet or otherwise.

I was chatting with a friend about Kate Hoey last week and mentioned that I still see the MP of where I grew up and used to live, Simon Hughes, more often than Hoey. I don't think she spends that much time round here. I also find it quite amusing that Hoey is the chair of the Countryside Alliance and that their HQ is round the corner from me. Countryside Alliance ... HQ ... Lambeth ...???

@gg: hello ;)

@jackenstein: crazy talk, crazy times...

de said...

Yeah, I have got into the habit of using Wikipedia as a neutral reference. Its not fallible but until proved otherwise I'll continue to do so - with some caution.

Apprentice said...

Didn't know she was chair of the CA, but it doesn't surprise me.