Thursday, March 22, 2007


The other day I saw a funny bit from The Colbert Report where Colbert was making fun of Wikipedia. He has this segment called The Word where half the screen is like a space for ironic textual comments that refer to what he is talking about on the other half of the screen.

He was talking about a concept called "wiki-lobbying", where you use non-wiki resources (media, hired "consultants", etc) to get an entry in wikipedia modified in some way. Colbert claimed to have previously used his Comedy Central platform to lobby for the "Elephant" entry to include the sentence "Thanks to the works of Stephen Colbert, the elephant population has tripled in the last ten years."

He then mentions this story, wherein Microsoft apparently "offer[ed] to pay a blogger to 'correct'" Microsoft's wikipedia entry.

Colbert goes on to say that wikipedia democratizes information, thus making truth and "reality" conform to whatever the majority says it is. This is an interesting idea, but one that I'm not sure I agree with. Yes, wikipedia does in a sense "democratize" information, and there is an undeniable element of majority-rule involved. But it is a much more metaphysical proposition to say that this has some effect on "truth" or "reality".

And after all, wikipedia is not simply majority rule. It also has significant elements of editorial control, which according to my limited research is informed more by academic concerns (such as requiring citations and the like) than by individual viewpoints or political concerns. In any event, all well-developed articles on the site are replete with links to many other sources for further research. This keeps people honest (in an intellectual sense), promotes neutrality, and ensures that entries won't be determined by truthiness alone (e.g., "I don't like what this says about [blank]," or "I feel as if this is just wrong").

The punchline of the bit was at the end where, following up on the theme of Microsoft paying people to "correct" their entry, and the possibility of their competitors paying people to "correct" it in the opposite way, Colbert says:
When money determines wikipedia entries, then reality has become a commodity. And I'll pay 5 bucks to the first person who changes the wikipedia defintion of 'reality' to that..." and points at the text portion which says "Reality has become a commodity."
Overall, a funny bit with the added element of making you think. My kind of comedy.

1 comment:

Gleemonex said...

God, I love me some Colbert. This is only one example of many as to why ...