The Wikipedia thought police

Ariel Zúñiga seems to Machetera to be a little bit cranky. And if he doesn’t care for having his work posted at Rebelión without being consulted first, he probably won’t like being translated without asking either. But this is an excellent analysis that shouldn’t wait, so Machetera will translate first and ask forgiveness later. “Gusgus,” aka Mercedes, is one of the iron-fisted hierarchy over at Spanish Wikipedia, whose word is apparently law.

Wikipedia’s Censorship of Rebelión

Under the Lord of the Flies Syndrome

Ariel Zúñiga – Alterinfos

Translation: Machetera

When the Wikipedia project was born, I immediately felt seduced and summoned to support it with the knowledge available to me. It was assumed that no-one would go around making selections based on the fame of the authors, but rather that the community itself would decide which knowledge was valid by contesting previous affirmations. Whoever wished to disagree should present their arguments rather than imposing academic credentials, and not only the topic, but the reader and the community would be enriched through involvement in the entire process. Being treated to different points of view would allow users to select that which they considered valid in the material found throughout the discussion. That’s how it works in the social sciences. No-one has the last word in them and what is said, in the humanities.

Very shortly in the project, two tribes emerged that through their actions laid the groundwork so that today, the free encyclopedia has transformed itself into a complex control system for knowledge and at the same time, the crude Inquisitor that we thought we’d banished. The first tribe is that of the extremely sensitive, that for the sake of political correctness, efficiency and utility, claimed that some users were abusing the freedom given them to transform certain articles into the equivalent of public bathroom walls; others, the megalomaniacs, aspired for Wikipedia to compete with other encyclopedias, therefore claiming that the contents should be controlled so that any ignorant user might find it useful. Both tribes converged over the risks implied by the divulging of false information, forgetting that this was exactly the characteristic that made Wikipedia unique. It was supposed that this needed to stop now that the Internet was going to reach the masses and the Wiki would be the teacher of billions of people.

And so we went from being an elitist but democratic Wikipedia to an ordinary encyclopedia, as overabundant and anti-democratic as all the rest. Now the knowledge police scan each article in search of “deficiencies,” “inconsistencies,” “errors,” and since the Internet went on without reaching the masses, the only ones harmed were the same initial users, since the others, if they wanted to know what 2+2 was, would always have a pirated copy of Encarta on hand.

We’ve created new conscience police to protect the freedom of access to knowledge, forgetting that in doing so, we sacrifice the freedom to produce it. We’ve gone from being idealist communicative Habermasians to picayune Foucaultians. Now the dead bodies are surfacing and it’s not possible to hide the odor coming from the usual hypocrites with their banners for freedom of expression.

Rebelión isn’t a democratic site; it doesn’t publish comment nor criticism of its articles. They’ve published articles from my blog without citing it, and have re-titled others to make them follow their editorial line, all within the law since I tolerate and allow it. It’s not necessary to grab me by the throat to make me say what I think of Rebelión: it’s a website for the dissemination of leftist ideas, but also of propaganda, mainly Castrista and Chavista, where many defenders of the indefensible converge, as in respect to the FARC; and where articles are re-posted by noted specialists on the failure of the left, with very few exceptions.

However, as has been endlessly said in the Wikipedia forums, exposed to the obscene “editing” of the on-site police (who avoid calling it censorship), the reprehensible action against Rebelión can also be verified in Alterinfos for example (a site that publishes my articles under my express authorization) as in so many others where not only do they not publish my letters to the editor, but have had the audacity to pressure me academically for sending them (in 1998 El Mercurio demanded that I be expelled from the Universidad Diego Portales for having used the debate society fax to send criticism).

We all know that “official” media lie, make mistakes, create opinion, disseminate rumors, pressure, extort, veto and hound journalists, conspire against governments, excuse criminals, etc. The sins of the alternative media, those that they possess, are infinitesimal in comparison to those of the “official” media; the censorship of Rebelión is indefensible but it’s an expression of something even more serious: we should not forget that this censorship comes from the “free encyclopedia.”

What’s happening in Wikipedia is a glaring demonstration that the freedom of movement of ideas only matters in respect to those who collaborate with the accrual of power for some. Every time that knowledge is used to free minds for its own sake once in awhile, the custodians of order and hierarchy appear. In defense of Rebelión, for example, it is reiterated to the point of annoyance that the authors of its texts are known specialists, celebrated authors, who occupy senior positions in a principally western academic system. Nobody bothers with the garbage that is put out daily by the “official” media, signed by known personalities of worldwide renown; or with the weak pillars on which the sand castle of the social sciences and academia have been built.

Wikipedia is dead just as the Internet free press is a dead fetus. Here the arguments don’t matter, but rather the hierarchical position held by an official, paid or not, within a hierarchy, which empowers them to say brutish things and censor whoever expresses a contrary view. Hundreds of solid arguments, expressed with elegance and eloquence are worth three cherries and a pear in front of the bureaucrat called Gusgus who demands that Rebelión exhibit credentials that not even Harvard University is capable of offering (that everything it publishes is neutral, verifiable and authenticated) in order to reconsider his unilateral and preventive holy war.

Along with occupying ourselves with the censorship toward Rebelión, we should be coherent with our own words and say as clearly as possible that Wikipedia does much censoring, cutting, misrepresenting and controlling of knowledge. That its entire bureaucracy and police force reveal that the label of “free encyclopedia” is not just one more lie beyond the many it contains, but the most serious and the only intolerable one. Let’s not bother with arguing over whether the censorship is done well or badly, if it’s opportune or inopportune, consensual or unilateral; let’s concentrate only on reversing this situation and in proscribing all censorship, without names or euphemisms, neither with clauses nor exceptional cases.

See the (Spanish) discussion on the topic by the wikipedists, “edited” by those who executed and maintain the censorship.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

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