People can get very fussy about their Wikipedia entry. Some politicians doctor theirs to make sure their list of school exam passes are included while criticism of their past behaviour gets the chop. Some authors can get into long and tedious wrangles about what should and should not be mentioned in their entry.
In a way I understand why. Wikipedia’s deservedly popular as a source of ready, free and usually-though-not-always reliable information. Looking at the stats for davidhewson.com the page on me there generates a fair number of hits to this site. The information seems pretty accurate though it’s not up to date. And there you hit one of the first problems with Wikipedia when it comes to living people: it’s iffy, perhaps because we don’t begin to know what to say with certainty about anyone until they’re dead.
I love some of the historical articles there. They’re full of useful material and insights, though I wouldn’t use any in a book or article without checking them with another source first. But while Wikipedia’s great at history it seems to me to struggle with the contemporary, not through its own fault but the editing process itself.
I’m unsure how exactly I came to have a page there (I seem to remember a reader set it up years ago but I could be wrong). When it appeared I’d no real idea what Wikipedia was. As a former journalist I tend to be a stickler for accuracy and keeping things up-to-date. I usually have at least a new book a year. If Wikipedia was to mean anything, it seemed to me, I ought to keep my book list there current.
So I gained a logon and started putting in new books as they came out. Not very well I suspect since editing Wikipedia is distinctly hard for a technical ignoramus like me, especially when it came to things like ISBN and links.
That went on for a few years until a conversation with someone ‘in the know’ revealed I’d been behaving badly. Apparently only naughty people edit their own Wikipedia entry. The dignified thing to do is to stand back and let others do it for you, stepping in only when some kind person plants a deliberate falsehood in the midst of your entry.
As the web matures (aka becomes more boring and so big it’s scarcely navigable) I’m less and less minded to get uptight about what it says.
Fine. So I stopped. The book list is now out-of-date. The rest of the information there is pretty current though. It’s useful in a way, though if people really want to find out about my books and who I am the easiest way is to come here, read the articles and ask me a question directly if they’re so minded.
As the web matures (aka becomes more boring and so big it’s scarcely navigable) I’m less and less minded to get uptight about what it says. The old-fashioned hack in me still whines that errors and omissions must be corrected. But there are so many of them out there. If you go down that route you’ll never stop. The minor furore over the recent sock puppets row is a great example. This was a simple letter signed by a bunch of authors who felt they needed to make their own position clear.
We made our point then shut up. Then a couple of interested parties across the pond started to weigh in with some wild invective, some of it still rather pathetically continuing. A simple letter of condemnation was turned into a conspiracy, a ‘moral panic’ and a witch hunt. One of the parties even suggested that the letter be included as an example of ‘moral panic’ on the Wikipedia entry on the subject (and two hours later someone duly obliged by putting it there — even though it clearly contravenes every rule Wikipedia has on accuracy and attribution).
Enough. Newspapers hold up their hands when they get something factually wrong; they have to. On the web people simply ignore you, repeat the canard and usually invent another one to add to it. You can’t beat them. However much they scream ‘Are you afraid of open debate?’ that’s the last thing on their minds. All they want to do is scream abuse, usually anonymously, something the web’s very good at I’m afraid.
Wikipedia at least has systems to try to ensure accuracy. If you’re minded to go through them — and they seem very careful — I imagine they work. For an entry of historical importance I can see this is useful. Just to keep up a page on a contemporary author of popular fiction… I don’t think so.
When the web was first emerging it came with a handful of promises. Free and unfettered communication across continents. Empowerment of people who had hitherto been denied a voice. It delivered a fraction of that and a lot of noise and pointless fury. You can’t stop it. But you can at least choose to stay clear.