Exclusive "We aren't democratic." That's how Wikipedia founder Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales described his famously-collaborative online encyclopedia in a recent puff piece from The New York Times Magazine. "The core community appreciates when someone is knowledgeable," he said, "and thinks some people are idiots and shouldn't be writing."
This is true. Despite its popular reputation as a Web 2.0 wonderland, Wikipedia is not a democracy. But the totalitarian attitudes of the site's ruling clique go much further than Jimbo cares to acknowledge.
In early September, the Wikipedia inner circle banned edits from 1,000 homes and one massive online retailer in an attempt to suppress the voice of one man.
His name is Judd Bagley, and when the ban came down, he hadn't edited Wikipedia in over a year. He was merely writing about the site, from his own domain. The Wikipedia elite blacklisted Judd Bagley because he accused them of using their powers to hijack reality.
Talk of Wikipedia admins trying to seize "the truth" may sound familiar. Famously, comedian Stephen Colbert has poked more than a few holes in the site's commitment to democratic consensus, making fun of its efforts to clamp down on edits deemed less than factual. And the web is still abuzz over the secret mailing list used by top administrators to silence inconvenient voices.
But what happens when, say, the Wikipedia elite decides to take a topic as weighty as the health of US financial markets under its control without informing the public of its decision?
How far will Wikipedia's arbiters of truth go? Come with us down the rabbit hole.
One thousand innocent bystanders
One sleepy evening this October, Cory Hogan stumbled onto Wikipedia while trawling the web for information on US Vice President Dick Cheney. He read the site's extensive screed on the curmudgeonly veep, and before he knew it, he was inclined to contribute his own thoughts to the discussion. But when he clicked on the "edit this page" tab, he was told he wasn't allowed.
A rather menacing message filled his web browser, announcing that Wikipedia edits were forbidden from his IP address. His address, the message said, was a favorite "open proxy" of Judd Bagley and Overstock.com.
Wikipedia bans Traverse Mountain, Utah
Cory Hogan shares his IP range with about 1,000 other homes in Traverse Mountain, Utah, a neighborhood twenty miles south of Salt Lake City, and one of those homes belongs to Judd Bagley. The two men live within two blocks of each other, and they're members of the same church.
When that message turned up on Wikipedia, Hogan's first thought was that Bagley was some sort of shady political henchman for the Vice President of the United States. But the truth is far stranger.
That Traverse Mountain IP address is not an open proxy. It would seem that the address was banned because Judd Bagley has accused Wikipedia's uber-administrators of skewing the contents of four online articles. Yes, just four. But those four articles may sway the fate of billions of dollars spilling through America's stock markets.
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