May 6, 2009
By Cnaan Lipshiz
Wikipedia’s coverage of Israel-related issues is “problematic,” leading Israeli internet researchers claimed Sunday at the Wikipedia Academy 2009 Conference dealing with the world’s largest encyclopedia. The conference was organized by Wikimedia’s volunteer-based Israel chapter and Tel Aviv University’s Netvision Institute for Internet Studies. However, the Web site’s leading manager said it merely reflected public discourse.
In demonstrating what he defined as problems, Eli Hacohen, the Institute’s director, showed how Hamas is not defined as a terrorist organization in the first paragraph describing the organization on the English site of the reader-edited online encyclopedia, which is the world’s fourth most popular Web site.
Hacohen also documented his attempts to define Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a Holocaust-denier. Each time he included his remarks on Wikipedia, users and editors removed the reference – despite Ahmadinejad’s frequent and public Holocaust denials.
On a related entry, Hacohen also noted that Wikipedia defines David Irving – a known Holocaust denier – as a historian, although his credentials are recognized by no one but himself. Furthermore, the Wikipedia entry on January’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza describes it as an “intense bombardment” by Israel on a civilian population.
Dror Kamir, a leading Israeli Wikipedia promoter, showed how Lod is not listed as a city in Israel in Wikipedia’s Arabic-language version.
Also attending the conference, which discussed Wikipedia’s role in academia, was Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia. Gardner told Haaretz that she is “quite comfortable” with the mistakes on the Web site. “I know that more or less the same mistakes can be found in the New York Times,” she explained.
Before her address at the conference, she defined Wikipedia as a “just another mainstream news medium.” Wikipedia, Gardner said, “will never say anything as Wikipedia. It will only quote relatively well-respected sources, including other media. So it’s natural for Wikipedia to reflect public discourse as it fluctuates, and news is the first draft of history.”
On her first visit to Israel, Gardner explained that her attitude stemmed from her framework of reference as a journalist in her native Canada, including a stint as director of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Web site.