On a recent post, I commented that Wikipedia is entering the social consciousness as a “first port-of-call” to find out about things you don’t know about. I also commented that we as Catholic geeks need to be aware of how easy it is for this resource to be abused and used to spread bad or incorrect information about our Faith.
There is a story making the rounds at the moment about Essjay, a contributor to Wikipedia with a PhD in Theology, a Doctorate in Canon Law and a position on the Arbitration Committee. This guy has quite an academic record, and has commented on and edited thousands of articles.
Now, as best I can tell, this isn’t actually a story of him using his position to spread bad information about the Faith at all. Some of the examples of his editing and commenting seem to actually have been pretty accurate. What this is an example of is how someone can establish themselves as a well-read and respected authority on matters within the boundaries of Wikipedia, where in reality they have no such authority to teach. Were he to say something heretical, how many people would believe him – hook, line and sinker?
This story is appearing all through the ‘sphere as an example of the anti-academic approach of Wikipedia. To us, it should serve as a reminder that people are not always who they say they are on the internet. And when our less geeky friends in the Faith are using this resource and treating it as gospel, we need to be vigilant.