Wikipedia vs. the Church of Scientology

Wikipedia vs. ScientologyI’ve blogged before about Wikipedia phenomenon and how it’s completely taken over the realm of encyclopedic knowledge in the span of only a decade.

One of the central tenets of Wikipedia is that it’s an open and inclusive environment where anyone can post an article or edit article entries.  But it’s also a self-policing environment where “the wisdom of crowds” ensures that inaccurate or spurious information is quickly removed and replaced with corrected entries.

With such a free and open environment, it comes as no surprise that certain topics can engender passionate debate and create some highly interesting “fireworks.”

Once such example is the Wikipedia entry on Charles Bennison, the embattled Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania whose social and financial controversies have been wide-ranging. For months on end, dueling article entries made by Wikipedia posters and countered by the Bishop’s own partisans made for a morbidly fascinating tit-for-tat spectacle.

Or consider Wikipedia’s article entry on President Barack Obama, which at times has undergone literally minute-by-minute edits frantically posted by dueling editors during high-profile episodes such as the birth certificate controversy — a kind of editorial ping-pong match.

But never has Wikipedia stepped in as an organization and done what it did this past week: It has actually banned the Church of Scientology from editing any articles appearing on Wikipedia that are associated with the religion.

This unprecedented action was reportedly taken in response to “repeated and deceptive editing” of Wikipedia articles related to Scientology and its beliefs.

And according to the news reports, the vote wasn’t even close; Wikipedia’s arbitration council voted 10-1 to ban users coming from any and all IP addresses owned by the Church of Scientology and its associates, along banning with certain individuals by name.

The Scientology case has been under review by Wikipedia since last December. It centers on more than 400 articles about the religious organization and its members. These articles have been the source of fierce “edit wars” pitting organized Church of Scientology editors against the religion’s detractors.

As a measure of how heated this issue has been for Wikipedia, this was actually the fourth arbitration case concerning the Church of Scientology occurring within the past four years.

To the casual observer, the whole Church of Scientology issue is a tempest in a teapot that could be summed up by the title of William Shakespeare’s famous play, Much Ado about Nothing.

But the fervor in which Scientology’s promoters and its critics have battled each other tooth and nail over the content of the Wikipedia article entries proves the rule once again that politics and religion are among the most passionate subjects in the world.

But the Scientology fracas also makes another point: Wikipedia is now the most important information repository in the world. Otherwise, why would there be such a fuss?

So the stakes are high … and tempers are high.

Here’s a prediction: Despite the unprecedented ban by Wikipedia’s arbitration council, the Scientology “edit wars” are far from over.  These folks are relentless.