% fortune -ae paul murphy

More on wikipedia abuse

Here's a bit from an article by Cade Metz for the register

In the wake of the SEC's crackdown, the mainstream financial press has acknowledged that widespread and deliberate naked shorting can artificially deflate stock prices, flooding the market with what amounts to counterfeit shares. But for years, The [Wall Street] Journal and so many other news outlets ignored Byrne's warnings, with some journalists - most notably a Forbes.com columnist and former BusinessWeek reporter named Gary Weiss - painting the Overstock CEO as a raving madman.

Byrne has long argued that the press dismissed his views at least in part because Weiss - hiding behind various anonymous accounts - spent years controlling the relevant articles on Wikipedia, the "free online encyclopedia anyone can edit."

"At some level, you can control the public discourse from Wikipedia," Byrne says. "No matter what journalists say about the reliability of Wikipedia, they still use it as a resource. I have no doubt that journalists who I discussed [naked shorting] with decided not to do stories after reading Wikipedia - whose treatment [of naked short selling] was completely divorced from reality."

As recently as last week, Weiss told us he's never even edited Wikipedia. But emails shared with Byrne and The Register show that Weiss has in fact edited the encyclopedia's article on naked shorting. And they indicate he's behind an infamous Wikipedia account known as "Mantanmoreland," an account that - with the backing of the site's brain trust - ruled the articles on naked shorting, Patrick Byrne, and Overstock from January 2006 to March 2008.

A single Wikipedia edit also links the Mantanmoreland account to a PC inside the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC). Owned by Wall Street investment banks that may have benefited from naked shorting schemes, the DTCC oversees the delivery of stocks on Wall Street.

As I've said before, the problems we're now seeing with wikipedia foreshadow larger concerns affecting a wide range of shared knowledge, social networking, sites.

Since I do not believe in regulation - and find recent moves by the Obama campaign to use law enforcement to coerce acceptance of their view of "the truth" utterly repugnant- I think the solution has to start with awareness and end with some combination of technical change and education based social change.

In effect, the technical problem is that these networks combine extremely powerful manipulative tools with very weak controls, and the social problem is that people may be too busy, too uneducated, or too emotionally committed to fairly evaluate the information these sites provide.

The examples are all around us: most of what most readers of this blog believe about x86 reflects what they've been told by people paid to tell them - and is simply wrong; most of what most people now believe about global climate change is equally wrong -for the same reasons; Bryne has been excerised about the use of Wikipedia to distort the public's perception of the value of numerous corporate equities; and the list goes on and on - and it's not just the distortions we know about either.

Let me invent two examples of future threats whose reality we really can't assess today: imagine a claim that social sites like LinkedIN can, have, and will be, used to unfairly blacklist some people while promoting others, and then ask yourself: is there a way to verify or debunk such a claim? Similarly, imagine that thirty years from now one of today's teenagers takes on the role of Cassandra with respect to some then pressing issue - and has his credibility utterly destroyed when paid PR attackers flood the media with utube videos from 2008 showing him behaving badly as a teenager -and then ask yourself: do we have controls against this in place now?

The answer, in both cases, is that we do not and we cannot - and that the blind trust we put in social sites from wikipedia to twitter exposes us all to threats we're not even beginning to understand yet.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.