Letter to a Gullible Friend
Dear Gullible Friend,
Yesterday, I talked with a friend who was reading about the “I Love Lucy” show on the Internet. Why she was searching for “I Love Lucy,” I don’t know, but it might be related to the fact that, like yours truly, this friend is currently unencumbered by the employment process.
She found an article on Wikipedia that answered her Lucy questions, but it also left her puzzled and confused. According to Wikipedia, there was a pornographic version of the “I Love Lucy” show, called “I Love Lucy All Over.” My friend asked, “Isn’t that amazing? But don’t you think we would have heard of it, if it’s really true?”
When she found the page, she bookmarked it, so she could show it to her husband when he returned home that evening.
You can imagine what happened. The page came up, with no reference to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s pornographic films. And her husband thought she was crazy.
My friend isn’t crazy. The problem is with Wikipedia.
A Wiki is a web page that can be edited, at any time, by any person. As Barry says, “Any idiot could write an article for Wikipedia.” It’s very susceptible to vandalism.
A couple of years ago, a friend of my father’s, John Seigenthaler, discovered a biography of himself on Wikipedia that he says amounted to “Internet character assassination.” The article said, “John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960’s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.”
For this close friend of Bobby Kennedy, such an accusation was sick, false, and malicious.
Seigenthaler discovered that he had little recourse. Wikipedia removed the entry, but other sites, such as Answers.com and Reference.com had already copied the spurious entry and were touting it as fact. Wikipedia and BellSouth, whose anonymous user had posted the entry, were immune to a libel suit over the matter.
Being a moderately famous retired newspaper editor, Seigenthaler raised a hue and cry in USA Today. Wikipedia and BellSouth didn’t lift a finger to help, but an internet activist named Daniel Brandt, who takes on outfits like Wikipedia and Google, used the IP address to trace the article to its source. The guy who wrote the false article admitted that it was a joke, saying that he didn’t think people took Wikipedia seriously. He apologized, and he lost his job.
The lesson here is not to wish Wikipedia was more reliable. The lesson, my gullible friend, is to take Wikipedia — and the web in general — at face value:
- It’s entertainment.
- Some of it is true.
- Some of it is not true.
- It publishes information that gets picked up by other sites, who think it’s all true.
Luckily for my friend, Barry showed us where old versions of Wikipedia can be found in the history section of the site. The entry on “I Love Lucy All Over” is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=I_Love_Lucy&oldid=163671874
As Barry said, “You weren’t crazy — you really did read it. You were gullible, however if you believed it And if you went looking to buy the DVD on Amazon afterwards, you were REALLY gullible!
“Have fun, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet!”
Unreliable sources included Wikipedia.
Entertainment provided by the Uncyclopedia, the Content-Free Encyclopedia.