by Lauren Strapagiel
Shutting down Gould Street will protect pedestrians, plus it will “allow space for a helipad for Ryerson President Sheldon Levy.” At least it did according to Wikipedia for 15 minutes on Jan. 30.
This small inaccuracy — better known as vandalism by Wikipedia, and inserted by the Eyeopener — was swiftly corrected by Wikipedia user Bfootdav, also known as Dave Bellows, a 41-year-old IT professional from Atlanta, Georgia and Wikipedia user of four years.
“I know absolutely nothing about Ryerson University and your change was almost plausible and might have slid by other editors,” Bellows said. “I just happened to glance at the rest of the sentence about closing a street for pedestrian safety, which made the addition of a helipad seem odd.” It’s people like Bellows, who don’t even attend Ryerson, who keep the page clean and accurate.
With Wikipedia open to edits from anyone with Internet access, checking a page at the wrong time can lead to some pretty faulty facts. With Ryerson, that includes some Oct. 1, 2009 edits claiming the Ryerson fight song is “CCCP Communists everywhere!” and referring to the Ted Rogers School of Management as, “the Stalin School of Management … Canada’s largest undergraduate Communist school.” The edits lasted 37 minutes.
With Ryerson’s Wikipedia page receiving over 10,000 views in January alone, someone is bound to see these pranks.
Bellows doesn’t find joke edits funny.
“A lot of people work really hard on Wikipedia so vandalism is just a kind of weird insult,” Bellows said.
Vandalism is just one of many Wikipedia editing no-nos. Another rule is the first founding principal of the Wikimedia movement: maintaining a neutral point of view. Edits made by people from the Ryerson community, especially those in the administration, can carry bias.
Between November 2004 and September 2005, a Wikipedia account named “firstname.lastname@example.org” made a series of edits to the Ryerson page. The user profile page points to Ryerson’s Office of University Advancement.
Bruce Piercey, director of publications and web services, said bias isn’t an issue since the department isn’t currently active on the page. “It would be nice if we could devote more time to [the page].”
Although Bellows knows about the problems of open editing, he still has faith in Wikipedia.
“Given my pessimistic views about vandalism above — it’s frequency, subtlety, and likelihood of not being discovered — one might expect me to be rather skeptical,” Bellows said.
“The truth is that I do trust the accuracy of Wikipedia.”
“Vandalism that slips through tends to be insignificant in both content and as a percentage of text. But really it’s the process in place and the number of dedicated editors that makes me optimistic.”
Despite the vigilance of Wikipedia’s editing army, things still slip by. At press time, according to Wikipedia, Ryerson’s 11-storey library building has a twelfth floor, courtesy of the Eyeopener.