Shortly after IL Rep. Bobby Rush made his overtly racist plea not to “hang or lynch” Blagojevich Senate appointee Roland Burris, I took a quick look online to see what I could find out about Rep. Rush. Interestingly enough, I came across this Wikipedia entry for Rep. Rush at about 3:30 PM today:
The text outlined in red was part of the entry as of 3:30 (the red outlining is mine). By 3:50, the entry had changed:
Clearly as a result of his impassioned defense of Roland Burris, Rep. Rush is no longer a racist asshole.
Actually, I’m not terribly interested in whether Rep. Rush is a racist asshole or not. I feel the original comment was in hopelessly bad taste. What I found interesting is the speed and the ease by which information is changed on Wikipedia. History can now be changed on a whim, based on the ideals, biases, and outlooks of those who write it, and especially those who can go back and re-edit it. This “airbrushing of history” is nothing new, and what in the past was a labor-intensive and arduous process has now become, given the technology available, the work of an instant.
While those in the know understand that Wikipedia is, in fact, an ongoing and collaborative effort which is constantly changing (and not always for the better or even for the more correct information), there are many who treat it as the font of all knowledge, the be-all and end-all of information services, unchanging and omniscient. This is a mistake.
Once upon a time, it may have been that history was written by the winners. But in the information age, history is written by the persistent. Digital information is subject to constant revision, unless care is taken to document its state over time.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at Wikipedia, where government agencies, public companies, private organizations, and concerned individuals continually revise the online encyclopedia’s entries to suit their respective agendas.
It behooves us all to be careful, not only of what we read, but of what we accept as true, as reliable, as honest.
As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “Trust, but verify.” Especially if you’re looking for information on Rep. Bobby Rush.