Category Archives: wikipedia

Why I think the world is better with bloggers and wikipedia

A recent story I heard illustrates why I think we live in an age of transparency as never before and why I think that is a very good thing. It also illustrates why millions of “citizen journalists,” bloggers, social media participants, user content providers or whatever you want to call them have made this a more open, honest and truthful world.

It was at our company Christmas party and the husband of one of our employees relayed the story of his incredible experience as a hijack victim in 1985. It was Air Egypt flight 648 from Athens to Cairo. Our subject was a young American traveling the world. The plane was hijacked by three members of the Abu Nidal Palestinian terrorist organization brandishing guns and hand grenades with pulled pins. A gun battle on board with a sky marshall killed one hijacker. The plane landed on Malta and the hijackers threatened to kill one passenger every fifteen minutes if their demands for more fuel to fly to Libya were not met. A young Israeli woman was the first–brought to the front by the door, shot in the head and dumped out of the plane. Fifteen minutes later, the second Israeli woman was brought forward and was also shot and dumped. Our friend was next, hands tied behind his back, talking to two American women who would follow him. He was called forward, tried to jump from the plane, was shot in the back of the head, but miraculously survived–not only the shot, but the 12 foot fall from the plane face forward with his hands still tied.

The hijackers had allowed 11 Egyptians to get off the plane but there were more than 70 left when our friend made his miraculous escape. It turned out he was one of the few fortunate ones, because the Egyptian commandos arrived, attacked the plane with grenades, automatic weapons, started the plane on fire, and killed anyone indiscriminately. 60 of those left on the plane died in the “rescue.” One of the few who survived it was an Englishman who ended up in the hospital next to our friend. He told the media repeatedly how the Egyptians botched the rescue and caused so many needless deaths, but it was simply not reported. The story was that the terrorists blew up the plane.
Why? Why would the international media not tell the truth? This was an era of strained relations between Egypt and the US but a need for strong cooperation in trying to get peace with Israel. Egypt had been embarrassed when the US forced an Air Egypt flight down with F-15s to capture a terrorist leader, and they needed to prove to the west they could be tough on the terrorists. So, pure speculation, but is it possible that the Reagan administration made it clear at least to US news media that telling the real story of the botched rescue would harm Mid-East peace hopes? It is possible and plausible. Which leads me to my point.

Let’s say any administration or powerful entity attempted to influence the coverage of such a volatile story today. Would they have any hope of success? No, and therefore wouldn’t even think of it. We now have so many and varied sources of information that it seems impossible the truth would escape from the great many who seek to reveal the “true” story. Sure, there is a lot of junk, garbage, misinformation, hidden and non-hidden agendas in all the blog coverage of events of the day. But the some total is, in my mind, much more likely to be true than when the power to inform the public was held by a handful who controlled the machines of mass media.

Wikipedia provides another example. Despite its early detractors who couldn’t believe a user generated information source could possibly be accurate, it is now known to be nearly as–or perhaps more–accurate than the most credible encyclopedias. And it is the sheer number of participants that helps make it so. I am writing a book on a survivor of Buchenwald and went to Wikipedia to get additional info. There I found a report that the Allied airmen who got sent to Buchenwald arrived in April, 1944. Well, I am writing the eyewitness account of one of those fighter pilots and I know for a fact that the group of 168 did not arrive until August 20, 1944 and were rescued from there on October 20, 1944. So I commented on the post and provided my source. Sure enough, my information was incorporated into the report with the citation to my source.

Now I can’t contribute much to the overall knowledge in the world, and very few people perhaps care whether or not these airmen arrived in April or August. But as an amateur historian I care a lot and so do the millions of others who have specialized knowledge and both use and contribute to wikipedia.

I am glad we live in a post-media world, where many many millions more are contributing to the information, knowledge and discussion that we all benefit from.

Wal-Mart, Edelman and WOMMA's Code of Ethics

I’m just beginning to learn about this situation myself, but for bloggers and for those dealing with blogwars, this is of great interest. Here is Constantin Basturea’s posts and resources about this issue. The final post from the “fake” blog Wal-Marting Across America is here and it is important to read because it gives an explanation from the bloggers view as to how the whole situation started. In short, a couple decided to travel across America staying in an RV in Wal-Mart parking lots. A brother of one of the couple works for the Edelman PR firm who represents Wal-Mart, and Edelman ended up sponsoring the trip with money for gas, food, etc. While the name of the Edelman campaign was listed on the blog the couple wrote, there was no disclosure within the blog itself of the financial arrangement between the couple and Edelman. This violates the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Code of Ethics.

In the meantime there is another storm brewing on the topic of blogwars. And that is the pending ruling by wikipedia founder Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales regarding whether contributors who are paid by a subject company or organization will be allowed to contribute to wikipedia.

Both of these controversies have profound implications for the culture of the internet as well as the ability of organizations to respond to reputation-damaging online attacks. The value of “free” is very strong among the people who are now setting the rules for the internet and are keepers of the internet cultural values. Free as in open source software, free as in free exchange of ideas, free as in aggressively non-profit. Conversely, there seems to be the idea that money of any and all kinds, and particularly the exchange of it, corrupts. Corrupts ideas, people, interactions, etc. There is much truth in this. But there is also much danger in this new dogma, for that is what it is. Dogma of almost all kinds pushed to its extremes is the basis of fundamentalism and I see a fundamentalist strand emerging in these discussions about what is right and true and should be allowed on the internet and in blogs and in wikipedia.

No doubt some contributors to blogs and wikipedia whose opinions are determined by the dollars they received from paymasters are “corrupted” in the sense that their allegiance to those dollars is greater than their allegiance to truth and authenticity. But the very same accusation can be laid against those who subscribe to a strong political position, or who have motives of their own to attack and destroy others. There is no inherent rightness in those who do not receive pay as there is no inherent wrongness in those who do.

I think it is time to get past this discussion. The blogworld and internet content sites should be open to any and all. I thought that was an underlying credo of the internet. Whether someone is paid or not paid says nothing about their basic honesty, integrity or truth of what they are saying. One need not be any more skeptical of the money motive than they ought to be of political motives or personal vendettas. For the sake of real transparency, the motives of all writers ought to be demanded. Are you intent on seeing our president’s reputation dashed (further)? Then declare it. Are you motivated by a past wrong that a company or person has inflicted on you and now you are using the internet to take your revenge? Then disclose it. Are you taking money from someone who has something to gain by what you are saying? Then disclose it.

Those who demand full disclosure for money but not for other equally powerful motives are displaying not the purity of protecting the value of “freeness” on the internet, but rather are beginning to display a fundamentalist tendency toward selective evils. Let’s protect the true sense of freeness on the internet and allow the free exchange of ideas without demanding motive disclosures. Let’s evaluate what people say rather than making assumptions about motives and how it affects the truth or validity of what they say.

Utility Communicators

Just returned from speaking at the Utility Communicators International conference held in San Francisco. I’d heard of the old Mark Twain quote before, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” but I never knew what it meant. While it was in the 80s back home in Bellingham we just about froze in Fog City.

Interacting with some of the professional communicators at this conference brought home some of the key issues that are continually being raised here. There was incredulity about the idea of corporate blogging, and only about 1/4 had heard of wikipedia. More surprising to me was the fact that almost no one had any familiarity with the Incident Command System and its communication element, the Joint Information Center. More about that in future posts, but it is my strong opinion that everyone in crisis management and communication needs to have strong familiarity with these–and particularly if there is any chance of having to work with any local or state first responder agency such as police, fire or emergency response. Everyone will be playing a game and you will be asked to play, but you won’t have a clue as to what the rules are. That sucks.

We had a good discussion at lunch about blogging and the role of the internet in crisis management. I am more and more convinced as I talk to communicators out there that the coming culture conflict between audiences and communicators will be more challenging and disruptive than anything we can imagine. Corporate speak doesn’t work in a time of when authenticity is prized above all. But I like the question of one gentleman sitting at the front: “Did corporate speak ever work?”