When professors beg students to take Web sites like Wikipedia with a grain of salt, this is what they’re talking about: John Seigenthaler Sr., a journalist and onetime administrative assistant to Robert F. Kennedy, says he was smeared by a false biography posted to the online encyclopedia.
The biography, which sat online for more than four months, said that Mr. Seigenthaler had been suspected of involvement in the Kennedy assassinations, and it incorrectly stated that he lived in Russia for around 13 years. Those claims were made by an anonymous author—one of many such scribes who edit entries on the Web site, which allows any Web surfer to create and alter material.
Wikipedia officials have removed the false claims from Mr. Seigenthaler’s biography, and they’ve added a paragraph on the saga to the article about him. But Mr. Seigenthaler says similar incidents will become all too common on an Internet increasingly "populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects." Wikipedia bills itself as a self-policing community where inaccurate information is quickly fixed, and that appears to be largely true. But for esoteric issues—and minor historical figures like Mr. Seigenthaler—who will detect errors?Return to Top