But could there be more to the episode than simply bad moderating? It seems like some Wikipedia users wanted to create that impression. Last Friday, I took a look at Ignatius’s Wikipedia entry out of curiosity. I didn’t know much about him, beyond the basic facts of what he’s done and written, so I was interested to find him described as “A Jewish-American journalist of Armenian descent.” Wow – a Turk-hater and Israel-lover rolled into one! No wonder.
The wording of the entry seemed strange, though, as if Ignatius was an Armenian foundling taken in by the kind Jewish Ignatius family. Reading that his father was once secretary of the Navy also seemed strange. A Jewish secretary of the Navy, and there are no other references to this fact anywhere else online? The only thing I could find online about the columnist’s background was a Washington Post piece he wrote that mentions his Armenian heritage. It seemed unlikely that he’s also Jewish. I figured the Wikipedia entry would be corrected soon enough.
The next day, though, I was surprised to take a look at the English-language Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Report and find, in an article entitled “Debate moderator takes flak for actions,” Ignatius described as – per Wikipedia – “A Jewish-American journalist of Armenian descent.” It looked like the reporter simply took Wikipedia’s wording and inserted it directly into the article. After reading the Hurriyet piece, I went back to Ignatius’s Wikipedia entry to find the references to him being Jewish gone. He was still of Armenian descent, only now there were citations for that.
[UPDATE -- Today's edition of the English-language Hurriyet follows up on the Ignatius story and how the paper came to describe him using the false Wikipedia entry. It turns out that Radikal, part of the same publishing group as Hurriyet, used the caption "Jewish journalist" to describe Ignatius after the Davos debacle. Radikal's foreign news editor blames an intern and Wikipedia:
Ceyda Karan, the foreign news editor of daily Radikal blamed that newspaper’s error on an intern downloading of information from Wikipedia. After the newspaper was published, she said, they noticed the mistake and corrected it in Radikal’s Internet version.
According to Karan, Wikipedia had lost credibility as a result. "They claim to offer accurate information. They should have been more careful," she said.]
Looking at the entry’s revision history, though, told a fascinating story of an online battle to convert Ignatius into a Jew. Early on January 30th, he became, thanks to a revision by an anonymous Wikipedia user: “a Jewish-American journalist and novelist.” A few hours later, another user, named Mck134 removed “Jewish” from the entry. The word was reinserted 20 minutes after that, only to be taken out again a half hour later by Mck134, who this time added “of Armenian descent” to Ignatius’s entry. After that is when Ignatius became a Jewish/Armenian hybrid, with the next revision to his entry adding this multiculti clunker: “David R. Ignatius (born to a Jewish family May 26, 1950), an American journalist and novelist of Armenian descent.”
And so it went on throughout the day, with references to Ignatius’s “Jewishness” being reinserted into the entry as soon as they were taken out. Meanwhile, a user who added some citations for Ignatius being Armenian, added a note with his revision that said (in Turkish), “The chump is an Armenian, here is the evidence. Isn’t it a shame that such a person sits next to the prime minister as a moderator?” Ignatius definitively stopped being Jewish towards the end of the day and his entry was put under “semi protection,” which means that only registered Wikipedia users could make changes to it. Still, the old version of the entry has already circulated online though various user groups and other articles.
The point of this story? Of course, on a basic level, it serves as warning about the growing use by reporters of Wikipedia as a primary source of information. But it also adds to the debate over how new media and the online world are becoming another arena for conflict and are encouraging the growth of what’s being called “citizen propaganda,” something I wrote about in a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor. Fanning the flames of conflict – and sadly, in this case, turning Ignatius into a Jew is doing just that – is now as easy as making a quick Wikipedia revision.