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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


The Benoit Tragedy and Wikipedia Controversy

Some readers will be aware of the recent death of United States pro wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy and their son Daniel. Police concluded that the deaths were a murder-suicide: Benoit killed his wife and child and then himself. However, this tragedy has been accompanied by an eerie twist: the fact that the death of Benoit’s wife was added to Benoit’s Wikipedia page 14 ½ hours prior to the bodies being discovered by local authorities. The Wikipedia angle was reported about Thursday-Friday of last week but rather than blogging and speculating about how this actually happened, I wanted to wait to see, well, what actually happened.

An anonymous individual posted on Benoit’s Wikipedia page that he was replaced by another wrestler, Johnny Nitro, for a championship wrestling event as Benoit was unable to attend the event “due to personal issues, stemming from the death of his wife Nancy.” A Wikipedia moderator took the post down an hour later on the basis that the statement needed a reliable source. A second anonymous individual then added to the site that “several pro wrestling websites” attributed Benoit’s failure to attend the event to Nancy’s death. This second post was made by an individual in Australia. The second post was then removed by Wikipedia editors on the basis that “several pro wrestling websites” was not reliable. When it was revealed that Benoit, his wife and son had died, Wikipedia editors put the puzzle together and contacted authorities. (see the Sydney Morning Herald report here).

After revealing that they were responsible for the first post, the anonymous individual said that they had made the changes to Benoit’s Wikipedia page on the basis of a number of rumours floating around the Internet. Further, they stated that

"I posted the comment we are all talking about and I am here to explain that it
was A HUGE COINCIDENCE and nothing more…
I was beyond wrong for posting wrongful information, and I am sorry to everyone for this ... I just posted something that was at that time a piece of wrong unsourced information that is typical on wikipedia, as it is done all the time.” (Jano Gibson, “Benoit Mystery’s Wiki Twist: I Did It”, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 June 2007)

So does saying that “I just posted something that was at that time a piece of wrong unsourced information that is typical on Wikipedia, as it is done all the time” make it all right then? No, for a number of reasons. First, while editing Wikipedia has become all the rage, what is the rush in posting the death of an individual before it’s actually been confirmed? Even if this was based on ‘rumours’ – which in this case ended up being somewhat true – I’m not sure of the harm in waiting for a death to be confirmed by more reliable sources before adding it the Wikipedia page. After the Sinbad incident, chances are that Jimmy Wales wouldn’t mind Wikipedia not being updated for a few hours in order to confirm that an individual in question is actually deceased. Second, if the individual is not a prankster and does in fact care about the information on Wikipedia, then surely they should not base their posts on unsubstantiated rumours and seek to dispel the misconception that Wikipedia is the place you go to post inaccurate information.

It's a shame that in such tragic circumstances this is the story that is filling the headlines.

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