Martial Law History Is Being Changed On Wikipedia

Martial Law History Is Being Changed On Wikipedia

Wikipedia, for many of us, is an easy resource for information about a variety of subjects. It’s not a viable enough source to quote on, but it does link to quality research. But what happens if that information is tampered with?

A few days ago, some Facebook users were alarmed at changes happening to the “Martial Law in the Philippines” Wikipedia page.

There have been numerous revisions done to this page alone, and reports say that other Marcos-related Wikipedia pages have also been edited.

What makes Wikipedia so special is that it runs on a volunteer-based system. It cannot stop itself from getting edited; reporting a particular page freezes it, which stops anyone from editing anything in the page. Many Wikipedia pages are contested every day, and to keep the facts straight, there’s a dedicated team of volunteers that monitor pages from having erroneous statements. We talk to the president of Wikimedia Philippines and long-time Wikipedia volunteer, Josh Lim, about what’s going on.

Checking the edit history of the page, is there anything worth pointing out? Are they editing specific lines or passages in particular? Are Charmagne’s observations correct?
I haven’t taken the time to analyze the page yet, but from what I’m hearing it’s likely there are significant changes taking place. The Marcoses are a controversial topic on Wikipedia, prone to edits by people who want to advance an agenda. In an environment where we have an openly pro-Marcos government and a lot of misinformation going around, it’s possible that pro-Marcos editors are emboldened to edit Wikipedia to fit their point of view. Good thing though that people are paying attention and are working to stop them.

So, what’s happening then in Wikipedian terms? An edit war? Is this common?
Edit wars are common, and yes, this is what’s happening. On topics relating to the Philippines, they’re fairly uncommon, and usually take place only within the community itself. But let’s say there’s a wave of pro-Marcos edits coming in, either from registered accounts or anonymous IPs. This is something that I haven’t seen yet, and Wikipedia editors are likewise afraid of the damage they can do.

People rag on Wikipedia for not being a reputable resource. Why is it an important project?
It is great as an initial resource, which is our semi-official position. But while people may rail on about Wikipedia being unreliable and our defenders claiming otherwise, you can’t deny that for a very large number of people, they will rely on Wikipedia as much as they would the evening news or a major newspaper or magazine. If what is in Wikipedia is false and misleading, and people who run to Wikipedia as a first resort are in turn misled, then that’s on our conscience as a community. We have a responsibly to make sure that people are well-informed of the things going on around them, regardless of what people think about what we do or the project itself.

[pull_quote]”While people may rail on about Wikipedia being unreliable and our defenders claiming otherwise, you can’t deny that for a very large number of people, they will rely on Wikipedia as much as they would the evening news or a major newspaper or magazine.”[/pull_quote]

Would you say that this slew of edits is an attempt at historical revisionism?
Well, I can’t judge their motive, and I wouldn’t know what they are. They will probably say that they’re just editing Wikipedia to be more accurate and to also include the good Marcos has done. But I think we need to carefully parse their edits. The good thing about Wikipedia is that we need to back everything up with sources and facts. If the edits being made are reliant on unreliable sources (e.g. blog posts, since blogs are frowned upon in general) or are backed up by nothing but goes against the historical record, then I think we know what that is.

How can people volunteer to be a Wikipedia editor?
It’s easy. They can make an account on Wikipedia and start editing. We have a message board for Filipino editors there, and there are also Wikipedias in Philippine languages. There’s a Facebook group coordinating a response to all of this, and we also have a general group for Wikipedians in the Philippines and those who want to follow Wikipedia.

It’s easy to dismiss these attempts as trivial when everything that’s going on is all virtual, but in a society with a growing number of youth attuned to a life lived online, such spaces in the Internet do need some policing.

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