Defending Wikipedia (and the NYT)--updated!



Richard Perez-Pena reports today that his employer, the New York Times, sought and received the cooperation of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales as it worked to conceal reporter David Rohde's November 2008 kidnapping. [UPDATE: I originally wrote that the New York Times had "successfully pressured" Wales to delete reports of Rohde's kidnapping, but Wales objected that the term "pressured" was misleading. I've changed the text accordingly; his full objection and my response can be found in the comments.] The Times argued that publicizing Rohde's abduction would increase his value to his Afghan captors and lessen his chances of survival.

Is this problematic? In one sense, yes: if Wikipedia's your first stop for information, the Rohde case might make you less inclined to trust the site down the road. And if you're one of Wikipedia's stalwart contributors, you might be less inclined to contribute your energies.

That said, I find it very hard to criticize either the Times Co. or Wikipedia's conduct here. Rohde's situation was a matter of life and death. The Times simply had do everything in its power to increase his chances of survival. (Fortunately, Rohde escaped.)

Also, while Wikipedia did constrain the freedom of some of its users, it didn't violate their freedom of speech. The individuals who wanted to get word of Rohde's kidnapping out could have contacted countless news outlets, for example; or nabbed a relevant blogspot account to publicize Rohde's situation and Wikipedia's response; or simply stood on the streetcorner handing out leaflets that did the same.

Fire away, Wiki-purists! (Also, here's a more skeptical take on Wikipedia's conduct.)

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