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May 29, 2009

Wikipedia bans Church of Scientology

Posted: 03:47 PM ET

The collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia has banned the Church of Scientology from editing the site. The Register reports Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, or ArbCom, voted 10 to 0 in favor of the ban, which takes effect immediately.

Wikipedia's innovative free-encyclopedia draws upon the knowledge of millions of users to create and edit articles on every conceivable topic. Edits appear immediately and do not undergo any formal peer-review process.

Wikipedia officially prohibits use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas – such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute – but the open format makes enforcing such policies difficult.

According to Wikipedia administrators speaking to The Register:

Multiple editors have been "openly editing [Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities."

However, Karin Pouw, with the Church of Scientology's public affairs office, told me she is unaware of any coordinated effort to alter Wikipedia. Instead, she described the edits as individual attempts to correct inaccurate information by impassioned Scientologists and interpreted the ban as a typical Wikipedia response to arguments over content. She noted that even the U.S. Department of Justice received a temporary ban after someone  erased references to a controversial scandal from inside the government agency.

One Wikipedia contributor I spoke with that was involved in the Scientology arbitration agreed that some of the edits coming from the church were justifiable, but insisted the ban was necessary after the church refused to follow Wikipedia's policies:

"The edits coming out of Church of Scientology servers were of the sort that made their organization look better.  Up to a point that's justifiable, when it comes to correcting inaccuracies or removing poorly sourced negative information. There were times when they went beyond that and deleted well sourced information that was unflattering, and there were times when they insulted other editors in a manner that would reflect poorly upon any religion."

Some see Wikipedia's decision as a setback to the Utopian goal of Web 2.0 in which every user is allowed to freely contribute.

How do you feel about the ban? Should Wikipedia actively suppress self-serving, misleading or inaccurate information? Or does every voice deserve to be heard?

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Filed under: Internet • online news • Religion

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