Thursday, April 2, 2009

Political Pinocchios on Wikipedia

I had to laugh watching the news this evening: a government minister, Richard Worth is currently involved in a conflict-of-interest scandal, (which is not really all that uncommon for  a politician). The thing that made me laugh was that he was exposed as having edited his own entry on Wikipedia so that it noted not a 'potential conflict of interest' but a 'perception' of one! In doing so he earned a telling off by the websites editors. 

On the same page is a story about a Labour MP who fell victim to an April Fool's prank when someone set up a Twitter account in his name and started 'tweeting' from the House that he was upset about not being able to ask more questions. He accused a 'right-wing blogger' of pulling the prank.

It made me wonder how many other politicians have been caught out by web 2.0. Worth is certainly not the first politician to realise that web 2.0 has a huge amount of power to control discourse, and also not to realise that there are so many observers in cyberspace that this kind of malarky is unlikely to go unnoticed. You just can't get away with editing out all the embarrassing stuff from your Wikipedia entry!

This site has tips for budding politicians on how to avoid embarrassing themselves on Facebook, and this article (referring to Twitter) claims that, "Finally the Web has generated a product that is shallow and narcissistic enough for (politicians') needs."

Anyway, the education connection: this story (and the others like it) show us how important it is to teach our learners to be critical consumers of information on the Internet. How many of our learners know that anyone can edit Wikipedia, and the implications for the accuracy of the information found there (which some studies have shown to be incredibly high)? Perhaps more importantly, how many of them know that if you do make changes, the changes are recorded for all to see?

How do our learners know that the person whose tweets they are reading really is that person? I believe that the learners who have learned in an environment where these tools are used all the time (and used appropriately) are going to be so much more aware of how they can be misused as well. Those who know their way around a wiki will read other wikis more critically and know to check the history and discussions.

Those politicians running for office when our students are old enough to vote: Beware! If we as teachers do our job properly, you won't get much past them!

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