Public Editor

Celebrity birthdays in the age of Wikipedia

The longer Wikipedia is with us, the stupider an idea I think it is. Yes, yes, I know it’s usually right. That’s especially true about non-controversial scientific topics, such as the names of species and the laws of physics. But talk to actual experts in a field where there’s controversy, such as genetic modification of food crops or petroleum engineering for their take on whether the Wikipedia account of those controversies are accurate. Then talk to activists on the other side of the debate. The two sides won’t likely find much to agree on.

The specter of self-interest in the site’s entries is obvious. And also obvious is that celebrities can edit their own pages.

Without giving specifics, I’ll just point out that the Wikipedia page for a certain celebrity whose birthday was this week has a year of birth that makes this person younger than the listing that ran in The Star’s FYI section. A fan of this celeb contacted me about the disagreement in his or her age.

Those birthdays come from The Associated Press. They checked with the person who compiles the list from public documents. She confirms that the date in the paper is what agrees with the birth records. A check of the Nexis news database shows me that information matches what has been written about the performer throughout his or her career. It’s only been in the past few years that the younger date has been cited in news reports.

I’m not saying this person has altered his or her own Wikipedia page to shave a year off. But this is a good example of the kind of thing anyone can do, realizing a Wikipedia entry is always among the top search results.

That’s why I’m convinced people have become constitutionally suspicious of anything they read online, especially when it isn’t signed by an author.

It also reminds me of

one of my favorite recent commercials.