In the NBC series “The Office,” the boss Michael Scott turned to Wikipedia for tips on fending off an employee’s request for a pay raise. Viewers quickly flocked to the online encyclopedia and added their take to its entry on negotiations.
Administrators at Wikipedia had to limit editing of the entry, most recently late Tuesday, placing it in “semi-protection” mode. That meant users couldn’t make changes anonymously or from accounts fewer than four days old — to discourage those drawn to the site specifically because of the broadcast.
The site imposed similar restrictions on the entry twice before, only to see vandalism continue after they were lifted.
Wikipedia is a collaborative reference site where anyone can add, change or even delete entries, regardless of expertise. The thinking is that the collective wisdom results in a better product overall, and members of the community can watch for any vandalism and reverse it.
In the case of the “negotiation” entry, viewers quickly added phony tips in response to clueless advice from Scott, played by Steve Carell, in last week’s episode.
One edit simply replaced the entry with a statement praising the television program. That was followed by the insertion of Scott’s tips for getting the upper hand, including “suddenly changing the location” and “refusing to talk first.”
Users made more than 100 changes, including those to reverse the vandalism, before the site imposed the latest restrictions on revisions.
Wikipedia does face vandalism from time to time as a result of high-profile mentions.
Fans of Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report” flocked to Wikipedia to alter articles on elephants after he said on the program, “all we need to do is convince a majority of people that some factoid is true — for instance, that Africa has more elephants today than it did 10 years ago.”
Changes aren’t always noticed and fixed immediately.
In late 2005, prominent journalist John Seigenthaler, the former publisher of the Tennessean newspaper and founding editorial director of USA Today, revealed that a Wikipedia entry that ran for four months had incorrectly named him as a longtime suspect in the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.