Understanding Freedom of Speech

Wired has run an article about the proliferation of white supremacist versions of Wikipedia running under various aliases. The article is filled with brief quotes from these Nazis, mostly espousing their frustration with the high quality results you get from a volunteer encyclopedia. After finding no success attempting to change Wikipedia's adherence to reality, they found a new solution, create their own wikis.

He made a copy of the entire site and invited his followers to start rewriting its pages. “Wikipedia was the easiest and the most important of the social justice-converged social media giants to replace,” Day told me.

This is not coincidence, it is inherent to the concept and success of Wikipedia that it's so easy to access the data and modify to one's own purpose.

Alex Sobel Fitts describes Wikipedia's success:

It’s not much of a stretch to call Wikipedia a miracle. Sure, in the almost two decades the site has owned information on the internet, it’s bred its share of scandals—factual mistakes, conflicts of interest, racism, misogyny, and, of course, the trolls. Yet with limited oversight and minimal funding, it thrives. “We have this saying,” Juliet Barbara, communications director at the Wikimedia foundation, tells me. "'It’s a good thing it works in practice because it would never work in theory."'

It's a cute line, but this is exactly the theory behind freedom of speech. The concept has always been that if you let people freely express themselves in a non-violent way the end results of all the ensuing dialogue will do the best possible job of avoiding bias and approximating objective truth. Philosophers didn't just pull this concept out of their ass, they observed it over thousands of years. While individual Wikipedia pages may be temporarily vandalized or improperly sourced, in aggregate Wikipedia is consistently found to be more accurate than any competing encyclopedia.

Until recently, however, widely consumed media sources largely agreed on a single consensus reality. But with Alexa regularly placing Breitbart in the top 100 sites in the US (where it is currently 60th, beating out both Fox News and the Huffington Post), that is no longer the case. We can’t agree on the sources that make a fact a fact.

Yellow journalism is not new. It's so old that the term I'm using for it went out of style over 100 years ago. It goes in phases; and the way you combat it is with high quality, transparent journalism. Statements like the above are ridiculous; there is no debate on facts, as there cannot be. If there is a debate, then it is an opinion. When Kyrie Irving stated he thought the world was flat, it wasn't a debate, it was a false statement. Foolish attempts to act like widely held opinions are facts is the nonsense that awful movements like these grow out of.

While a certain portion of people will flock to a bastardized version of Wikipedia, it will immediately become obvious to any visitor that it is just that. As long as there are pure alternatives like Wikipedia, these sites will always remain on the fringe, and are more useful as canneries for an impending police state than in spreading their terrible propaganda. Wikipedia is living proof that freedom of expression works and acting like its some major surprise is only harming us in everyday life.