Thursday, August 11, 2005

Wikipedia Mischief

It is the perfect summer “silly season” story and a good example of why not to believe everything you read on the Internet, or in the press for that matter.

Yesterday’s El Faro newspaper carried an article describing how the Spanish version of Wikipedia, the popular free online encyclopedia, contained a scathing account of the Rock’s economy under its section on Gibraltar.

The entry claims that alongside tourism, Gibraltar’s economy is based on smuggling of alcoholic drinks and tobacco into Spain and on illegal trafficking of drugs, especially hashish, from Morocco and cocaine from southeast Asia” - and sub-Saharan immigrants.

It adds that Gibraltar is a tax haven where money laundering is common.

What El Faro did not explain, however, was that the same entry on the English version of Wikipedia portrays an entirely different, and somewhat more accurate, assessment of Gibraltar.

“Repeated stories in the media that Gibraltar banks are used for tax evasion and money laundering have been found baseless by an inquiry by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, as Gibraltar complies with all international and EU requirements to prevent such activity,” it states.

"The Spanish Government has also accused Gibraltarian motorboats of helping in tobacco smuggling.

However, there is a law against fast launches making it illegal to own them locally, or even to bring them into Gibraltar waters.”

So how did two vastly different descriptions of the Rock make it into Wikipedia?

The answer lies in the nature of the website itself. Wikipedia describes itself as “a free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by people from around the world.”

“The site is a wiki, which means that anyone can edit articles, simply by clicking on the ‘edit this page’ link,” the site states.

In other words, the Spanish entry was clearly written by someone with a grievance against the Rock, whereas the opposite was obviously the case in the English version.

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