• Moderator
    Dr. Ronen Bergman
    Security Analyst “Yedioth Aharonoth”
  • Panelist
    Mr. Jimmy Wales
    Founder of Wikipedia

The Democratization of Knowledge

One of Israel’s top investigative reporters, Dr. Ronen Bergman,was privilegedto sit down with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and discuss the impact of freely sharing knowledge around the world.

Wales began by addressing the meaning of “community” in the age of Wikipedia. “When people talk about the internet,” he said,“they often overuse the word community. but they really just refer to the general public. When I use the word community, I mean people who know each other, who talk every day, who make plans for the future and so forth.”

Bergman quizzed Wales on how decisions are made on Wikipedia. “We try to refrain from making specific judgments ourselves,” Wales replied, “and instead defer to what appears in reliable sources. It’s not for Wikipedia to make a judgment but to reflect what the world is saying, as long as you have a source.”

Wales asserted that he does not personally make the calls in cases of dispute. “There is a hierarchy (in Wikipedia). There are different levels of administrators elected by the community. There’s the arbitration committee. I have a special status: I’m like the Queen of England–I don’t actually do anything, I wave at parades.”

When asked if Wikipedia functions like a newspaper, Wales dismissed the comparison. “We should reject this model of a newspaper, which can be quite top-down and authoritarian. We’re more like a democracy in the way we reach decisions, which can change if people change their minds and how you can always put forth new discussions and new ideas. As a philosophy, I think it works quite well.”

Bergman then raised the subject of other sites that have claimed the “Wiki” concept. “The word Wiki was attached to other websites,” said Bergman “and I think that there are many people who are confused between you and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and think you are some sort of an anarchist.”

Wales was careful to distance himself from such uses.“Our community would delete that sort of thing (government secrets) immediately”, he insisted. “This would happen with every post without a source. We have a very strict rule – no original research.”

Bergman mentioned a case in which information, which could be considered sensitive military data, was published on Wikipedia in Hebrew. “You are endangering the national secrets of Israel,” he said.  Wales disagreed. “We got it from somewhere. If the military has secrets and they aren’t doing a good job of keeping those secrets, that’s a serious problem. Once something is published somewhere, from our perspective, it’s public information.”

The conversation then moved to the subject of education. “Today, kids don’t need teachers”, Bergman claimed. “They can look at Wikipedia which is much faster and the knowledge is vaster. It changed the whole dialogue and mindset between teachers and pupils.”

“It changed in a healthy way,” Wales said. “We still need teachers who guide us through our learning and so forth. We need and have the ability now, more than ever before, for creative exploration. Teachers will teach us how to use Wikipedia, and help us learn how to learn. That’s incredibly important.”

Bergman then asked how Wales would answer critics who say that we should not necessarily put blind trust in Wikipedia. Wales was candid in his reply: “I absolutely agree.” He used journalists as an example. “The right way for journalists to use Wikipedia is that they understand what questions to ask. The wrong way is for them to use (the site) to get the facts for their article.”