Ratbag web site sparks Wikipedia brouhaha.
14 Jul 2008 12:52 GMT
Wikipedia is open to manipulation by anyone who knows the ropes and has an axe to grind. The Prem Rawat article bouhaha demonstrates that Wikipedia can degenerate into "a form of pernicious anarchy."
Wikipedia's amateur, mostly anonymous editors often produce excellent, well researched articles. But most readers are unaware of serious flaws in the Wikipedia system that leave the site open to manipulation by anyone who knows the ropes and has an axe to grind. As one critic put it, "The Wikipedia is not an experiment in online democracy, but a form of pernicious anarchy" that defames living people and distorts the truth (Vaknin, July 2006). The on-line 'encyclopedia' has so far escaped litigation because it is a service provider, not a publisher, and is protected from liability for libel under section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act.
In 2007, after 4 years of continuous bickering and thousands of edits, Wikipedia editors finally produced an article on Prem Rawat that contained neither criticism nor praise, allowing readers to form their own opinions. Prem Rawat is a peace advocate and philanthropist whose talks are televised worldwide. Unhappy at this turn of events, a bitter opponent of Rawat, John Brauns, spoon-fed anti-Wikipedia writer Cade Metz a large dose of anti-Rawat propaganda and a bogus log of claims targeting Wikipedia administrator, Jossi Fresco. Metz fell for it, and in Feb, 2008 produced a virulent 6 page article including an interview with Brauns at http://www.theregister.co.uk. The Register has a reputation for salacious articles such as their "Oz parliament enjoys multiple orgasms" and "Ohio man cuffed for shagging picnic table." In December 2007, Brauns attempted unsuccessfully to blackmail Jossi Fresco on-line at Wikipedia. For some unknown reason Brauns was not barred from the site.
In a knee-jerk reaction to the Cade Metz article, a phalanx of cynical editors arrived at the Prem Rawat discussion pages, overwhelming regular editors, one of whom was 'blocked' for opposing the anti-Rawat smear campaign that ensued. Wikipedia's unofficial Culture of Criticism prevailed. The rewritten Prem Rawat article contained more 'criticism' than the article on Adolf Hitler. As two editors noted, it was not even genuine criticism but "a random collection of bad-mouthing," and "more like spiteful insults than criticism." "Most scholarly sources wrote positively or neutrally about Prem Rawat and his western movement. The lurid stuff is mostly from religiously connected authors writing (in the 1970s) for the conviction of their congregations, or from journalists intending to amuse." Cynical editors continued to scour the bottom of the barrel for negative commentary, while ignoring neutral or positive material and numerous accolades that Prem Rawat has received from civic, government and academic authorities.
Jossi Fresco was taken before a Wikipedia Arbcom committee over alleged improper editing. "After 88kb of handwringing" he was cleared of any wrongdoing and commended for his voluntary restraint. The committee confirmed that "Wikipedia editors who deal with these (biographical) articles have a responsibility to consider the legal and ethical implications of their actions when doing so. Biographical material must be written with the greatest care and attention to verifiability, neutrality and avoiding original research, particularly if it is contentious."
Some of the sources used in violation of Wikipedia's policies included Sophia Collier's autobiographical description of her drug addled trip across India at the age of 16, and magician/author James Randi, whose hyperbolic work includes a mocking and inaccurate description of the meditation techniques taught by Rawat. Media references used in violation of policy include insulting, titillating slurs regarding Rawat's appearance and a reference to an article, Blinded by the Light, by journalist John Macgregor, who now refutes his previous work and has apologized for writing it. A possibly libellous comparison with the psychotic cult leader Jim Jones also appeared. Another rewrite is currently in progress, however, the article and reference section may still include some or all of the above in addition to negatively loaded expressions that have no place in a fair article.
Prem Rawat (a.k.a. Maharaji) emigrated to the United States from India at the age of 13 in 1971. Since then he has maintained a demanding schedule of international speaking engagements. His multi-award winning program, Words of Peace, is broadcast worldwide and translated into more than 20 languages. He teaches, free of charge, practical methods to attain inner peace and fulfillment. He became financially independent in the early 1970s after some wealthy supporters gave him company shares as gifts of appreciation. He grants royalty-free use of video material to supporting organizations and does not charge appearance fees. His early Western followers set up ashrams (shelters) and many adopted Indian cultural practices. The organization at that time was regarded by researchers as a new religious movement. Criticism of Rawat almost invariably focuses on that early period.
After the closure of the ashrams in the early 1980s a new organization, Elan Vital. was established. At around the same time, Rawat abandoned the trappings of Indian culture. In 2001 he established The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF) to help further his message and to provide humanitarian assistance (food, medical care and disaster relief) to people who are often overlooked by larger relief agencies. He conceived the idea during a conversation with active philanthropist, Linda Pascotto. Detailed information is available in a biography "Peace is Possible" by Andrea Cagan available at Amazon.
A video and on-line comments
Wikipedia Arbcom committe findings
Opposition to Prem Rawat's message