Professor’s Wikipedia biography page affected by libelous edits
Last Friday, a webpage showing a biography for Prof. Mary Baine Campbell (ENG) on the popular encyclopedia website Wikipedia was edited by one of the website’s users. It added to the page a slew of remarks about Campbell’s opinion on the activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as well as some libelous claims.
Campbell was one of many professors to speak out against the University’s decision to offer Hirsi Ali, the activist and author, an honorary degree at last year’s commencement ceremony.
The webpage was edited on Friday, Sept. 12, at 2:58 p.m., the “view history” function on Wikipedia’s website reveals. Before the Sept. 12 editing, the webpage had described Campbell’s academic background and research as a Brandeis professor.
The section added during the edit accused Campbell of being “extremely intolerant of any views besides her own,” and described her stance as “pathetic.” The edit continued on to say that Campbell described Hirsi Ali—who survived genital mutilation as a child in Somalia—as “an ignorant, ultra-right-wing extremist, abusively, shockingly vocal in her hatred for Muslim culture and Muslims, a purveyor of the dangerous and imaginary concept, born of European distaste for the influx of immigrants from its former colonies.”
The text added during the edit described genital mutilation as an action “performed to keep women from having a chance at being unfaithful because by removing the clitoris and labia, sexual pleasure is greatly diminished if not removed altogether.”
This new section concluded by making several claims about Campbell’s stance on the issue: “Many are of the stance that these so called ‘tolerant liberal scholars’ should be sent to these extreme Muslim nations and have their own lifestyles or beliefs judged,” it states. It continued on to make slurs in regard to Campbell’s sexual orientation, and described how “homosexuality” is punished in such nations.
According to Wikipedia’s policies, which are stated on Wikipedia itself, the biographical webpages must “adhere to the biographies of living persons policy, even if it is not a biography, because it contains material about living persons.” The website also says, “Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately from the article and its talk page, especially if potentially libelous (sic).”
Wikipedia users are encouraged to change defamatory or libelous information prior to contacting Wikipedia, although Wikipedia instructs its users to contact the organization only “[i]f such material is repeatedly inserted.”
The Wikipedia page that describes the organization’s policies, however, also states that “[e]dits are not the responsibility of the Wikimedia Foundation (the organisation that hosts the site) nor of its staff and edits will not generally be made in response to an email request.” Wikipedia did not respond to a request for comment on its exact practices by press time.
The IP address used by the Wikipedia user who edited the biographical webpage on Campbell is posted in the webpage’s history on Wikipedia—but the address has proven inconclusive in connecting an individual to the edits. The IP address used, 152.132.66, linked back to the Department of Veterans Affairs in St. Louis as of press time.
Campbell did not respond to a request for comment by press time.