Injustice in Perugia
a website detailing the wrongful conviction of Amanda Knox & Raffaele Sollecito
The Wikipedia Factor
The Wikipedia Factor
By Bruce Fischer

I have to say that I had never given much thought about Wikipedia before I became involved with the Amanda Knox case. I would visit occasionally when searching for trivial information on Google, (as Wikipedia is usually at the top of most searches) and usually found Wikipedia useful when looking for information such as Betty White's age or wondering what actor played the principal in Ferris Bueller. I never wondered about the accuracy of the information on Wikipedia because, for what I was looking for, it was not really that important if it was wrong. I took an entirely different view of Wikipedia when I came to realize that many people were looking to the website for information regarding the Amanda Knox case.

Wikipedia is branded as an online free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit and contribute to. This is true to an extent. Safeties are put into place by Wikipedia to insure that articles are not vandalized. These safeties can also prevent articles from being properly edited. Voluntary moderators are given permissions over time. When working together with other moderators, they can essentially take control of an article page blocking those who disagree with their point of view.
How do you gain permissions on Wikipedia? In order to work your way up the ladder on Wikipedia you need to be active on the site editing multiple pages in a variety of topics. This essentially means that editing articles on crochet, model airplanes, beanie babies, and many other wonderful hobbies will miraculously turn you into a credible Wikipedia editor giving you Wikipedia power. This structure is fine for hobbies and trivia; it fails miserably when it comes to articles of a serious nature such as the Amanda Knox case.

Why do I care about Wikipedia? I care because Wikipedia constantly finds itself at the top of Google searches, leading many to believe that it is accurate. I honestly do not know if this is based solely on popularity or if Wikipedia has an agreement with Google. No matter what led to their search engine success, one thing is clear; many people get their information from Wikipedia. This means that a Google search for “Amanda Knox” will put Wikipedia's article front and center on the top of the page, making Wikipedia the first impression left on many who seek information about this case.
When I first read the Wikipedia article on this case in early 2010, I was very disappointed in what I found. The article misrepresented evidence, gave false information of the accused, misrepresented the prosecutor, omitted incriminating information about Meredith’s killer Rudy Guede, provided misleading information about the support that Amanda received, and contained various other fabricated claims.

When I began my research I discovered that the problem with Wikipedia was twofold. First, Wikipedia did not allow a page dedicated to Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. Second, the page dedicated to Meredith Kercher was loaded with incorrect information sourced mainly from British tabloids and was being guarded by a small group of stubborn editors that had earned their Wiki powers. Further research showed that this small group not only controlled the article but had deleted the entire original article and replaced it with an entirely new version of their own.

The only Wikipedia page allowed on this topic at the time was titled “Murder of Meredith Kercher.” Of course, I have no objection to a page dedicated to Meredith Kercher. Meredith should forever remain the focus of the initial crime; but the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito has been extremely controversial with many feeling early on that Amanda and Raffaele were wrongfully accused. Wikipedia does not provide pages for every murder that occurs on earth, as that would be an impossible task. Wikipedia’s policies allow “notable” murders to be discussed. It is important to look at why Meredith’s murder was considered notable.

Meredith’s murder became worldwide news due to the lurid details that were reported early on. These details, that proved irresistible for the media, came from descriptions of those accused of the crime. If Rudy Guede had been arrested early on as he should have been, there would have been, the crime would have not been discussed on a grand scale. It would have been just one of the many other unfortunate murders that occurred in the world. A woman was murdered during a burglary. This crime was gruesome but not complicated. The lurid details were all a fantasy resulting in the wrongful conviction of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia only allowed minimal discussion of the obvious controversy, completely ignoring the fact that Amanda and Raffaele were the notable story. Any attempts to edit the Meredith Kercher article to include these details was forbidden and considered "off topic.” Keep in mind this is the only page made available on Wikipedia to discuss the entire case. Even though this case has been called “the trial of the century” and hundreds of articles have been written discussing the controversy, Wikipedia refused to acknowledge it. How can Wikipedia be called an encyclopedia when they pick and choose what events in history they will permit discussion of?

Why does Wikipedia allow censorship of information? Further research showed me that this was happening for a couple of reasons. First, the editors controlling the page thought Amanda and Raffaele were guilty. Second, Wikipedia’s source guidelines allowed those biased editors to maintain control. Wikipedia relies on news outlets as their main source of information for articles of this nature. If the news gets it wrong then so does Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is not properly designed to handle articles like the Meredith Kercher article. What makes Wikipedia so dangerous is the fact that it's most often correct, leading people to believe that it is a credible source of information for all topics. Being correct a majority of the time is fine if you are reading about the Batmobile but completely unacceptable when reading about an ongoing murder trial. When it comes to the Meredith Kercher article, Wikipedia was not acting as an encyclopedia. It has been more like a controlled media guide.

Many people like myself signed up to Wikipedia to try and improve the article. My contribution was very small but I observed the Meredith Kercher article closely as new users attempted to join the discussion. Unfortunately it did not go smoothly, as all new users were instantly labeled as “newbies” or “single purpose accounts,” and not looked at fondly by those in control. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that users with names like SuperMarioMan were controlling the information being provided. The truth was that most of the editors that were holding the Meredith Kercher article hostage spent most of their time editing comic book pages and various science fiction topics (as could be seen by looking at their edit histories). Somehow Wikipedia felt that this group was best suited to edit articles about serious murder cases.

Wikipedia is not fond of experts or expert opinion. In fact they tend to frown on experts that wish to participate. If you invented the toaster, Wikipedia does not want you writing the article on the toaster, they would prefer that a group of college students Google everything they can find about the toaster and create the article with no input from you.
Wikipedia policies made it very difficult to gain any ground on correcting the inaccuracies of the Meredith Kercher page. News articles were the only sources we were able to work with, and anyone that followed the case from the beginning knows that the media did a horrible disservice to the public with their inaccurate coverage.

If finding accurate sources was not challenging enough, new users were also finding themselves under constant attack from veteran Wikipedia users. At one point in one drastic sweep, many new users were banned from Wikipedia being accused of “meatpuppetry.” This term refers to contributions made by new Wikipedia members that are suspected of having been recruited by an existing member to support a certain position. Others were accused of being “sockpuppets.” This term refers to a banned user coming back using a fake name. I was accused of being a sockpuppet for no reason whatsoever. I was investigated by a small group of Wiki veterans that simply wanted to irritate me and cause me to disappear. I did not mind because I knew I was not a sockpuppet, in fact I signed up using my real name.

The lame attempt to have me removed from Wikipedia failed but I still remain on a hit list created to keep track of single purpose accounts. Of course, Pablo, the person that created the list, objected to me calling it a hit list. He said we were not being targeted. I still find his logic baffling. What else could a list of that nature possibly be used for?

One victim of the massive meatpuppet sweep was Jim Lovering (Charlie Wilkes). Jim had made just one edit when he was swept into the group and banned. Jim has vast knowledge of this case and also has access to the case files. He would have been more than happy to provide court documents, photographs, and video to help improve the article. Many other quality editors were eliminated in the same fashion assuring that the article remained biased and inaccurate.
Correcting the problems with the Wikipedia article seemed hopeless but one man would not give up the fight long after many of us had considered it a lost battle. That man is Joseph Bishop. In March 2011, Joseph wrote an open letter to Wikipedia Founder Jimbo Wales asking that he and others in positions of influence at Wikipedia take a careful look at Wikipedia’s coverage of the Meredith Kercher murder.

Petition to Wikipedia Founder Jimbo Wales was created by and written by Joseph W Bishop

Dear Mr. Wales:
We are a group of citizens concerned with the fairness of the recent trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. We ask that you and others in positions of influence at Wikipedia take a careful look at Wikipedia’s coverage of the subject. The Murder of Meredith Kercher article in its present form is not written from a neutral point of view and bears little resemblance to what reliable sources have said about the case.

The trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito has emerged as one of the most controversial and heavily criticized judicial proceedings in modern European history. None of this is properly reflected in the Wikipedia article which for the most part relies on obsolete and inaccurate British tabloid reports for its information. The omission from the article of the criticism of the numerous important experts who have stated in no uncertain terms that Knox and Sollecito did not receive a fair trial calls into question the article’s neutrality. Other flaws in the article include false statements about luminol evidence, the de-emphasis of Rudy Guede and Giuliano Mignini’s criminal acts prior to the crime, and the characterization of the support for Ms. Knox as a PR campaign. Until recently, the article contained a fabricated claim that the Rudy Guede’s apartment had been purchased for him by a wealthy Perugian family.

The article goes on to seriously misrepresent the statements made by Knox and Sollecito during interrogation. In fact both had repeatedly given the true version of events that they were at Sollecito’s apartment together and only toward the end after hours of intense pressure did Ms. Knox make any statements about Patrick Lumumba which were later shown to be false.

The reliable sources who have criticized the trial include John Q. Kelly, Judy Bachrach, Douglas Preston, Paul Ciolino, Timothy Egan, Peter Van Sant, Steve Moore, Bob Graham, Michael Scadron, Judge Michael Heavey, George Fletcher, Dr. David Anderson, and US Senator Maria Cantwell. These people have spoken in important media such as CNN, CBS, ABC, The Independent, and the New York Times and they have all used unprecedented language to condemn the trial. On Larry King Live two separate commentators described the tribunal as a “public lynching” and a “kangaroo court.” New York Times columnist Timothy Egan compared it to the Salem Witch Trials. In a CBS News segment, long time correspondent Peter Van Sant stated, “We have concluded that Amanda Knox is being railroaded.”

The current, mostly European, Wikipedia moderators who have taken ownership of the article are determined to see that this criticism is not presented to the readers. In addition, the article's list of books and television documentaries about the case deliberately omits certain works that conflict with the agenda of the article's moderators.

Wikipedia has a reasonably well conceived set of guidelines regarding biographies of living persons (which include Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito) but they have not been properly applied to this article. Clear and compelling documentation of irregularities in the article and in the conduct of the article’s moderators have been presented to Wikipedia without a proper response.

Wikipedia content is supposed to be based on what reliable sources have said about the subject, yet the current article has now been explicitly condemned by the authors of two different books about the case. As an example, Dr. Mark Waterbury, author of Monster of Perugia, writes, “the Wikipedia entry for the Meredith Kercher case has been corrupted by partisan activity, and as of this writing, it is deliberately biased and inaccurate.”

While mainstream media coverage has been increasingly favorable to Ms. Knox, it has been offset to some degree by a formidable online campaign of what can only be described as “hate speech” by those who see her as guilty. It is members of this camp who have hijacked the Wikipedia article. At this point, powerful Wikipedia moderators with a non-neutral agenda have successfully blocked or threatened away a dozen editors who have challenged the neutrality of the present article. We know of no other article where the integrity of Wikipedia has been compromised to this degree.
Please do something about this Mr. Wales. All we are seeking is an article that accurately reflects what reliable sources have said about the case.

Sincerely, The Undersigned

Mr. Wales read the letter and decided it warranted his attention. Here's what he had to say:

“This blog post likely deserves some attention. My interest is simply in making sure that this entry accurately reflects what reliable sources have said and that no reliable sources are omitted based on anyone's agenda in either direction. I'm posting this notice on the BLP noticeboard and the talk page of the article.”

You would think that veteran Wikipedia editors would be honored that Wikipedia's founder stopped by to take a look at an article they were working on, but amazingly that was not the case. Here are some of the warm welcomes Mr. Wales received:

“An internet petition with all of 60 signatures? Hmm, I am not seeing the compelling need for the founder to get involved here.”

“I think you really needed to spend more time researching before wading into this debate.”

“Sorry, but exactly which objections require real answers?”

The group of veteran editors that hijacked the Meredith Kercher article was ready and waiting when Mr. Wales joined the discussion. Thankfully Mr. Wales had the patience to deal with his unwelcome arrival. Here are some of his responses:

“A petition doesn't matter. Number of signatures doesn't matter. Getting it right is all that matters. I accept input from all kinds of sources, and we should always be willing to take another look.”

“I consider it our greatest honorable trait that we are always willing to take another look, always willing to review our work, and always willing to accept criticism. The post raises several quite straightforward objections that deserve to be answered with real answers, not jeers.”

When hostility continued throughout the discussion, Mr. Wales had this to say:

“You might find it more pleasing to drop the hostility and actually listen to what I am saying.”

“I am concerned that since I raised the issue, even I have been attacked as being something like a "conspiracy theorist". I would like to bring this issue to the attention of the wider community, and I continue to do my own research.”

“I am doing my own research, and it doesn't look good. I see editors being blocked for single edits that are absolutely defensible on the thinnest of grounds. That's not acceptable.”

“Whenever we see outrage in the face of mere questions, it is good to wonder where the truth lies.”

Injustice in Perugia was very pleased to see Jimbo Wales taking an interest in the case. His presence allowed editors to participate in the discussion and work out proper consensus in order to get edits of the article approved. It would have been ideal if Jimbo would have agreed that Wikipedia was not the proper format for articles about ongoing murder cases but that would be wishful thinking. I understand that Jimbo would shy away from discouraging any type of traffic coming to Wikipedia.

Jimbo was very professional in how he handled his involvement with this subject. Thankfully he was not swayed by disparaging comments, but he was limited, as were we, by his own website’s guidelines. I am hopeful that this case will cause Jimbo to re-evaluate certain aspects of his website. Wikipedia is an enormous success which in turn brings enormous responsibility.

The Wikipedia article discussing the Meredith Kercher murder case along with the wrongful conviction case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito never had a chance of being fully corrected until the trial had ended. Only then would the media finally provide the necessary sources needed to create an accurate Wikipedia article on the case.

At the time of this writing, those who have long held the article hostage are losing their grip as their cherished media sources slowly but surely evaporate. In a positive move forward, a new article has now been allowed for Amanda Knox and a separate article discussing the trial of Amanda and Raffaele has also been created. Yes, time will eventually correct the article that has been an embarrassment to Wikipedia for years, but when that time comes it will be far too late to correct the damage that it has caused.

During a discussion on Wikipedia as positive changes were being implemented, one user asked me why I was still discussing the past article; changes were being made, so all was well. I was told once again that the article of the past conformed to Wikipedia’s guidelines, and now with the new information provided by the outcome of the trial, the revised article would do the same. The errors of the past were easily explained away because the original article met Wikipedia’s guidelines.

I am amazed that many of the Wiki veterans are so hung up on Wikipedia policy that they have lost the ability to use common sense, essentially becoming Wiki robots. Wikipedia misrepresented this case to the public for nearly four years, and now, like many others, Wikipedia owes Amanda and Raffaele an apology. The problem is that too many Wiki veterans will never come to realize what they have done, because when thinking in terms of Wikipedia, they appear to have lost the ability to think as human beings.

I would suggest for those involved with Wikipedia to refrain from rejoicing that the case is finally being reported correctly, and to instead use this as a learning experience. It is crystal clear that Wikipedia is the wrong format for cases like this. Wikipedia should learn from their mistakes and work to make proper changes to prevent this from happening again.
Wikipedia also needs to do a better job of highlighting its limitations to its readers. It is important to realize what Wikipedia is only as reliable as the editors that control it. Wikipedia addresses the question of reliability on their website if you know where to look. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

“The reliability of Wikipedia articles is limited by the external sources on which they are supposed to rely, as well as by the ability of Wikipedia's editors to understand those sources correctly and their willingness to use them properly. Therefore, articles may or may not be reliable, and readers should always use their own judgment. Students should never use information in Wikipedia (or any other online encyclopedia) for formal purposes (such as school essays) until they have verified and evaluated the information based on external sources. For this reason, Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia, is a great starting place for research but not always a great ending place.”

Wikipedia’s explanation leaves an important question unanswered; who is responsible for telling the public that the website consistently finding itself at the top of web searches for any given topic is not intended to be seen as reliable? You would certainly never know Wikipedia’s position by viewing their home page.

Is it Wikipedia’s fault that most readers stop by to gather information without researching the truth about Wikipedia? I suppose an argument can be made either way. Maybe the more important question to ask is whether or not Wikipedia is misleading the public by calling their website an encyclopedia.

Additional Resources
Professional Analysis
Injustice in Perugia
The Appeal
The Victim
Meredith's Killer
Wrongfully Convicted
About Us/Contact Us