In 2005, John Seigenthaler Sr. explored the topic of “A false Wikipedia ‘biography'” in USA Today. A topic about which he had early firsthand knowledge:
“John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960’s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.”
This is a highly personal story about Internet character assassination. It could be your story.
I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious “biography” that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular, online, free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable. There was more:
“John Seigenthaler moved to the Soviet Union in 1971, and returned to the United States in 1984,” Wikipedia said. “He started one of the country’s largest public relations firms shortly thereafter.”
At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong. One sentence in the biography was true. I was Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant in the early 1960s. I also was his pallbearer. It was mind-boggling when my son, John Seigenthaler, journalist with NBC News, phoned later to say he found the same scurrilous text on Reference.com and Answers.com.
I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about “the wonderful world of Wikipedia,” where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference “facts,” composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge — and sometimes by people with malice.
At my request, executives of the three websites now have removed the false content about me. But they don’t know, and can’t find out, who wrote the toxic sentences.
Hey, nobody said it was easy looking after The Faith-Based Encyclopedia.
Update: Welcome those clicking in from Small Dead Animals. “In my case, nothing got done until I threatened to sue,” Kate writes. “Not Wikipedia – the lowly ‘volunteer’ who kept restoring the page. I tracked down his real name, his address, where he went to school. That’s when I got their attention.”