Wikipedia handy tool for Cuban propagandists
BY CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER
In the mid-18th century, a Paris editor asked writer Denis Diderot to
compile a work that would amass all the knowledge available at the time.
Thus, in the course of 26 years, were created the 28 volumes of the
French Encyclopedia, written by the most valuable (and valiant )
intellectuals of the period, some 160 authors, among them Voltaire,
Rousseau and Montesquieu.
The books contained more than 70,000 articles and almost 3,000
illustrations. A few years after their publication came the French
Revolution and the ancien régime was liquidated. Although impossible to
prove, the two events were unquestionably related. Not long afterward,
the guillotine began to work.
Today's encyclopedia is called Wikipedia. It is a collective, anonymous
work edited on the Internet, with the collaboration of a spontaneous and
undirected army of volunteers. Its size and impact are infinitely
greater than those of the collection edited by Diderot.
A few days ago, Carmen Pérez-Lanzac summarized this editorial phenomenon
in the Spanish newspaper El País: In little more than eight years, it
has collected 11 million articles, crafted by 150,000 authors in 265
languages, although English, naturally, is the dominant language. In
Spanish alone, there are 482,000 articles, to which about 400 are added
Is that enormous mass of information trustworthy? Relatively, as the
experts never tire of saying, but, according to Google's implacable
accounting, it is the most sought and utilized source of information. By
whom? By students who need to do their homework, by journalists burdened
by a lack of time, by anyone who urgently requires a fact and generally
finds it only in Wikipedia.
The situation is very dangerous, because Wikipedia is also a field of
ideological battle where there's no shortage of lies or a biased
selection of information to distort the image of the adversary someone
wants to destroy. Wikipedia has many collaborators who are healthily
devoted to the spread of knowledge, but it also has many warriors intent
on destroying the reputation of those whom they consider their enemies.
I learned this first-hand when a former student warned me that my
biography in Wikipedia described me as a terrorist in the service of the
CIA, the culprit of the murder of priests and a thousand other delirious
Since I am not at all savvy in technical matters, I asked him to contact
the Wikipedia webmasters and tell them about the slander being heaped on
me. They listened to him, investigated the facts and the allegations,
eliminated the most evident falsehoods and placed a ``lock'' on the page
so the slanderers could not reinstate their infamous charges.
In the process of amending that page of Wikipedia, my former student
learned that one of the sources of disinformation is the University of
Computer Sciences in Havana, built on what was the Lourdes espionage
base created by the Soviets in Cuba during the Cold War.
There, ``digital action commandos'' write and rewrite the biographies of
friends and foes according to the script dictated to them by the
political police. To them, Wikipedia is a battlefield where they forge
whatever image of reality suits the interests of the Revolution. Never
before, they say, have they had at their disposal a propaganda apparatus
as formidable, free, anonymous (thus exempting them from criminal
responsibility) and effective.
I imagine they also dream about restoring the guillotine.