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A few days ago, while searching the internet for information on an unrelated topic, I stumbled across an article on fencing at "Wikipedia," a web site describing itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." An encyclopedia that "anyone" can edit? One can scarcely imagine a better example of inmates running an asylum for the mentally deranged than this thoughtfully crafted invitation to intellectual chaos.
Unfortunately, there's more to this story. Upon looking over what had been "edited by anyone" I came across the name of Nick Evangelista, a master of the French school teaching in Peace Valley, MO. For those who don't know Maître Evangelista, his contributions to fencing are varied and numerous. The holdings of the Library of Congress include five books written by him on the subject. He has been editor of "Fencers Quarterly" magazine for a number of years and is the fencing history editor for Encyclopedia Britannica. In addition, he has been a consultant to the motion picture industry, lending his expertise to the television series of "Magnum P. I." and "The Highlander."
Despite these accomplishments it would appear that Maître Evangelestia has one glaring fault: he hasn't made everyone deliriously happy. In fact, there appears to be at least one member of the fencing community particularly envious of the Maître, most likely because he has no accomplishments of his own. To assuage his ego this spineless wonder, like Shakespeare's Laertes, chose to assassinate the reputation of the unsuspecting object of his spite when his guard was down. Anonymously, he wrote several lines of libelous prose for inclusion in what was represented as a "biography" of Maître Evangelista. To lend credence to what he wrote, our back-stabbing hero published it on the web site of the pseudo-encyclopedia, Wikipedia, under the article on fencing.
Because it seemed at first glance to be so easy to use Wikipedia to defame a person's reputation, I searched the internet to see whether there have been other, similar instances of libel. It appears there have — thousands of them. Unlike a legitimate encyclopedia, Wikipedia makes no effort to discover the identity of its contributors, and absolves itself of any responsibility for what they write. Upon being notified of libelous postings by its users, Wikipedia does claim to delete them, and in fairness it must be acknowledged that the defamatory remarks about Maître Evangelista were removed within 24 hours from the time Wikipedia was notified. It also asserts that it blocks postings from IP addresses with a history of malicious mischief, but acknowledges in the same breath that nothing prevents the same trouble-making individuals from posting additional libel from other IP addresses, blithely leaving responsibility for the salvaging of damaged reputations up to the victims of Wikipedia's "editors."