One-Minute Book Reviews

March 10, 2008

Ishmael Beah’s Parents May Be Alive and ‘No One Knows Where They Are,’ Wikipedia Says — Entry Contradicts Author’s Statements in the New York Times and Elsewhere — Has the Site Been Gulled?

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:52 am
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[Update, 11:10 p.m., March 10: Wikipedia has deleted the sentence saying that Beah’s parents may be alive that is discussed in the post below. But it’s war over there at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael_Beah, so don’t expect this to last. And the entry still contains material that directly contradicts statements made by Beah or others. I’ll try to comment briefly on the mess the next day or so. Jan]

More bizarre changes in the entry for the author of A Long Way Gone, who claims he was a child soldier in Sierra Leone for more than two years

What is going on with the entry for Ishmael Beah on Wikipedia? The online encyclopedia is now saying that Beah’s parents may not be dead. Instead his parents “left” — whether they left their village or country is unclear — after war broke out in Sierra Leone: “No one knows where they are now.”

This statement contradicts an excerpt from A Long Way Gone in the New York Times Magazine in which Beah said his parents and brother were dead:

“After I discovered that my parents and two brothers had been killed, I felt even more lost and worthless in a world that had become pregnant with fear and suspicion as neighbor turned against neighbor and child against parent.”

The latest change on Wikipedia also contradicts other statements Beah has made and entries about him that have appeared on the encyclopedia for more than six months. It further implies that he had one brother when he says in his book that he had two.

Some of these changes are a baffling. Slate says Beah’s friends and foes have made competing changes in his Wikipedia listing www.slate.com/id/2185928/. But you can’t always tell which camp has made them.

You might assume that the latest change, suggesting that Beah’s parents might be alive, had come from a detractor who wanted to discredit the author’s repeated claims that his family is dead. But it could also have come from a friend who knew that Beah’s parents or a brother might be about to come forward – an ally who wanted to help Beah backpedal and who had leaked material, the way political campaigns do, as a trial balloon. The idea that Beah’s parents might be alive appeared on Wikipedia three days ago and, because anybody can edit its entries, his PR team has apparently allowed it to remain in place.

In either case, why does Wikipedia keep allowing the site to be used like this?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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