One-Minute Book Reviews

February 13, 2008

Has Wikipedia Been Hijacked by Ishmael Beah’s PR Machine? The Online Encyclopedia Abandons Neutrality and Regurgitates the Young Author’s View by Editorializing That ‘It Is Important Not to Lose to Lose Sight’ of His Human-Rights Work

[UPDATE at 9:25 a.m. on March 2, 2008: At this writing, Wikipedia appears to have been sucker-punched again. A post about the continuing lack of neutrality in Beah’s entry will appear soon on One-Minute Book Reviews.]

[UPDATE at 12:01 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2008: Since I wrote this post, the biased line that I discuss below has been removed from Beah’s Wikipedia entry. If you see that someone has reinstated that line or inserted others that lack neutrality, I’d be so grateful if you let me know. Thanks. Jan]

Would Wikipedia warn that “it is important not to lose sight” of Roger Clemens’s contributions the Boys and Girls Clubs as we consider whether he used steroids?

By Janice Harayda

Has the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia become the latest victim of the deepening controversy about the credibility of Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone?

Wikipedia editorializes in its entry for Beah that “it is important not to lose sight” of the young author’s work to raise awareness about child soldiers This is not a neutral comment. It is exactly what Beah and his handlers want you to think and have been saying since the newspaper the Australian began raising questions last month about A Long Way Gone, billed by its publisher as a memoir of Beah’s experiences as a child solider in Sierra Leone.

Why, exactly, is it “important not to lose sight” of Beah’s human-rights work? And to whom? Does Beah’s work matter if it is based wholly or partly on claims nobody can substantiate? Will his efforts comfort the hundreds of thousands of readers who bought A Long Way Gone in the belief that its story was, in Beah’s words, is “all true,” and who now may now have serious doubts about its veracity? Shouldn’t we consider the harm that any book may do along with the good?

Beah’s listing on Wikipedia is questionable for reasons other than its editorializing. One-Minute Book Reviews will deal with these reasons soon if the encyclopedia allows them to remain in place. In the meantime, you may wonder: Would Wikipedia instruct us – as we consider whether Roger Clemens used steroids — that “it is important not to lose sight” of the pitcher’s contributions to the Boys and Girls Clubs?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I don’t know if Wikipedia’s been hijacked by this particular author’s “PR machine,” but I am noticing this non-neutrality more and more when I look things up on their site. So disappointing.

    Comment by moonbeammcqueen — February 14, 2008 @ 2:19 am | Reply

  2. It really is disappointing. I’ve linked to Wikipedia quite a few times (and it’s linked to me) because it often has more balanced or comprehensive information on authors than publishers’ sites do. But the listing for Beah is so biased and poorly written that I may rethink whether or not to link. Thanks for your helpful feedback.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 14, 2008 @ 11:57 am | Reply

  3. I’ve made substantial contributions to Ishmael Beah’s wikipedia entry over the past few weeks, and I’m certainly not part of his PR machine. I’m an Australian-based grad student. I find the Australian’s reporting very plausible and relevant. However, I’m fairly new to Wikipedia and I didn’t just edit out wholesale other contributors writing’ (although I took out a lot of the worst factual guff) because wikipedia is a group effort and because I thought wholesale deletion would cause antagonism and possibly “edit wars” (where contributors keep deleting each other’s work). If you hit the button at the top marked “history”, you can read the various edits and see the ID of the contributors. If you google the most “pro-Beah” contributor, he’s a lecturer in medicine at an Australian university, and from all appearances an enthusiastic amateur.

    Comment by rosabibi — February 18, 2008 @ 2:22 am | Reply

  4. That “History” button is great resource that I hadn’t known about (though it’s right up there, as you say, for all to see). Thanks so much for pointing it out.

    The Wikipedia entry has been improved since I wrote this post and is less biased now. But it seems odd that, for example, at this writing the listing doesn’t say that Beah has been appointed the UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War, a post he got in November. There’s lots of information about it on the Internet, and it’s relevant to the controversy partly because UNICEF has defended Beah.

    I wonder if anybody has tried to add a note about his having the UNICEF job?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 18, 2008 @ 11:19 am | Reply

  5. One of the previous contributors has returned with a lengthy exposition on why Beah’s book is consistent with the material outlined by the Australian.
    That “history” button is interesting, isn’t it? Although most people (including me) don’t use their own name, you can click around and see what other entries they have modified and how, and that gives you an idea of their interests and bias. If someone has only made one edit, and it relates to a living or recently living person, I generally suspect that they may have a personal interest of some kind.

    Comment by rosabibi — February 22, 2008 @ 8:18 am | Reply

  6. In the first paragraph of my previous post, I should have made clear that this is the contributor’s opinion. It doesn’t convince me and it also isn’t the line of defence being put forward by Beah or his publisher.

    Comment by rosabibi — February 22, 2008 @ 8:21 am | Reply

  7. Thanks for keeping us up-to-date on this, which offer good background not just on Beah’s entries but on Wikipedia processes in general. I’m hoping to write more about this soon.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 22, 2008 @ 9:51 am | Reply

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