In his September 7, 2012, “Open Letter to Wikipedia,” acclaimed author Philip Roth made an appeal to the editors of Wikipedia. Posted in his blog for TheNew Yorker, he asked them to correct a statement he identified as misleading in the site’s article on his novel, The Human Stain. Roth––whose literary honors include a Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and Man Booker International Prize––stated the following:
“The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.”
He noted further that he had attempted through an official interlocutor to address the issue but was informed that site administrators required “secondary sources” to verify the proposed corrections. “Thus was created the occasion for this open letter.” Roth’s predicament created a pain-inducing illustration of a very modern techno-ethical issue: who should exercise the greater authority over individual public profiles on sites frequently referenced for factual information regarding an established literary figure?
Roth’s primary concern was accuracy in regard to a novel he had written. The editors at Wikipedia seemed mostly concerned with objectivity and authenticity in regard to the same. This is likely NOT a case of guerrilla decontextualization as some might surmise but more a matter of one website’s policy in conflict with one celebrated author’s informed preference.
The Challenge and a Possible Solution
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