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Wikipedia Faces Legal Battle

How accurate is online encyclopedia Wikipedia? Controversial lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano says the website hasn't moved fast enough to deal with the gross lies that litter his entry.

Jason O'Toole, 07 Jul 2008

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which began as a brilliant and idealistic project, based on the objective of sharing knowledge and information, is heading for stormy waters. A voluntary organisation, from the outset Wikipedia worked on two key principles: that there is effectively no limit to the amount of information that can be gathered on the world wide web; and that the internet makes it possible to continually edit and update information. The holy grail beckoned: that people possessed of the necessary knowledge and authority could create the ultimate information resource, one that would not just be thoroughly accurate but also up to date. It would blow other encyclopaedias out of the water.

For a while, it seemed that this ambitious objective might be realised. Through the work of teams of dedicated voluntary writers and editors, the volume of material carried under the Wikipedia banner mushroomed in the most extraordinary way. Today there are millions of profiles, the entire collection running into billions of words. But as the store of information has grown, so too has the amount of downright disinformation. Wikipedia has developed a reputation for inaccuracy – and, what’s more, for malicious inaccuracy, outright lies and propaganda – in a worryingly high proportion of its entries.

The worm in the apple is this. In practice, anyone can post or edit a Wikipedia entry. The origins of any editorial material, including the changes, additions and edits are in theory traceable. But in practice, with people in the online world adept at hiding behind aliases and covering their tracks, that is often far more difficult than was intended. As a result, the encyclopaedia has been dragged down into a mire of controversy by the kind of malice-driven, rumour-mongering creepy crawlies who thrive on the anonymity afforded by the internet.


Hot Press has learned that Wikipedia’s reputation for inaccuracy may prove to be its undoing. The controversial Italian lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano has hit the Wikipedia organisation with a staggering €50million defamation case in the Italian courts. If successful, it would surely spell the end of Wikipedia.

Di Stefano – nicknamed “The Devil’s Advocate” because he has represented many notorious clients, including Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Harold Shipman, John Gilligan and Paddy ‘Dutchy’ Holland – has had a long-running dispute with Wikipedia over the inflammatory content of the entry bearing his name. Di Stefano says he opted to take the legal action after being constantly infuriated by a series of what he describes as outrageous accusations made on Wikipedia. Among the lies peddled about him is that he is not even qualified to practice law. Among other inaccuracies, the entry also states that he is banned from America.

Apart from seeking compensation, Di Stefano is also threatening to seek arrest warrants for his web detractors – including the anonymous contributors to Wikipedia who he says have bad-mouthed and slandered him. Speaking to Hot Press from Iraq where he’s working on cases involving Tariq Aziz and Chemical Ali, Di Stefano declared that this could be Wikipedia’s ‘Waterloo’.

In typically colourful language, Di Stefano told Hot Press that he is aiming to get the “anonymous fucking cunts” who are attempting to undermine his credibility and reputation.

“The article on me is clearly written aggressively and with factual errors – which when you try and correct, and politely, the correction gets deleted. Well, this has gone on for a year now and although Jimbo Wales (the founder of Wikipedia) did intervene, he has not been able to stay on top of things like a hawk. I showed him my qualifications. I even showed him my visa entries to the US in my passport. But the inaccuracies persist. So I have sued for defamation.”

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