This episode illustrates the pitfalls of treating text documentation as
without the 'surround' of supporting non-textual documentation such as
audio. video and pictures.
Even casual readers of history, like myself, can easily detect the
contradictions in the retelling of events, right down to the names and dates
(for Instance, Russia refers to the Second World War as the Great Patriotic
War, and we, naturally, do not appreciate references to 1857 as a mutiny).
To some extent, our school system of rote learning is responsible for the
difficulties faced by the reporter in understanding how a truly
collaborative and inclusively developed history is created, but Wikipedia
itself is a great step forward in the recrafting of education.

imho, in this case, the page could (an extensive discussion is open at the
page itself, so I don't want to start another discussion here) have stated
the apparent 'coincidence' as just that, apparent, and cited different - all
more or less equally credible - sources for the contradictions.

On Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 10:09 AM, Bishakha Datta <>wrote:

> This one was also particularly complex because a seemingly authentic
> source, the Anti Terrorist Squad's interrogation of 
> Kasab<>,
> listed his birthday as July 13, so many media outlets, including the
> Washington Post went with that.
> Thank you, both, for speaking at length to the reporter, and helping him
> understand not just what happened, but how wikipedia works (I know he was
> having a hard time figuring it out). This one really had the potential for
> tremendous misreporting, but it's turned out quite well.
> Cheers
> Bishakha
> On Sun, Jul 24, 2011 at 8:08 AM, CherianTinu Abraham <
>> wrote:
>> *DNA : Mumbai blasts: Ajmal Kasab's birthday confusion*
>> *As Mumbai reeled under shock, despair and anger over being attacked
>> again on July 13, a message started clogging the jammed telephone networks
>> and set the internet on fire. Though other information — another blast in
>> Navi Mumbai, suspicious bag found in Santa Cruz — was also flying thick and
>> fast, this one had the potential to spill mass anger onto the streets.
>> The blasts were apparently a ‘birthday gift’ for convicted 26/11 terrorist
>> Ajmal Kasab, it said, and no less than Wikipedia said so.
>> The user-generated online encyclopaedia insists on verifibility, says Tinu
>> Cherian, a Bangalore-based Wikipedia administrator: “It is all about
>> verifiability, not necessarily of the truth, but whether readers and editors
>> can check that the material has been published by a reliable source, and not
>> whether they think it is true.” the resource has become a definitive go-to
>> for unbiased information.
>> But on that fateful Wednesday, verifiability itself was the problem. Three
>> sources — Indian Express (2009), IBNLive (2009) and Hindustan Times (2010)
>> had mentioned Kasab’s date of birth (DoB) as September 13, 1987, while two —
>> The Times of India (February 2011), The Hindu (2008) said it was on July 13
>> that year.
>> The entry on Kasab was created on November 29, 2008, three days after the
>> attacks, and since December that year, his DoB has been mentioned as July
>> 13.
>> No wonder then that when a Chennai-based user changed it to September 22
>> at 8.18pm (the last blast occurred at 7.05pm), there was consternation among
>> Wikipedians, and minutes later, an ‘edit war’ as the community calls such
>> rapid changes, had begun. Unable to verify the date, an administrator locked
>> the page.
>> Wikipedians say such problems are not uncommon, two recent cases being the
>> rumour that freedom fighter Bhagat Singh was born on Valentine’s Day
>> (February 14), and premature reports that West Bengal chief minister had
>> died. Though there is no laid-down code, and no one in particular monitors
>> changes to the database, the loosely organised community says it
>> self-regulates and decisions are arrived at on case-to-case basis and
>> actions depend on creating consensus.
>> Soon after the edit war, a group of Wikipedians went into a huddle on the
>> ‘Talk’ page of the website. Among them was Utkarsh Raj Atmaram, a
>> 27-year-old Wikipedia administrator from Hyderabad.
>> Though he too had learnt about the controversy on Twitter, he was
>> initially circumspect about the real date being July 13. However, when he
>> checked the revision history of the article, he realised the truth was at
>> best a shade of grey.
>> “Though the DoB had always been July 13, somewhere down the line the
>> reference was deleted. This fuelled the confusion further,” Atmaram says.
>> A Washington Post blog later attributed a part of this confusion to:
>> “Those who are making the Wikipedia entry changes [to September 13] are
>> trying to delegitimise the terrorists behind the attack.”
>> It was finally decided at 11.26pm that both the dates should be reflected
>> after one contributor, ‘kangzan’,pointed out: “Right now Kasab’s birthday
>> is both in September and in July at the same time, exactly like
>> Schrodinger’s hypothetical cat is both dead and alive at the same time — a
>> thought experiment used to illustrate physics’ aptly named uncertainty
>> principle”. Later, when Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad chief Rakesh Maria
>> confirmed the date to be September 13, the issue was laid to rest.
>> The incident highlights the fragile nature of ‘truth’ on the internet —
>> Wikipedia doesn’t know something happened until a credible source doesn’t
>> ratify it. “That is why, even though Twitter can be ahead of us in breaking
>> news, we do not create articles based on what is said there,” Atmaram says.
>> Perhaps that is why Kasab’s birth date being mentioned as July 13 on
>> Wikipedia created such a furoreas people trust its content more than even
>> conventional sources of information.
>> The flip side, however, especially in countries like India where only a
>> fraction of government records are online, is a lot of information does not
>> meet the encyclopaedia’s ‘notability factor’, which determines whether
>> particular information can be added to the database. To circumvent the
>> problem, Wikipedians in India are experimenting with a novel idea.
>> “We have started using oral citations for non-controversial content. A
>> tayyam dance form has been documented using such citations of proponents,”
>> says Cherian, who is also at the forefront of creating Wikipedia content in
>> Indian languages.
>> As the dust settles on the debate, one thing is clear: Information wars of
>> the future will be fought online, and in crises, what transpires between
>> netizens will shape reality on the ground.*
>> Regards
>> Tinu Cherian
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