Greetings. After causing law enforcement and the news media to spin their wheels uselessly, a Wikipedia user has apparently confessed to planting a rumor as fact on the Wikipedia page for wrestler Chris Benoit, claiming his wife was dead hours before the bodies of Benoit and his family were found.
The ease with which this was done by a still anonymous party, triggering investigations and consternation at a time that was already intensely emotional for everyone involved with the Benoit case, demonstrates once again a fundamental flaw in Wikipedia's usually anonymous, non-moderated editing framework for most Wikipedia pages.
The fact that such editing can usually be undone (and redone later for that matter) doesn't change the fact that Wikipedia can never be an authoritative source while it is subject to this kind of anonymous abuse -- whether by jokesters out to get their kicks or well-meaning contributors simply unwilling to check their facts. Such events can easily turn Wikipedia pages into rumor and defacement billboards rather than encyclopedia-quality content. The damage is already done.
If Wikipedia expects to really be taken seriously in the long run, it needs to rethink its standards for item creation, modification, and attributions.
Wikipedia, it's time to grow up.
Blog Update (June 29, 2007 18:22 PDT): Law enforcement officials now know the identity of the Wikipedia user involved in the situation discussed above, and have noted that, "It is unbelievable what a hindrance this has put on our investigation." More details here.
Blog Update (June 30, 2007): Wikipedia and Responsibility