The books contained more than 70,000 articles and almost 3,000 illustrations. A few years after their publication came the French Revolution and the ancien régime was liquidated. Although impossible to prove, the two events were unquestionably related. Not long afterward, the guillotine began to work.
Today's encyclopedia is called Wikipedia. It is a collective, anonymous work edited on the Internet, with the collaboration of a spontaneous and undirected army of volunteers. Its size and impact are infinitely greater than those of the collection edited by Diderot.
A few days ago, Carmen Pérez-Lanzac summarized this editorial phenomenon in the Spanish newspaper El País: In little more than eight years, it has collected 11 million articles, crafted by 150,000 authors in 265 languages, although English, naturally, is the dominant language. In Spanish alone, there are 482,000 articles, to which about 400 are added every day.
Is that enormous mass of information trustworthy? Relatively, as the experts never tire of saying, but, according to Google's implacable accounting, it is the most sought and utilized source of information. By whom? By students who need to do their homework, by journalists burdened by a lack of time, by anyone who urgently requires a fact and generally finds it only in Wikipedia.
The situation is very dangerous, because Wikipedia is also a field of ideological battle where there's no shortage of lies or a biased selection of information to distort the image of the adversary someone wants to destroy. Wikipedia has many collaborators who are healthily devoted to the spread of knowledge, but it also has many warriors intent on destroying the reputation of those whom they consider their enemies.
I learned this first-hand when a former student warned me that my biography in Wikipedia described me as a terrorist in the service of the CIA, the culprit of the murder of priests and a thousand other delirious fantasies.
Since I am not at all savvy in technical matters, I asked him to contact the Wikipedia webmasters and tell them about the slander being heaped on me. They listened to him, investigated the facts and the allegations, eliminated the most evident falsehoods and placed a ``lock'' on the page so the slanderers could not reinstate their infamous charges.
In the process of amending that page of Wikipedia, my former student learned that one of the sources of disinformation is the University of Computer Sciences in Havana, built on what was the Lourdes espionage base created by the Soviets in Cuba during the Cold War.
There, ``digital action commandos'' write and rewrite the biographies of friends and foes according to the script dictated to them by the political police. To them, Wikipedia is a battlefield where they forge whatever image of reality suits the interests of the Revolution. Never before, they say, have they had at their disposal a propaganda apparatus as formidable, free, anonymous (thus exempting them from criminal responsibility) and effective.
I imagine they also dream about restoring the guillotine.
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