Google Knol: The Next Big Thing for anti-Semitism 2.0?

by Maskil on August 11, 2008

Thousands of Palestinians Demonstrate Against Israeli Prisons In Gaza

In a couple of earlier posts, I added my voice to the concerns at the abuse of the Wikipedia project to disseminate anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bias in the guise of objective, consensus scholarship, and at the use of the electronic self-publishing media in general to propagate anti-Semitic slurs, stereotypes and falsehoods.

The launch of Google’s Knol (“unit of knowledge”) project potentially provides another channel for the haters to exploit. I thought it would be useful to look at reasons why this may or may not happen, and what measures those working to counter this “Electronic Intifada” (in the generic sense) could take to prevent a worst-case scenario.

Factors that may promote abuse

As with its other user content services (e.g. Blogger, YouTube), Google has already announced that it will not play a role in editing or vetting content on Knol.

While procedures will no doubt be put in place to remove content flagged as inappropriate, our experience with YouTube tells us that the process may lengthy, ineffective, or both.

Given Google’s aim to provide user-friendly content creation and editing tools, it would be relatively simple to create new hate content as quickly as the old article is taken down. This may be as simple as copying and pasting the deleted material into a new Knol, perhaps with a few cosmetic changes.

Factors that may discourage abuse

Knols are attributed to named authors or contributors, unlike the anonymous model used for Wikipedia. Each contributor has an author profile (apparently linked to a Gmail address), and unverified profiles can immediately be considered suspect.

Knol provides for comments, ratings and reviews for each article, as well as the “Flag inappropriate content” indicator. (I’m not sure whether any of these can be turned off by the contributor, but it seems unlikely.)

Unlike Wikipedia, there is no one single authoritative article for a particular subject, e.g. a biased Knol with the subject of Intifada or Nakba would have to fight for readership with more scholarly or objective contributions.

Without the difficult to penetrate Wikipedia editing model, Knol provides a far more level playing field.

The credentials of authors or joint contributors can be examined and potential users of the content alerted in need, e.g. by means of commenting and rating.

(The fact that the Google executive responsible for Knol (Udi Manber) is an Israeli expatriate is unlikely to influence matters either way.)

Conclusions

So, will Google’s Knol prove to be the Next Big Thing for promoting anti-Semitism 2.0? In my opinion, not, unless we allow it to happen. It provides far less fertile ground for promoting hatred of Israel and Zionism and anti-Semitism in general. It will need to be closely monitored, however, and the various players in the Hasbara space will need to gear up to identify and counter bias.

Knol appears to provide a far more democratic and transparent medium for subject matter experts to self-publish. To my mind, that immediately favours those fighting against anti-Semitism, bias and hate.

Knol cannot be allowed to degenerate into the same murky state as Wikipedia in the anti-Israel space. Gearing up at an early stage may be the best way to prevent this from happening.

Where to from here?

Media monitoring and Hasbara groups such as CAMERA, GIYUS.ORG, HonestReporting, Israel Hasbara Committee, Israel News Agency, Jewish Virtual Library (Myths & Facts) and The Israel Project (apologies to those I haven’t mentioned) as well as the J-Blogosphere as a whole should begin taking an interest in Knol, including the following activities:

  • Conduct regular searches of Knol content for articles of concern.
  • Encourage volunteers to register on the site and begin becoming familiar with the functionality provided to comment, flag, rate or review articles.
  • Become familiar with the profiles of those submitting articles of Jewish interest and identify any with a consistent bias against Israel.
  • Encourage the subject matter experts in our midst to begin contributing Knols in their field/s of expertise. An article concerning refugees (both Jewish and Arab) from Israel’s War of Independence, for instance, may be a good place to start. The Knol model does allow for articles to be monetized through Google AdSense, so there may even be a financial incentive for this (this cuts both ways, of course).

Knol and Wikipedia

Whether intentional or not, there is little doubt that Knol will eventually compete head-on with Wikipedia for mind-share and mouse clicks. Given Google’s financial and technical muscle and Knol’s more open and transparent editing model, there is little doubt who will win in the long run.

We cannot simply write off Wikipedia, however. It remains the repository for some 10 million (!) articles (about a quarter of those in English) of varying trustworthiness, and users will continue to rely on it until such time as a tipping point has been reached. My own blog posts (including this one) are peppered with references to Wikipedia articles, and to date I’ve found nothing to take its place as an online research tool.

While those dealing with Hasbara cannot afford to abandon Wikipedia to the “Electronic Intifada”, I believe Knol can and should become the preferred address for new and updated content in the “Internet Haganah” space (once again in the generic sense, rather than that specific website).

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