Wikipedia: Murder of Meredith Kercher

Wikipedia article "Murder of Meredith Kercher"

What do Barry Manilow, Jigglypuff and the complex socio-psychological dynamics of toilet roll orientation have in common? Yes, the clue is in the inline links. Each is the subject of an article on Wikipedia.

I’m a fan. Wikipedia is not perfect, and sometimes it can facilitate ignorance and confusion. But, much more often, it dispels the same. It is the only online initiative anyone has come up with, so far, that is capable of attempting to make some sort of sense of the morass of information that assaults us via the World Wide Web on anything like the scale that the task requires.

But, once you’ve read everything there is to know about anything ever, what else does Wikipedia have to offer? Well, it also provides an impressive dataset regarding its own evolution. Not only can you find the answer to the question that has been itching your brain, but you can also trace the history of how the answer came to be available. Every edit to Wikipedia is archived, alongside every discussion held between Wikipedians about whether that edit was good, bad or indifferent.

Which brings us to the Wikipedia article on the murder of Meredith Kercher. One area of difficulty that Wikipedia faces is in documenting current events, where the facts may not yet all be in, there is conflicting information in the press reports that are available and the Internet is invariably occupied in weaving what is available into something nearly, but not quite, as bad as a Dan Brown novel. Since Wikipedia is part of the Internet and since the case we are talking about involves the progress of the Italian legal system (a bit like watching paint dry, if we imagine what that process would be like if it took anything up to a decade), it is perhaps not surprising that the MoMK article, as it is known on Wikipedia, has long been a problem child of the project.

Sorting fact from nonsense is one obvious and ongoing challenge. Wikipedia does have a sensible rule of thumb in this regard, the doctrine of the “reliable source”. In a nutshell: if a any such source, for example a reputable newspaper, says something, then normally Wikipedia can say it too. Things do gets slightly complicated in a case such as this one, though, when there are literally millions of “reliably sourced” words available which say often contradictory and doubtful things. How is the wheat sorted from the bullshit?

And what is to be done if Wikipedia editors cannot agree as to what is a sensible narrative for the article? The Wikipedia tradition, again quite sensibly, seems to be that editors who are deemed too confrontational, irrational and generally annoying get banned, so that what is left is editors who are at least willing to talk to each other sensibly, however long it takes to translate that into a consensus about how the article should be constructed. This is a process that has been applied fairly liberally but, from what I can see, reasonably sensibly in the case of MoMK, most commonly against advocates for the innocence and purity of Amanda Knox.

So, what happens when one of these banned editors seeks his revenge by creating a blog post bemoaning the bias of the MoMK article? What if Wikipedia supremo Jimmy Wales happens to be a Knox sympathiser and the post catches his eye?

Well, it’s taken a while, but the article does seem to be progressively, if modestly, moving to a a slightly more Knoxish position, and some of the demands in the Friends of Amanda Knox communique have been met – although the shift is not as radical as might have been expected given the grave concerns initially raised by Mr Wales. One of the key areas of concern originally expressed by the Friends was that the views of a list of writers (essentially, themselves) were not represented in the article. To a small extend, this seems to have been achieved, but it looks to be very much at the expense of making a special case and lowering the bar with regards to what is noteworthy media coverage. So, notable Friend Steve Shay on the westseattleherald.com website (current frontpage deals with the hardhitting story of a swimming pool re-opening for another season) counts as a “reliable source” for the Frank Sfarzo affair and, bizarrely, blogger Candace Dempsey is cited as a source for criticism of coverage of the case. And Idaho local cable news is considered a reliable source for Knox’s innocence as stated by Greg Hampikian, now given two paragraphs in the article without mentioning that he is a consultant to Knox’s parents.

I wouldn’t grumble about all this, but why does Wikipedia not consider the Sunday Times a reliable source for “Knox’s lesbian trauma” or Sky News a reliable source for one of her various statements that she “was there“? Are these not local enough?

In fairness, you’re an idiot if you expect Wikipedia to give you an unbiased view of anything where bias is possible. Which is not meant as a broadside. I suspect many of the most active Wikipedia editors recognise that it has that particular weakness. A question that they may want to ask, though, is: how should their figurehead act in apparently contentious cases?

Jimmy Wales’ shtick is basically that he’s just acting as a regular Wikipedia editor. Which, on the face of it, may seem fair enough. He isn’t breaking any rules. He’s just raising his concerns, as anyone in the world with an Internet connection is entitled to do. And there’s no lawful reason he shouldn’t campaign on Wikipedia.Then again, there’s no lawful reason why the Queen shouldn’t participate in X Factor. But she probably just doesn’t want to look ridiculous.

For Wikipedia, I think the story is a relatively positive one, showing both the strengths and the limitations of the way it operates. It turns out that you can’t turn up en masse at a Wikipedia article – at least, one where other people are active – and just change it to your liking. What’s shown by the discussion page archives is a lot of effort expended on rather weird discussions. A lot of discussion about whether the “jurors” in the case are best described as such (jurors is a good cultural translation which most of the media use, but they are termed “citizen judges” in Italy). Something I didn’t even finish reading through about fruit juice. An attempt to construct a timeline for the evening of the murder, and consternation about why it isn’t okay to just make up times for what happened when. Arguments about whether a floorplan of the murder scene was need in the article, whether or not it should be to scale and what the correct abbreviation of “fridge” is.

In short, Friends of Amanda Knox are not getting a good return proportionate to their investment. But they are also not getting nothing. Now, it might be argued that this shows their initial complaints to be well-founded. But I don’t think so. There don’t seem to have been any significant factual changes to the article, but a slight dip in standards, so that if something has been published somewhere and the Friends like the story, it finds its way into the article. It doesn’t have to be a major news source, just a story they like.

It will be interesting to see how the article develops in future. Either this new material will eventually be confirmed as part of the “true” version of events, or else it will need to be removed at some point. But what is it that triggers that? Once Wikipedia has decided that something is controversial, what changes its mind?

If you know the answer and have contact with a minor local news website, send me an email and maybe we can organise some pressure for it to be included in the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia.

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16 Responses to Wikipedia: Murder of Meredith Kercher

  1. Margaret Ganong says:

    Personally, I think the main goal of the operation was to generate media coverage. In that respect, it was an ephemeral success, like many of the recent initiatives intended to sustain interest in the fate of Amanda Knox (the CPJ/Sfarzo incident, the short-lived Michael Wiesner incident, the Bremner/Heavey/Wright letter to Congress and the President, etc.).
    The problem with all of these efforts is twofold: they are competing with far more interesting incidents and disasters, both manmade and natural, and they are too obviously manufactured to generate interest, which gets kind of old after awhile.

    Some volunteers at PMF have produced an executive summary of the Massei report, which we intend to make available in the near future. In many ways, it aspires to reflect what a good wiki page ought to be. The Massei court did not need to make reference to media sources to arrive at its verdict, and its reasons make for interesting and vital reading.

    • maundy says:

      The original PMF translation of the Massei report was invaluable, so I look forward to your summary.

      You might be correct about the goal of the Wikipedia thing being to generate media coverage. Although Wikipedia itself is quite a significant source for people. Bending it to your will if you are able is probably worth more than a passing mention in a news report.

      I do hold my head in my hands at the amount of energy expended on this type of thing, though. Having some people fool some other people some of the time doesn’t really count for much, I imagine, when you’re facing a court that doesn’t really care about Wikipedia or Frank Sfarzo or anything else that doesn’t have an exhibit tag dangling from it. People accused of serious crimes always deserve the best assistance they can get (as well as the best prosecution case to put the other side), but I can’t help feeling that what’s been available to Amanda Knox has largely been squandered. I won’t be recommending their services to Ratko Mladić.

  2. cjp says:

    Hello, Maundy,
    An opinion OT of the Wiki post, if I may.
    Volumes have been written regarding Amanda’s behavour in the days following the tragedy of Meredith’s murder. Pro and con weigh in and cartwheels are discussed endlessly as a sign of guilt or innocence, depending on which side of the fence you’re sitting.
    I am a logical person. I don’t find it odd that she didn’t attend the memorial. I also don’t find it odd that she spend time buying new underwear.
    But, I have been a victim of a crime. I know what it feels like to enter my home and find that a crime had been committed there.
    Amanda entered what she thought was an unoccupied cottage, took a shower, dressed and left, according to her. When she returned, and Meredith’s body was discovered, she did what?
    Seriously, picture it. You are alone, in your shower.There is a murdered woman in the next room.
    When this discovery is made, isn’t your first reaction: He could still have been in there while I was in the shower?
    I would have babbled and cried like an idiot in fear over this fact for days afterward, and it takes alot to shake me. This, I think is the kind of behavour that had the police suspicious. I would have been.
    Even if she had not been what I considered a close friend this is the kind of trauma that leads to nightmares and therapy. IF you’re innocent.

    • maundy says:

      Well, yes, I think her behaviour after the murder would have caused reasonable suspicion. But I also don’t think it’s enough evidence in itself of her guilt. IMO, that really depends on the physical evidence, although her changing stories and her false accusation of someone unconnected to the crime are also hard to explain if she is innocent.

  3. cjp says:

    Of course I did not mean to imply that this fact alone proves her quilt. Sorry if I gave that impression. I am simply starting at the beginning of the investigation and thinking out loud about how Amanda came under suspicion to begin with. I’m still on day one here. I said I was logical, I didn’t say I wasn’t boring.
    From my readings, she came to the police station voluntarily the night of her false accusation, because RS was asked to come in and she did not want to be alone. She brought her homework with her. Did she attend classes that week that she had homework to do? Doesn’t paint a picture to me of someone under intense pressure from brutal, lengthy interrogations.
    One question while I’m here. Some bloggers have discounted the idea of burglary as being a motive, because Amanda had money. Were her accounts checked to see if they were ATM accessible? It was a holiday, after all, and it’s possible to have money and not be able to get to it. Just curious.

    • sjc says:

      I am under the impression that Amanda did NOT have money and that Meredith’s rent (cash in her room) could have possibly been a motive.

      I agree with you totally about her behavior as I have mentioned before on this site (and I think you made your point perfectly). I would like to add that if she could remain so composed under those horrifying circumstances, I am hard pressed to believe that she would crumble enough under police interrogation to finger an innocent man.

      Also, I don’t necessarily find it odd that she bought underwear except that I think (someone please correct me if wrong) that she was shopping shortly after the memorial. I do find that telling. She didn’t care.

      • cjp says:

        Thank you for your reply, sjc.
        Whenever I find time to think about this sad case, I always start out with a picture of an innocent Amanda. I try to think about her point of reference, if she were innocent. What would she know about what happenned that night? Absolutely nothing.
        I picture her in the police station, talking to officers, and suddenly finding out that Raf is now denying being with her.
        What would she think, what would she do?
        She’s staying with him, remember? All she knows is that she was in bed, sleeping with her new boyfriend, and he suddenly says she wasn’t.
        He’s going right under the bus. Not Patrick, not Mary, Queen of Scots, not the one-armed man from the Fugutive; Raf.
        She’s innocent, she really knows nothing, she’s scared to death, and she’s most probably trying to figure out why he did this.
        To my way of thinking, she’s going to try to explain why Raf may have done this. Maybe they misunderstood him, maybe he’s afraid that his dad is going to know about the drugs, who knows?
        The police were looking at her phone at this time. They see the message to Patrick, and begin to question her about being with him, the message says ‘see ya later’ and they start questioning her more.
        She says he was working, fools, she knows he was, she knows his hours,simple, end of conversation. If she’s innocent.
        She sees Raf in court now. I hear they pass smiles, like what? All is forgiven.
        In my book, if I’m innocenr, I’d want to rip his head off for starting this whole mess. I can’t see any way around this, can you?

    • maundy says:

      @cjp

      Regarding your question about burglary being a motive. According to what was said in court, €300, two bank cards and two phones were stolen from Kercher. There’s no evidence that the cards were subsequently used or that Kercher had an unusually large sum in her account. So I don’t think it seems likely that she was killed for her money. And it doesn’t seem plausible to me that either Knox, Sollecito (who was rolling in money) or Guede would have been desperate enough for cash that they would have killed someone for €300. Knox had €215 on her when she was taken into custody, which is quite a lot for a student. But I don’t think we can jump to conclusions and, even if she took the money, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the motive.

      I have seen it argued that Kercher was killed during a row that escalated after Kercher accused Knox of having stolen money from her. That doesn’t seem implausible, but it is partly based on the testimony of Guede, which I don’t think can be taken at face value.

      I don’t think the court in the original Knox-Sollecito trial convincingly got to the bottom of the question of motive, and I’m not very sure anyone will ever be able to do that.

  4. cjp says:

    Sorry I veered off your topic, Maundy. but I’m re-looking at this from the beginning, a getting-back-to basics, if you will, and your site is presently one where I can get answers without feeling intimidated.
    About Wikipedia: if the appeals are successful(I don’t expect them to be, but if they are), if we access Wikipedia 5 years from now, will Amanda and Raf be reduced to a 2-line foot-note? Certainly gives me something to think about.

  5. cc hove says:

    I like your logical boringness cjp. I too try and analyse this case from the human behaviour angle. I read Wiki article a year ago and then again today. The bias has definitely shifted pro-Knox way. One major thing is I could find no reference to the Mixed DNA/Mixed blood aspect. Knox said she saw no blood before the murder but her blood is found in the apartment the morning after the murder. I read elsewhere that the defence are very keen to minimise this issue and that the jurors said they felt the defence had not answered on this issue. So, worth a line in Wiki, no? Unless it is being slanted by the ‘defense’. One other point – has any case in history so thoroughly, thoroughly divided opinion?

  6. cjp says:

    Maundy, could you tackle a sincere question for me?
    I have been trying to read everything I can on both sides of the argument, and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s an almost impossible task. One thing I keep running into that I can’t make sense of is those in favor of Amanda’s innocence arguing that the jury should have been sequestered.
    Since the argument in favor of innocence is variations of: she was railroaded, Mignini is corrupt, the police framed her, and so on, how could sequestering the jury to ONLY hear the corrupt, crack-pot, made up evidence, have helped Amanda?. I would think that the jurists being free to read all of the blogs, comments and spin that those in favor of innocence read would have HELPED
    Amanda. The logic behind the argument escapes me, and I feel that I must be missing something simple. Can you help me out?

    • maundy says:

      Hi cjp. You know when you’re not sure whether something is a rhetorical question or not…. 😉

      I think the thing about sequestration is mainly a paint-the-Italian-system-black thing for the US public. “The jury wasn’t even sequestered!!!” might sound like something to be concerned about if you say it to the right people in the right tone of voice.

      In terms of why they weren’t sequestered: it’s rare anywhere, and the Italian system is unfortunately very slow. I don’t think you could sustain sequestering people properly (ie no access to the outside world at all – otherwise why bother?) for nearly a year, which is how long the first trial took.

  7. cjp says:

    Yeah, it’s like when somebody says something and you’re not sure if it was meant as an insult. Or not.
    My question about jury sequestration comes under the heading of your Wikipedia article because it is the kind of question that pops up while one is reading about this case. The people from PMF and TJMK supply an endless amount of intelligent information,however, while reading, quiestions arise. I realize that these people have no responsibility to answer anything, but, if Wikipedia becomes slanted, and one does not speak Italian, what does one do to find answers?. Keep in mind, when asking a question, one has to trust the source they are asking. And that, at least in this case, is not a simple thing.

  8. With respect to Raffaele, he could have stuck by the story he told police on November 5th, but he did not. I don’t see anything suspicious in the fact that Amanda and Raffaele appear to get along just fine.

    With respect to her interrogations, we also have Laura’s recollection that Amanda said that they yelled at her on at least one night prior to 5 November. I suppose this constitutes hearsay, so take it as you will.

  9. post script,

    What I wrote above about Laura probably came from her testimony.

  10. Abdrew Legun says:

    I followed my nose in asking questions and seeking answers via google. Started with Guede testimony, passed thru Wikepedia and then finally to blogs on abundant mixed blood evidence (Knox, Kerchner’s) at scene which seems compelling to me and others but missing from account in Wikepedia. Why? Without mention of it account in Wikepedia is clearly selective of what is presents.

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