Rafael Fernandez De Castro graduated from USC with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Screenwriting. He has published for the Daily Trojan, Rolling Stone, the Huffington Post and Hustler Magazine. He is the International Coordinator at One Three Media. He specializes in film, media, politics and soft power issues.
Note: this article was written in 2012.
“The subject of this article is controversial and may be in dispute. When updating the article, be bold, but not reckless.” – Wikipedia guideline for battle
This year the Falkland Islands controversy escalated when Prince William was sent there for military training two months prior to the 30th anniversary of the conflict that took place between Great Britain and Argentina in 1982. The dispute over the islands has been revived by the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kichner, who claims the British have illegally occupied the islands since 1833. The media from both nations have widely debated the issue, directing demands and accusations to international organizations such as the United Nations.
The Falklands War is well buried in the past and the aggressive rhetoric will not materialize into a new military conflict. Nevertheless, the heated debate that incites the passions of Argentinians and Brits alike has reached the online free encyclopedia: Wikipedia. The Falkland Islands entry is a battle to maintain neutrality and at the same time impose national and subjective historical views. This is a war for information, where contributors seek the power and the administration’s approval to write history.
The subject of much heated debate in the “Falkland Islands” page on Wikipedia is the entry: “Britain re-established its rule in 1833, yet the islands continue to be claimed by Argentina. In 1982, following Argentina’s invasion of the islands, the two-month-long undeclared Falklands War between both countries resulted in the surrender of all Argentine forces.”
Grupo7-ARI2012 sparks the online war of language and rhetoric, advocating for neutrality and efforts “to be careful with the words you use.” For this user, to write that Britain reestablished its rule and that Argentina invaded the islands expresses the view that Argentinians were “bad invaders” and the Brits “good real owners.” To further support his argument, the user switches the positions and determines it would also be unfair to say “Britain invaded the islands in 1833, yet the islands belonged to Argentina.” Instantly a thread is created where other users support or attack Grupo7-ARI2012’s original complaint.
The controversy centers on the words “invasion” and “occupation.” According to Wikipedia, an “invasion” is a “military offensive” with “the armed forces of one geopolitical entity aggressively enter[ing] territory controlled by another such entity.” In contrast, “occupation” lies under “military occupation” which in an “effective provisional control of a certain power over a territory which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity.” The question here is who invaded whom? And are the islands being occupied?
User Kahastok attempts to be a mediator, claiming that even though the facts are “awkward” to either sides, that does not give contributors “the excuse to rewrite history.” When building their arguments, users cite other Wikipedia pages as sources. Users also take on the administration for leaving the post intact. MarshalN20 says, “IP editors are incorrect in thinking that occupation is a neutral term that can replace invasion.” However, he goes on further and cites the Hague Convention, which, according to the user, stipulates that Argentina invaded and occupied the islands, and that Britain “liberated” them. Then, the discussion focus on the word “liberation” and users even cite the WWII “invasion of Normandy” to make a point: were the U.S. forces a “liberating” army?
Neutrality takes the form of justice on Wikipedia. This is the website’s premise and what drives the Falkland Islands’ online debate. The second of five Wikipedia pillars states that entries are written from a neutral point of view that stresses a “balanced and impartial manner” that offers “multiple points of view.” The mission to achieve true neutrality is what drives most of the website’s discussion and debate. Wikipedia does not want neutral users, but demands contributors to provide both sides of the coin and strive for a piece of information that lays all facts, opinions, and opposing views on the table in an equal fashion. Brits and Argentinians could learn from the bipartisan solutions sprouting on Wikipedia.
“Neutrality takes the form of justice on Wikipedia.”
Argentina and Britain will not take the Falkland Islands debate on Wikipedia seriously. In fact, most institutions choose to disregard this stigmatized site. Most high schools and colleges fail to understand that Wikipedia is the champion of skepticism. Through the goal of neutrality, Wikipedia ignites an online debate that challenges the very institution of history, promoting skepticism on traditional and subjective views of historic events. This is the type of debate we encounter in the Falkland Islands Wikipedia entry. One can easily access the “talk” section on each Wikipedia page and view what entries have been and are currently being disputed as opposed to history textbooks where the author’s bias is imposed and traditional views of history are recurrent.
Wikipedia challenges the notion that only winners write history by inviting winners, losers and third parties to debate the “facts.” Perhaps, the reason institutions are fearful of Wikipedia is that it democratizes knowledge. The site embodies participatory culture and challenges our established “truths.” Moreover, Wikipedia has approximately 100 thousand contributors that participate in 12 million edits on a monthly basis (source?).
Wikipedia will not resolve an international dispute. Nevertheless, the site is increasingly becoming a forum that challenges subjective, traditional and institutionalized information – and in the case of Falkland Islands, history. The entry remains intact along with the notion that Britain “reestablished” its rule and that Argentina “invaded.” However, looking at how information wars are conducted on Wikipedia can help us better understand the benefits of consensus. Argentina and Great Britain are two democracies that will continue to have diverging opinions on what took place in 1982 on the Falkland Islands.
Nevertheless, the real threat for Argentina’s and Britain’s historic memories are not one another but Wikipedia, which poses a third power that will scrutinize, challenge and possibly even disprove what each of these nations holds as historic truths. Institutions, governments and international organizations may disregard these new conclusions. However, Wikipedia does not serve these powers, it serves the people and their knowledge.