Updated at 1:08 p.m.
For the second time in two years, the name of Leah Ward Sears surfaced Monday on a White House short list for the U.S. Supreme Court. This time to replace Justice John Paul Stevens.
Fortunately, things are easier the second time around. Some things are already done.
Last year, while under consideration to fill the vacancy created by David Souter’s departure, Sears may have spent a little time on the Internet, polishing up her Wikipedia bio, according to Gawker.com.
From the Web site:
On May 6th, a user named LWsears1992 edited Leah Ward Sears’ Wikipedia page, adding the clause “Based in large part on her highly regarded record” to a passage about how she defeated an opponent in the 2004 race for Georgia Supreme Court. (Georgia is one of eight states that have the sort of weird policy of electing Supreme Court justices.)
Of course, this could just be a huge fan of Leah Ward Sears who has devoted their Wikipedia career to improving her page. But it is suspicious that LWSears1992 claims ownership of the image of Leah Ward Sears. Other edits to Sears’ page by LWsears1992 included adding that she was the “first”—not simply the “only”—”African-American female chief justice in the United States.” And clarifying that she was resigning from the Supreme Court “when her term as Chief Justice ends.” (As opposed to, you know, some sort of crazy scandal.)
This afternoon, William Beutler, who maintains The Wikipedian — a blog that explains the self-editing repository, examined each and every change that LWSears1992 made, and came to this conclusion:
My answer regarding Leah Ward Sears is that, she made the article better, but not much. She did not go about it the right way, but the right way is non-obvious to most, and the burden is on Wikipedia to make its rules understood by outsiders. While some of her edits were self-serving, they were of a mild sort.
At most this was a venal sin, not a cardinal one. Gawker is turning this into a “gotcha” story on the implied theory that interacting with one’s own Wikipedia article is never acceptable. This is a myth, one widely believed and one propagated by many at Wikipedia simply to keep people from meddling with their pages en masse. This is understandable, but it won’t work out in the long term.
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