The danger of a freely-editable online encyclopedia is that anyone can go on a person’s page and make an edit that shines them in a negative light. If the editor makes the edit legally within Wikipedia’s strict guidelines and they have sources to back it up, then the information on the page can stay. One editor, Dimitris Liourdis of Greece, is maybe wishing that an edit he made hadn’t been backed up by reliable sources.
Liourdis made an edit on the Wikipedia page of Theodore Katsanevas, a prominent Greek politician, on the Greek language Wikipedia site. The edit pointed out that Katsanevas was called a “family disgrace” in the will of former Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou. Papandreou was also Katsanevas’ father-in-law. The term “family disgrace” was widely publicized in 1996 in a number of notable and reliable sources like the San Francisco Chronicle and the Corriere della Sera, making it eligible for entry on Wikipedia.
Despite this, Katsanevas was none too pleased with the inclusion of the term on his Wikipedia page. Liourdis also included a tidbit about how Papandreou suggested that Katsanevas was using his father-in-law’s name to further his own political ambitions. This all sounds like a tangled web, but it’s one that has led Liourdis into a bit of hot water.
Because Wikipedia has the power to make and break reputations, Katsanevas wants the negative information about his past family life stricken from the record. He also decided to levy a lawsuit against Liourdis for libel. Of course, information that is factual and properly sourced has every right to be on Wikipedia, but that is certainly of little import to Katsanevas. He is seeking €200,000 in damages from Liourdis in the libel case.
The Wikimedia Foundation, the umbrella non-profit company that counts Wikipedia as one of its subsidiaries, is starting to mount a case against Katsanevas. In most circumstances, Wikipedia might remain neutral, but their lawyer, Michelle Paulson, has called the Katsanevas case an “unconscionable lawsuit.” She has also noted that the Greek Wikipedia community has thoroughly vetted the article and researched the sources used, and they have decided that the information is appropriate for the page.
That being said, Liourdis is still facing courtroom judgment. When standing before a judge, he was told to delete the information he added to the Wikipedia page. He tried to explain to the judge that deleting properly-sourced and valid information from a Wikipedia page would result in a ban from the community—something Liourdis, who edits under the name “Diu,” would like to avoid. The judge did not understand the implications of deleting that content and ordered him to take it down. Of course, when the information was deleted, it was replaced in a matter of moments.
So, the case moves on. If the information is allowed to stay, then it will be a reaffirmation of both Wikipedia’s policies and free speech in general. If the information is subjected to forced removal, then it may be considered an affront to free speech. It will certainly be an affront to Liourdis’ wallet. If the Wikimedia Foundation’s case against Katsanevas is sound, then it appears unlikely that Liourdis has anything to worry about. But, he may think twice about editing the page of a powerful politician unless the information he provides is either wholly neutral or positive.
Martin Horst is a freelance journalist who resides in Boston, Massachusetts. His work includes stories about politics, law, and criminal justice. He is a graduate of Boston College where he majored in journalism.