Around this time, the Times called Wales for his help in quashing news about Rohde. News about the kidnapping was posted and deleted several times Nov. 13 before a Wikipedia admin blocked changes for three days, and then again Nov. 16 for two weeks. The addition-subtraction battle continued into February, with user editors leaving irate messages on Wikipedia over the deletion of their work.
Rohde finally escaped June 20 and Wales unfroze the page, ending a month-long struggle to suppress information with the balance of a human life hanging over Wikipedia. Wales said his decision to keep word of Rohde's situation off of Wikipedia was aided by the fact that major news site's were mum or in the dark on Rohde.
Ardia acknowledge that Wikipedia is open only to a point, relying on intermediaries that have the power to decide what to publish and what not to publish and have a well-documented process for hearing disputes. Ardia added:
"Often times, they don't exercise that power and then we go along thinking these are open sites with perfect free speech rights. But that isn't the case. In this situation, it's unclear to me but it appears the normal Wikipedia process for arbiting editing disputes did not kick in. Instead it was a decision by Jimmy and others at the top of the organization to prevent this information from being included in the entry."
Wales responded that Wikipedia's editorial processes were followed 100 percent and this was handled in a fairly routine way. "No Wikipedia rules were bent or broken in any way," he added.
Ardia said that newspapers have a history of asking rival or partner newspapers to suppress information about endangered reporters, acts that the public rarely hear about.
These were typically managed via a phone call from one editor to another. However, he said, in the digital age of open, crowd-sourced sites, it is hard to find a central management contact to vet such requests. This proved different for Wikipedia, where Wales' high-profile made him an easy contact for the Times to reach out to for help regarding Rohde.
Would Wikipedia's actions radically change the way people view Wikipedia? Ardia said he doubted it.
Geoff Bock, who follows collaboration technologies for the Gilbane Group, said the way the situation was handled spoke to the site's maturity, adding that if Wikipedia is going to be taken seriously as a mainline source of information, the members of the community have to realize that they are acting with some sense of maturity.
"There are certain boundaries and what happened here with The New York Times and Rhode was a very sensitive and delicate situation and it needed to be handled appropriately," Bock said. "It shows that Wikipedia is willing to take themselves seriously and they understand the environment in which they're operating. Now you have a lot more respect for the information they provide."
For his part, Wales said the way he and his staff handled the Rohde issue "is only surprising to people who have assumed that Wikipedia is some kind of free-for-all. It is not, it never has been."