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Palin Fans Edit Paul Revere Wikipedia Page, Define ‘Revisionist History’

Jun 6, 2011

Sarah Palin fans are engaging in revisionist history—literally, this time.

Picture 22 Palin Fans Edit Paul Revere Wikipedia Page, Define Revisionist History

On Friday we wrote, along with the rest of the internet universe, about Sarah Palin’s completely incorrect account of Paul Revere’s midnight ride warning of impending British military action on American colonists.

Commenting on the article on our Facebook page, reader Monica White said, “It really isn’t funny – if a lie is repeated enough times and enough people believe it, it becomes the accepted truth. Most common people are lazy thinkers and [they] will never challenge subtle changes to an account of a historical event.”

As if on cue, over the weekend Palin’s supporters began editing the Wikipedia page for Paul Revere with a technicality that made it consistent with Palin’s fatuous account of Paul Revere history.

Little Green Footballs noticed that a text update reading “Most colonial residents at the time considered themselves British as they were all legally British subjects” was deleted, because the update cited as its source a particular Sarah Palin recounting of Paul Revere’s ride: “Content not backed by a reliable sources (it was sarah palin interview videos).”

The term “revisionist history” has a way of popping up around Tea Party conservatives, whether it’s Michele Bachmann praising the Founding Fathers for “working tirelessly until slavery was no more” (a complete fallacy) or Palin re-telling history with Paul Revere warning the British instead of his fellow colonists along his midnight ride.

Palin appeared on Fox News Sunday and insisted “British soldiers [were] in the area for years before Revere’s legendary ride, and…he was warning them, as well as his fellow colonists,” according to Huffington Post.

It appears that, according to some credible historians, there is some fine print in the midnight ride story about Revere also admonishing some British that they were in for a fight.

But the bigger issue here, as Monica White astutely points out, is how digital culture assimilates and keeps its memories. Being peer-edited, Wikipedia paradoxically has both less authority than any singular expert and more.

Via the “wisdom of the crowds” (or “efficient market theory” as it’s known in economics) Wikipedia gains the power of consensus. But when expertise was disseminated via the printed word, consensus tended to be relatively static, and stable through the ages. No matter how many times you go back and read an influential book it still says the same thing. Wikipedia, however, is constantly morphing and evolving. It reflects status quo, rather than creating it.

On the surface, Palin’s revisionist swipe at Paul Revere’s ride, which subtly imposes a 2nd Amendment narrative years before there was even a Constitution, is a trite bit of silliness. But it’s actually pretty profound—it’s all about mainstream access to objective reality. It’s not that different than trying to get North Koreans to believe that their country is the “2nd happiest place on earth.”

Luckily for us, the consensus is still wise enough to prevent Palin’s version of history from entering the history books. And speaking of forgotten history, let’s take a moment to remember this:

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