Saturday, April 23, 2011

Philadelphia's Black Mafia on Wikipedia

As many people know, the topic of Philadelphia's Black Mafia has its own Wikipedia entry - "Black Mafia".  I probably should have publicly commented on this matter long ago, but for whatever reasons reserved my critical remarks for lesser forums.  I keep (wrongly!) assuming that readers know Wikipedia is most often not a valid source of information - and even when it is, we have little reason to know this is the case.  Here, then, are some comments about the entry which so often mentions my work as the basis for its content.

For starters, the entry's title, "Black Mafia," is troublesome since it suggests to some there is or was a monolithic African-American organized crime group operating throughout the U.S.  Though the syndicate had operations and contacts in various cities, the majority of its significant activities took place in and around Philadelphia.

I have checked the entry intermittently for some time to see where some of the questions I receive originate.  My overall sense of the entry probably mirrors what is true of the entire site, namely that it is somewhat true and somewhat properly sourced...and yet seriously flawed and wildly inaccurate (particularly depending on how long it has been since someone at least attempted to edit the piece in consideration of certain factors).  As I type, the very beginning of the entry ("Overview") includes historically inaccurate (though typical street legend) commentary which is presented as fact.

Indeed, for months the Black Mafia entry included a detailed description of the group's relationship with a wholly fabricated Italian-American crime family (I am convinced to this day that one of my many former students penned the bogus material as a means of "testing" Wikipedia, since I have often joked in class about performing such a stunt out of curiosity).  

I won't waste time commenting about the current, significant flaws in the entry simply because by the time I post this, they may not appear!  It is Wikipedia we are discussing, after all.

In closing, I should note that despite my serious concerns about the Black Mafia Wiki entry, the site's take on another of my research projects - the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal - is far worse!  Wow.  As such, I highly doubt I'll ever take the time to address its many errors, and will simply hope that interested parties consult Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen and the related blogs (see here and here).