PinkNews.co.uk founder and Channel 4 News Corresopondent Benjamin Cohen is frustrated that a Wikipedia entry on him is laced with factual errors
While travelling I became aware of a dispute between Wikipedia users who edit the Wikipedia entry for me. And it’s highlighted for me an essential problem with the online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit -accuracy.
For years I have been aware that the entry on me is not particularly flattering and contained a number of inaccuracies.
But the current dispute between Someone who both clearly has a grudge against me and seems incapable of understanding corporate transactions/ balance sheets and someone who seems to be a bit of a fan. The editor with a grudge seems rather obsessed, resorting to posting around 20 comment posts on PinkNews to criticise me.
Their dispute became so heated that an editorial process called a third person opinion was initiated. I attempted to intervene because I feel that some of changes to the entry and both inaccurate and are damaging to my professional reputation. But my opinion didn’t count presumably because I couldn’t verify that I really am Benjamin Cohen. So I decided to spell out some facts favourable and unfavourable about myself here on PinkNews because no one can then doubt their accuracy. I do this in the hope that the entry on me will become more accurate.
Channel4 News’s website and my agent’s website contain biographies of me but neglect the detail. In order to correct the errors on Wikipedia, here are the facts:-
I started a website called JewishNet when I was 16 it was an early social network before the term was invented.
In 1999 it hit the headlines after investment bank Durlacher agreed to help secure investment to expand the website. It was provisionally valued at £5m. The newspapers inaccurately claimed I was therefore worth £5m. While I was certainly a teenage dotcom (paper) millionaire the value of my stake was significantly lower than £5m.
The deal they helped negotiate, created a new company called soJewish that would be jointly controlled by myself, IT companies iDesk and Epoq and the London Jewish news, a 40000 distribution newspaper. In exchange for shares the companies invested cash and infastricture of a value of around £1m. The company was then valued at more than the £5m originally stated. But plans to float the business on the stock market were shelved due to the crash in internet stock.
A rival Jewish portal Totally plc did float on the London Stock Exchange Alternate Investment Market (AIM) but was struggling as it required constant brand advertising while my website didn’t because of its newspaper shareholder. It was then decided that soJewish should make what is termed as a reverse acquisition of Totally plc.
This meant soJewish merging with its main shareholder, the London Jewish News and then being bought in an all share deal by Totally plc. New shares in Totally plc were issued and my company’s shareholders received more shares than were then held by the existing shareholders in Totally plc. We effectively bought them and were a quoted company. For the duration of the transaction I became the youngest ever director of a publically quoted company. The value of soJewish and the London Jewish News at the time of the deal was just over £4m (post dot.com crash).
My shares were worth much less, around £310,000. I later sold a percentage of them for cash £40,000 (after tax).
The Wikipedia article at times says that the £5m value of soJewish was reduced to £40,000. Obviously as explained this is false. The editors who keep changing the article seem not to understand the process of raising money for a business and the way that shares are sold. I owned less than 20% of soJewish at the time of the deal with Totally plc.
The article also refers to another business I founded called CyberBritain. This was a pre-Google search engine and data marketing company. At points it powered the search engines of scores of internet service providers.
At the peak of the bubble it was valued at £20m and my stake in it meant I found myself above Prince William in the Sunday Times rich list.
Bizarrely the company made a modest profit of £165 while most internet companies posted losses of millions. The Daily Telegraph at one point mentions this. Quoting me saying the company bills around £12,000 a month but they also highlighted the small profit. The Wikipedia article has at times claimed that the company billed just £165 a year. The writer clearly not understanding the difference between revenue and profit. My company (and its subsidiaries) spent about £100,000 a year and earned roughly the same, breaking even in a world where companies lost millions.
The entry also inaccurately claims that I tried to register the domain name itunes.co.uk. This is factually incorrect. My then company owned the domain name, having purchased the rights considerably prior to Apple being granted a trademark for the term. But my company lost the rights to it after a controversial, long and expensive legal battle that ended in the High Court. The claims within the Wikipedia article are potentially libellous and are damaging not just to myself but also wikipedia as an accurate source of information.
I won’t bore the world with the other facets of my business career. I made a lot of mistakes but had enormous fun doing them and of course I’m no longer a millionaire. But, I wanted to highlight the inherent problem with Wikipedia – accuracy.
As I sit here reading inaccuracies about me, it makes me question how easily we accept what we read on Wikipedia to be true. I can’t count the times I have quickly printed out a biography on Wikipedia of someone I’m off to interview for channel4 news and fix some fact or other in my head to use while filming.
Famously Channel4 News along with the rest of the media fell victim to an inaccurate Wikipedia article about the TV theme tune composer Ronnie Hazlehurst. When he died a mischievous Wikipedia editor claimed the Yes Minister and Last of the Summer Wine theme composers wrote Sclub 7′s hit single Reach for the Stars. He of course did not and everyone who reported that he did felt a little stupid!
Hopefully my proactive approach will mean that the information in my entry will soon reflect reality.
Benjamin Cohen is the founder of PinkNews.co.uk and a Correspondent for Channel4 News