There’s been a lot about Wikipedia this week because it is clearly the most mainstream open source access point. I can’t tell you how many times since high school that teachers have told me to use Wikipedia to gather background on a topic, but never cite it and look for more respectable source to actually gather research from.
Why so much academic disdain for the website that’s often joked about as saving many from failing classes? Open sources allow anyone to go into an article and edit it, add to it, delete from it, and just wreak havoc. To help example my point here, I’m going to break the hearts of all educators and cite a Wikipedia page. Ironically, the page, “Criticism of Wikipedia,” discusses the main arguments to Wikipedia as a solid source of information.
The number one problem is, as I’ve said, the “unreliable content.” A person who is persistent enough and potentially conniving enough can alter the facts of a topic they feel strongly about. This feeds into the second main problem, which is that editors can let politics and ideology bleed into the articles. A radical political supporter can go and change the background of a political rival to make them seem like a shady character.
Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Wikipedia
It also allows for pages to be created that aren’t necessarily noteworthy. Anyone can create a page about an inside joke, for their neighbor Bob who occasionally plays guitar at the local bar, or for themselves, if they consider themselves a particularly proclaimed video game expert.
It isn’t always malicious that debunks Wikipedia’s worth. Pyropus Technology points out that even well intentioned content producers can be problematic to the reliability of Wikipedia. They may not be an expert or very well read on the subject, they may be misinformed or not have an understanding of the full scope of the topic, thus skewing the information. Without the background and credentials on a topic, Pyropus Technology states that the information is devalued. Readers are given no real evidence of the author’s ability to speak on a given topic, so it’s about as worthy as a Facebook status an old high school friend posted.
Retrieved from: http://pyropus.ca/personal/writings/wikipedia.html
I’d like to share some examples of Wikipedia mistakes, posted by pcworld.com:
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Wikipedia page was changed at one point to state that the politician “worships Hitler.”
“Former University of Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher was listed as a ‘prostitute’ and a ‘witch’ on her Wikipedia page.”
Besides political (of which there are plenty of Wikipedia take-overs in history) and professional targets, celebrities have also been marked by these attacks. At one point, David Beckham’s Wikipedia touted him a “Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th century.”
Despite the warnings against using Wikipedia as a main source of information, people still use it. Why do people continue to knowingly accept unreliable information? Is it laziness, do people tend to just believe the best in the content producers, or is it an inherent desire to believe whatever we read on the internet?