Wikipedia is an academic’s worst nightmare

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.

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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.

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I’d like to share some examples of Wikipedia mistakes, posted by

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.”

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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?

Putting it all out there

Facebook makes it easy for us to share who we are, what our interests are, and what our hopes and dreams are. It allows us to connect with people with similar interests and form relationships, both platonic and romantic. Sometimes, though, that information we trust to the Internet can be used against us, and we put out more than we realize.

In “Understanding knowledge sharing in virtual communities: An integration of social capital and social cognitive theories,” the authors explain that people do realize that whomever is on the receiving end may not be trustworthy. In fact, “Contrary to our expectation, trust did not have a significant impact on quantity of knowledge sharing” (Chiu, Hsu, & Wang, 2006). People are willing to share information despite not trusting the other members of the online community because of “strong feelings toward the virtual community.”

We feel so tied to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other social media page that we begin to see usernames as friendly faces without taking into account the risks involved. A story recently ran concerning an 18-year-old woman was attacked after being stalked online. Paige Rolland of Scotland posted a negative book review of a novel by Richard Brittain.

Brittain used social media to learn where Rolland lived, where she worked, what she looked like, and anything else he could find about her. He then traveled approximately 500 miles, showed up at her place of employment, and attacked her by smashing a bottle of wine on her head, leaving her with severe cuts. Brittain’s online presence was notably disturbed, as he ran a blog detailing his stalking of a local student, and using her as the protagonist for the novel Rolland had unfavorably reviewed. Full story here:

While Rolland’s story is one to caution what you share, it also is one to caution who you engage with. Had Rolland dug further and discovered Brittain’s blog, she perhaps wouldn’t have engaged negatively with him online.

But the people we’re sharing with aren’t necessarily strangers. Just a few weeks ago, a Pennsylvania man, Robert Start, was charged with stalking his estranged wife, posting “more than 900 harassing images on the woman’s Facebook page,” the article said. Images “allegedly included weapons, skeletons, and vulgar hand gestures.”

Eventually, his online tendencies translated to physical when he began following her day-to-day.

Chiu and associates discuss that we can sometimes infer mental stability based on social media activity (Chiu, Hsu, & Wang, 2006). Clearly Brittain and Start are mentally unbalanced, and the social media portrayal can work both for and against us. What I mean by that is this: Had anyone focused solely on their social media interactions and recognized these are real people who could really act, there may have been some preventative measures.

However, social media provides a buffer that essentially says, “Well, they probably don’t really mean it.” Start had been harassing his estranged wife since February, but action wasn’t taken until October, at which time he was following her while she shopped. Full story here:

Kosinski, Stillwell, and Graepel discuss in their article how people’s traits can be quickly inferred based on social media “likes” and information (2013). Unfortunately, it may be the unstable party researching who they are talking to, rather than the stable one.

What advice do you have in order to still craft and maintain an online identity without paying the cost in safety?


Chiu, C., Hsu, M., & Wang, E. (2006). Understanding knowledge sharing in virtual communities: An integration of social capital and social cognitive theories. Science Direct, 1872-1888.

Kosinski, M., Stillwell, D., & Graepel, T. (2013). Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1, 3-1, 3.

Wolf uses social media as Governor

Social media has changed the way we act in every situation. As a reaction to that, politicians have had to alter how they seek to reach voters and a younger demographic. This week, we really looked at how social media ties in with politics. It’s expanded the political sphere from billboards and commercials to Twitter feeds and Facebook advertisements.

Gone are the days of only presidential candidates taking carte blanche on any and all avenues to disseminate campaign and other information. Any public official seat can register a Twitter handle, for instance, from a governor to a senator or House representative.

Every day, any politician with social media access via smartphone, laptop or other mobile device can dispense any volume of useful information or propaganda from a tidbit to a mouthful. Shirky discusses how these tools have strengthened social change and made the public’s voice louder (2011).

While this is most widespread and bordering on obnoxious with presidential campaigns, it’s also been an important tool in state government here in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf uses social media regularly to not just promote himself, but to hold “town halls,” where he sits down on camera and responds to questions and concerns read from his Facebook page for a chunk of time, usually a half an hour to an hour.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette published this:

Asked why he turned to Facebook, the governor said: “I think in a democracy, you should look for any possible way you can interact with the people who hired you. The voters of Pennsylvania voted for me for governor, and I need to continue the conversation that I think I engaged in in the campaign, and social media has been a great way to do that.”

The Post Gazette reports that these town hall Facebook chats even have Republican support as a way to reach more voters and residents. His March chat garnered over 14,000 views, according to Lancaster online.

WTAE compares Wolf’s Facebook initiative with another recent tool he’s been using, a Twitter town hall. The difference is that, here, Wolf responds directly to tweets sent to him, rather than a video of him answering the questions. WTAE states that there is a much quicker pace to this method.

What I found most interesting, taking into account Leetaru’s explanation that Twitter has greatly changed communication, is how critical we can be with these new advancements. Instead of just recognizing Wolf for his innovation once he was already in office and no longer campaigning, WTAE’s article, as well as countless others, complained about Wolf’s different attempts on the platforms.

Some people preferred the video aspect of watching Wolf answer as a kind of confirmation that it was, in fact, his own answers. Others liked the ability to not have to watch a video, but just stay tuned through their Twitter feed.

Both options have their merit. Is there another alternative you’d like to see politicians use? Or do you think one of these options is already the best way?


Leetaru, K. (2013, May). Mapping the global Twiter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter. Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.

Shirky, C. (2011). The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, The Public Sphere, and Political Change. Foreign Affairs , 12.

Social Movement requires organization

If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it make a sound? How about a modern twist: If a group tries to gain supporters for some cause without launching a social media campaign, does the cause even exist?

Clay Shirky in “Here Comes Everybody” talks about engagement, and launches into how blogs and online community made it much easier to take a stand and bring widespread attention to it. Because everyone can access these tools, anyone can post photos of injustices, or plan flash mobs or movements.

Just this week, social media has rallied against a South Carolinian police officer throw a student – and her desk – to the floor, violently arresting her:

According to this article, the officer has a reputation of violent arrests, but it was never caught on video, and he was never investigated for it. But, one short video posted to social media, and the misconduct is finally being investigated.

The article shares tweets from students explaining how they were too scared and shocked to try and help the girl. This officer strikes such fear he can manhandle a student in front of a teacher. But now, social media’s far reaches stirred national outrage and he will – hopefully – be stopped.

The Wall Street Journal posted a list of the top five social media movements of 2014, and how they took hold:

The first one they discuss, Bring Back Our Girls, is aligned with Shirky’s discussion of how online engagement can be political. #BringBackOurGirls was a political campaign against a terror group in Nigeria that kidnapped nearly 300 young girls. The movement was popular in the United States, with many celebrities getting on board. Even First Lady Michelle Obama voiced support for the movement.

These movements have also been used to take a stand against social problems, like sexual harassment, with the movement Yes All Women. The movement gained footing after an alleged murderer posted a video about how he’d slaughter women who rejected him. He allegedly killed six people.

After his Youtube video took off, women nationwide formed #YesAllWomen to share stories of sexual harassment and abuse, and how our society is tuned to this mentality (shared on the list): “Because we’re taught ‘never leave your drink alone,’ instead of ‘don’t drug someone.’”

Shirky talks about how angry citizens can ignite fast action, but that if that fury flickers out, action won’t follow on the part of the accused. A movement must be organized. We see so many horror stories of injustice that never see results because people forget and move on. For example, the girls kidnapped in Nigeria haven’t been rescued, though some did escape on their own. While the movement garnered so much attention, there wasn’t ever any organized action planned with it.

On the flip side, Yes All Women spread effectively into the political world, and became the focus of Emma Watson’s address to the United Nation, and the basis of another gender equality movement, #HeForShe.

Group engagement is necessary for any successful call to action, and social media is a great tool for that, but if there isn’t an organized action plan, there likely won’t be any affect except fleeting anger.


Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (pp. 161-204, 182). New York: Penguin Press.

Do we keep sprinting in the technology rat race?

This week, we delve into “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky. The primary focus of Shirky’s is that the most advanced devices can sit in a room somewhere and not make a bit of difference. The impact they hold comes when large groups of people begin implementing device-dependant behavior.

The first computer was invented in the late 1930s, but didn’t have much affect on regular, everyday people at that time for a couple reasons. It wouldn’t be mass-produced for quite a while. It was seen as a working tool, not a social one. A person whose work didn’t involve mathematics and other obvious uses for the technology wouldn’t consider purchasing one. And even if they had considered purchasing it, the cost was astronomical.

According to, the initial computers cost upwards of $20,000, way beyond a price point for a regular family. By the 1970s, you could own one for $8,000. Prices continued to come down slowly, and now you can purchase a minicomputer for about $100.

But even if you could afford a computer then, what would an average person use it for? Not much, really. It wasn’t until options for mass appeal became mainstream that society began to adopt the practice. There has to be a personal benefit usually to sway public opinion. When computers began being used for games, when they started connecting online, and when the average Joe could reasonably say, “Hey, I want to do that!” that they became socially acceptable – and now socially required.

What are interesting are the results for a quick Google search of “computer required.” The majority of suggested links are of schools listing the minimum computer specifics for classes. We can’t go to school without computers. We can’t connect to our friends without social media and email. We can’t relax without access to the Sims 4 and all twenty expansion packs.

Here is an interesting article on the subject:

There are a couple noteworthy points within this article. First, it’s clearly dated as an illustration of the fast uptake of technology. The website looks old, nothing fancy about it. It’s certainly not a website we’d use today and we probably would discredit it as a reliable source for technology information because of that. It’s only 14 years old, but it might as well be a dinosaur.

Second, it talks about devices we’d more likely see in a museum display than in our house, like home phones and fax machines. These were reliable devices, and useful for basic needs. But we as a people decided we wanted more and more, now having a device that fits into our hand that can do hundreds and hundreds of things, most of which we’ll never use in our lifetimes – BUT we could if we wanted to!

Lastly, the article does offer some good advice to deciding what habits we really buy into. Do we want to join the social push to buy something we’ll only use occasionally? This article recommends putting logic above the drive in the rat race and only buying into trends that will assist in the day-to-day tasks we take on. That’s not to say some social trends haven’t been worthwhile, like social media, online journalism, and crowd sourcing. But the technology is just so far beyond that at this point.

How is it possible for us to scale back on the race to have the biggest and best? Is it even possible?

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. New York: Penguin Press.

Technology consequences reach us all

Relationships can both bloom and wilt under technology. It can connect us or preoccupy and isolate us. Kevin Kelly discusses in “What Technology Wants” the price we must pay for the luxuries technology affords us.

That cost is something I was thinking of in the wake of last night’s presidential candidates debate. When reflecting on how those five people – not so different from ourselves in terms of flesh and blood – must put themselves out there, I felt a great deal of sympathy. Kelly discusses how technology consumes the space around us, infiltrates us and leaves us often forgetting that real people are on the other side of the computer screen.

Hillary Clinton, agree or disagree with her policies, has immense political experience. Regardless of being former first lady and secretary of state, what always filters in through legitimate complaints are the remarks about her looks, her dress, etc.

Clinton wasn’t the only candidate who was demeaned online. Others were mocked for the way they spoke, their ages, their postures. Kelly mentions that we use technology to connect with thousands of people when, in our hearts, we only care for a fair few of them.

Psychology Today published an article concerning the coldness we tend to exhibit online, terming it “emotional invisibility.” People become more willing to lash out, and find it easier to spit out insults when they are online. This is because they can’t see the emotional reaction their actions cause. They don’t see any hurt or anger and feel victory, as if their lashing was delivered without any repercussions.

It goes on to say to use common sense when it comes to online communication. The tips the article provides are: Recognize the impact technology can have and view it for its complete potential; Behave online as you would in person, and avoid saying things you wouldn’t say in person; Don’t ignore an unfavorable message and think that will solve the issue, because it’s as if you walked out in the middle of a conversation; And don’t forget to turn off your devices and spend time with the people you care about without the use of devices in between you and them.

It could be argued that people in the public’s eye bring that sort of attention upon themselves. It could also be suggested that we all bring cyber bullying and the consequences of technology by engaging so frequently with our multiple devices.

Regardless of consequences, Kelly remarks that we will accept technology’s consequences as it dominates our thinking and way of life. Even before last night’s debate began, CNN featured an online countdown. Many people spent the debate on Twitter, discussing contenders, asking their own questions, and researching the candidates’ responses, fact-checking them. Republican candidate Donald Trump received so much attention live tweeting the event, that many people responded to him saying they turned off the actual debate and just followed along via his Twitter feeds.

Why do we continue to be hooked on technology when the consequences can cause such an impact? Or, are the consequences not dire enough to be concerned about for the average person?


Kelly, K. (2010). What Technology Wants. Penguin Publishing Group, New York.

Technology at the roots of evolution

This week, I had to do training for work. The training was based on a new video app that my newspaper purchased for everyone in the newsroom. The app can shoot video, has editing tools, and then can post directly to multiple social media accounts and link the video to the corresponding article on our actual website, all within minutes.

Technology can be amazing.

But even these nifty new apps can’t keep up with the evolution of said technology. Kevin Kelly discusses evolution in “What Technology Wants” and talks about the pushes to unending evolution. Technology is limited by” matter and energy.” People are always pushing for a slimmer phone, a lighter phone, and a phone that does twice as much as competitors.


Check out this chart comparing a few older iPhone models. It’s a rundown of the main features, which phones have them and which don’t. These charts inundate the internet because consumers want to make sure their purchase is the latest and greatest. They want a battery that only needs charged every few days, and an operating system that would allow them to play high-quality graphics on a video game. The limitations of what is actually possible are constantly being pushed, and as Kelly says, not all imagined ideas can actually come to life. However, as technology evolves, more and more are getting that life breathed into them.

Kelly goes on to discuss that technology itself also propels it toward new innovation and evolution. Of course, it makes perfect sense for a few reasons. The more technology created and developed means that much more information and tried and tested theories. That information can then be used in other aspects of technology to develop new things. Also, technology can take on much of the work for us in terms of development. There are so many programs now available. We can simply program in anything we want and technology will work out all the specifics like the glorious calculator it is.

It’s also a rat race in the business. Three days after launching the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, Apple reported selling more than 13 million devices. That number is huge! It actually set new records for Apple in terms of any release weekend sales numbers.

Did that many people really need the new iPhone? Does anybody? But, am I typing this blog as I sit next to my new iPhone 6s? Maybe. And among all that hype, already the iPhone 7 has been announced. When purchasing my new phone, I already got the rundown on how to trade it in next year for the newest model. These phones already do more than any of us probably use on a daily basis, but still we just want them so desperately.

Our own evolution is so routed now to technology. Mankind will continue to advance and move forward, accomplishing bigger and more extreme feats, as long as they continue to develop the technology that will allow it to be so.

Do you believe that mans’ advancement is linked to technology? What would happen if we suddenly stopped buying into all the hype for every new phone? Would technology across the board lose funding, and lead to us losing opportunity?


Kelly, K. (2010). What Technology Wants. Penguin Publishing Group.