Is Wikipedia a reliable source?
- Wiki software is defined as “a server program that allows users to collaborate in forming the content of a Web site,” while the term wiki itself is derived from the Hawaiian word for “fast.”
- Wikipedia was started in 2001 by successful bond trader, Jimmy Wales, and editor, Larry Sanger. They parted ways in 2002 and still dispute who came up with using wiki software first.
- English Wikipedia currently has over 6 million articles and adds approximately 595 new articles every day.
- Wikipedia is the fifth-most-visited website in the US.
Wikipedia is not a reliable source because it is primarily a volunteer-based project accessed by potentially untrained or uninformed contributors supplying false, unverified, or sometimes propaganda-laced information.
Any person— even those without valid credentials to prove expertise in a given subject area— can tweak the content at any given time.
This practice enables political parties and marketing representatives to modify public information to paint their party in a better light. PR agencies have also used Wikipedia as a free advertorial space, making it difficult for readers to distinguish between fact and exaggeration.
Additionally, sometimes, individuals or groups purposely post misleading or ironic information to call attention to themselves with a public prank.
Wikipedia has also increasingly become a platform for revenge-editing, which is a form of manipulating information in the public domain to defame or 'get back at' competitors or the opposing party. This has publicized the platform as a home to 'false, biased, or defamatory content, especially biographies of living people.'
Sometimes well-intentioned writers also make factual errors that remain live on the site for months or even years before being verified and corrected. Wikipedia admits most of their editors and platform moderators are men, which leads to a massive gap in coverage and gives rise to 'multiple systemic biases: namely, selection bias, inclusion bias, participation bias, and group-think bias.'
So if a person visits Wikipedia, they may find unverified, (un)intentionally falsified, and/or socio-politically biased information, which can't be considered reliable.
Wikipedia is collaborative in nature, granting anyone, anywhere the ability to curate its content. And it is this very attribute that has given rise to the idea that information on the site is not reliable.
However, despite anyone with an internet connection voluntarily being able to craft Wikipedia entries and provide content, another group of volunteers is continually questioning, verifying, and filtering through this massive tsunami of information. Every fact on Wikipedia requires citations and reputable sources. So if a so-called internet troll decided to fiddle with a particular entry, it most certainly wouldn't last on the site very long. In fact, John Lubbock, the Communications Coordinator at Wikimedia UK, assures that it will 'probably last an hour at the most.'
Wikipedia also tends to place editing restrictions on articles that are usually most prone to 'vandalism.' Politicians, current events, or controversial subjects are generally 'locked' for editing--meaning that any information added or removed from entries will undergo an extra layer of vetting before being approved.
When commenting on the Wikipedia entry for ''dark energy,' Adam Riess, a Johns Hopkins University Professor of Astronomy and Physics, said the page was 'remarkably accurate, certainly better than 95% correct.' A study in the scientific journal Nature had also found that Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica had a comparable amount of mistakes and misleading statements, meaning that both sources have similar levels of accuracy.
Wikipedia is, therefore, not a chaotic Wild West of the internet. While the site was once stigmatized in most academic communities, it's now widely regarded as a legitimate source of information.