How one of the most popular online resources has become a dangerous and deceptive knowledge base
There is a source of information used by thousands of people every day, a reference point for thousands of conversations, a standard go-to when life’s questions arise, and, for better or for worse, it’s how many educate themselves and form opinions. The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, claims their content reflects balanced accuracy because of something called ‘crowd sourcing’. This is a large amount of editors who, Wikipedia claims, will balance out any point of view or topic subjected to bias or inaccurate content. Sadly, as history has shown time and again, anytime the ability is given to freely edit something as much in the public eye as any one Wikipedia article is at any given time, that freedom will be abused and ruined for everyone. But Wikipedia doesn’t just suffer from abuse, vandalism, and self-imposed editor kings who practise a form of ‘ownership’ of certain pages or topics, disallowing any content to be updated or changed.
Another, potentially even more glaring issue that the very concept of Wikipedia also struggles with, is the issue of fact vs. view. Primarily focusing on the glaring issues from non-neutral points of view within Wikipedia articles, the number of articles and topics affected is not decreasing, but rather growing. In the past, high-profile incidents such as the posting of a defamatory hoax article about the journalist John Seigenthaler has raised serious questions about whether crowd-sourcing an encyclopaedia, or anything else, can ever work long-term. The issue can be broken down to its deepest roots which come down to this: Wikipedia appeals to a certain ‘group of internet users’ and only a certain collection of those users will be the ones editing and creating content on the encyclopaedia. This makes the encyclopaedia simply a searchable catalogue of that certain collection’s views and topics which they consider to be valid or important. Topics and viewpoints held by those not using Wikipedia will not have a voice and will effectually be unrepresented and content will become skewed. This is because any articles happening to cover their views won’t be updated or improved as quickly as articles dealing with content which editors deem important or contributing to society. It never takes long to find people who won’t use Wikipedia for this very reason and it takes even less time to find people who disagree with one another on the importance, influence, and accuracy of certain topics or worldviews.
Crowd-sourcing, especially with a project such as Wikipedia, which attempts to portray articles as reliable encyclopedic fact, not editorials, always relies on the impartiality of editors. But because these editors are human, they have certain worldviews and opinions which they may not even consider as one-sided. In fact, they may never have even questioned those views and feel their views are generally accepted fact simply having never come in contact with anyone or anything that disagrees with them on that matter. Therefore, these opinions, still one-sided, are filtered into the encyclopedia content, but the very same content appears glaringly inaccurate to readers with opposing views. In actuality, neither editor nor reader have unbiased views and neither view ‘should be’ reflected as ‘the way it is’ in an encyclopedia. A key phrase here is ‘should be’.
Wikipedia appeals to a certain ‘group of internet users’ and only a certain collection of those users will be the ones editing and creating content on the encyclopedia.
Lawyer Andrew Schlafly, told the Guardian Newspaper that he attempted working with and editing for Wikipedia, and found that factual edits created on certain high profile pages, even with references and proof, were removed within 60 seconds by top editors who disagreed personally with those views. In today’s politically charged atmosphere with everyone on their own warpath to justify their view, this issue continues to plague Wikipedia relentlessly. Schlafly concluded, as numerous others are beginning to as well, that editing Wikipedia simply is no longer a viable option. Whether it is cause or effect, many of the editors striving for real encyclopedic content have realised Wikipedia’s not-so-subtle reliability issue and have put their efforts in other directions.
Unfortunately, editing wars, bias, vandalism, and rogue bots reverting or changing articles to inaccurate content causes Wikipedia to be a massive source (5.5 million articles in the English version alone) of potentially inaccurate content edited by would-be social justice warriors and those who ‘would be king’ of their chosen page turning the, once reputable Wikipedia, into a platform to vent their aggression or pass their views off as undeniable fact.
Sadly, if users seeking facts are unable to rely on a crowd sourced encyclopedic project because most of the editors & contributors subscribe to a particular one-sided worldview, the entire project will ultimately either fail or morph into an echo chamber of purported facts by the editors and their subservient consumers.