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Wikipedia…Beware the Unaccountable!

Scott on April 28, 2006 at 9:44 pm

I was intrigued by this Seattle Times article about a political operative manipulating existing Wikipedia biographies of political opponents and writing falsehoods and/or directing readers to potentially damaging and/or misleading information about the opponents.

Though I use it from time to time myself, I have always been skeptical of the reliability of Wikipedia information. They are billed as an online encyclopedia, which they are in a way. The problem is that, by calling themselves an encyclopedia Wikipedia creates an illusion of informational reliability and trustworthiness that it doesn’t deserve. When people hear the word “encyclopedia,” most people conjure up images of pages of information that has been fact checked and double checked for accuracy. This is not the case for Wikipedia. The information can be written and posted by anyone, changed by anyone, and deleted by anyone…but with accountability to no one.

I found a sad USA today commentary written by John Seigenthaler in November of 2005. Mr. Seigenthaler was Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant in the early 1960s. However, someone fabricated an entire biography about Seigenthaler that included, among other things, the implication that he was involved in both Kennedy assassinations. I hate to say it, but this guys story makes me think that we need a little more control over the b.s. that goes out over the Internet.

Even the founder of Wikipedia admits that there are problems, and you know that if he is admitting to some problems, then there are MANY MORE where those come from that he won’t want to admit to and/or acknowledge.

As a teacher I spend a lot of time working with my students on the idea of “Information Literacy” on the Web, meaning that they need to know where the information they are finding is coming from, who is writing it, how reliable are they, where are their proof texts and primary sources, etc.

Wikipedia makes my job soooo much harder by masquerading as something that it isn’t.

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