Fact or Fiction: The Reliability of Wikipedia

Fact or Fiction: The Reliability of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia which can be collaboratively edited by people all over the world. There are many strengths of Wikipedia, but there are also flaws. The strengths include free, quick, and easy to access information; also it provides the combination of potential intelligent minds all over the world who contribute to the edits of Wikipedia. But the fact that anybody can edit the entries on Wikipedia can cause a weakness to the website. The weakness may include vandalism, which can deceive the users of Wikipedia into believing that false information is true. With false information exposed to the entire world, it can cause conflict in debating what information is true and what information is false. I believe that Wikipedia is a bad source because there are no rules enforced to completely protect the website from the vandalism of people all around the world.

According to the “Wikipedia” entry on Wikipedia, Wikipedia was officially launched as of January 15, 2001 (“Wikipedia”). It was created after the failed project, Nupedia. The creation of Wikipedia was by two men and they were credited in different ways. Jimmy Wales which was one of the creators was credited for coming up with a free, online, edit encyclopedia for the public (“Wikipedia”). Larry Sanger which was the other creator was credited for introducing the idea of wiki (“Wikipedia”). Wiki is a website in which users can “add, modify, or remove” entries on an article (“Wiki”). The strategy of wiki helped Wikipedia obtain its goals in becoming an editable encyclopedia. That is also how Wikipedia got its name. It was a combination of the strategy of wiki and the failed project Nupedia. Wikipedia attained contributors from Nupedia and consisted of 18 different languages and also 20,000 articles by the year 2001 (“Wikipedia”). After years have passed, Wikipedia consisted of millions of articles by the year 2009 (“Wikipedia”). It was gaining around 1,800 articles per day and when it hit the year 2010, it went down to around 1,000 articles per day (“Wikipedia”). The reason for this was because Wikipedia began to lose editors who contribute to the website. In the first three months of the year 2009, Wikipedia had lost around 49,000 editors and it maintained about 36,000 editors in the year 2010 (“Wikipedia”). Even with the devastating decrease in editors, Wikipedia was still able to be considered as one of the top ten websites most visited in the United States. It was ranked No. 9 and surpassed The New York Times which was rank No. 10 and also surpassed Apple Inc. which was rank No. 11 (“Wikipedia”). Wikipedia got the rank that it deserved because it received over 12 billion worldwide views per month (“Wikipedia”).

The entries written on Wikipedia are contributed by collaborative people online. As long as they have access to the internet, they can add, modify, or remove entries of articles for whatever means necessary and the edits to an article immediately becomes available to the public. Anybody can edit entries on Wikipedia anonymously and it is optional to use a user account (“Wikipedia”). Some articles are protected from vandalism only up to certain degree of editing (“Wikipedia”). Wikipedia has policies that the users and the anonymous people are meant to follow, although even these policies can be modified. Each article has their own talk page so the editors of an article can discuss the modifications and they can reach consensus (“Wikipedia”). Wikipedia has page patrol which checks newly created articles for obvious problems (“Wikipedia”). Wikipedia also has bots, which is a computer program that corrects misspellings and stylistic issues (“Wikipedia”). There are also specific bots that detect attacks toward an article and automatically fixes them (“Wikipedia”). Wikipedia has their policies and guidelines embodied in the “Five Pillars,” which are their editorial principles (“Wikipedia”). The fourth pillar states that “Editors should interact with each other in a respectful and civil manner” (“Wikipedia:Five pillars”). However, Wikipedia has no control over this even if it is one of their policies because of the fifth pillar which states that “Wikipedia does not have firm rules” (“Wikipedia:Five pillars”). This shows that Wikipedia has its own policies and guidelines, yet anyone can break them.

The credibility of Wikipedia has always been questioned in different ways. In the article, “Will Unethical Editing Destroy Wikipedia’s Credibility?” Eric Haas claims that the users of Wikipedia have been “white washing.” He defines white washing as someone who replaces “negative or neutral adjectives -- words or phrases -- with more positive synonyms” (Haas). He uses an entry about wages at Wal-Mart as an example. The original entry on Wal-Mart’s wages stated that “As with many US retailers, Wal-Mart experiences a high rate of employee turnover (approximately 50% of employees leave every year, according to the company). Wages at Wal-Mart are about 20% less than at other retail stores. Founder [Sam Walton] once argued that his company should be exempt from the [minimum wage] (Palast, 121)” (Haas). And the newly edited entry stated that “As with many US retailers, Wal-Mart experiences a high rate of employee turnover (approximately 50% of employees leave every year, according to the company). The average wage at Wal-Mart is almost double the federal minimum wage (Wal-Mart). However, founder [Sam Walton] once argued that his company should be exempt from the [minimum wage] (Palast, 121)” (Haas). Eric Haas displays how someone can white wash to obtain the truth through neutrality gained from facts. Eric Haas’s argument is strong because of the example he provided in showing that organizations and companies like Wal-Mart can abuse Wikipedia into making themselves look better or seem less harsh on their wages. In another article, “Wikipediots: Who Are These Devoted, Even Obsessive Contributors To Wikipedia?” Mike Miliard claims that some of the editors on Wikipedia play the role of online janitors to clean up all the vandalism, hence making Wikipedia a more reliable source. He interviewed an editor of Wikipedia articles named Alex Sawczynec. Alex claims that he is “a tireless reverter of vandalism and corrector of misinformation on thousands of Wikipedia’s pages” (Miliard). He also claims that he has done over 7,000 edits on Wikipedia (Miliard). Although, there are no examples or proof provided to back up his statement. As a result, Mike Miliard’s argument on editors of Wikipedia playing the role of online janitors to clean up the vandalism on the website is a weak argument.

The article I looked up on Wikipedia that I know very well is a video game called “Call of Duty Black Ops” and it lacked some specific details of the game. I know this video game very well because I own it for Playstation 3. The entry lacked specific details in explaining the “Zombies” mode in Call of Duty Black Ops. It was informative about the maps and map packs that go along with the zombie mode of the game, but it lacked some specific details in terms of glitches and secret music the game has, specifically for the zombie mode. Each zombie map has their own type of glitch that can be done and also a secret music that can be unlocked and Wikipedia did not provide any information about it. The article I looked up on Wikipedia that I don’t know well is an animal in the primate family called “Marmoset” and it lacked information about this specific animal. I am curious about this animal because I am currently taking Anthropology 1 and my professor mentioned marmoset while lecturing about the primate kingdom. The information Wikipedia had on marmoset was merely a couple sentences. It was clear to me that Wikipedia lacked a lot of information about this animal. Wikipedia did not mention the primate taxonomy and also they did not provide that many phenotypic features about this animal. Without information about the primate taxonomy, I would not know which suborder, infraorder, superfamily, subfamily, genus, and species the marmoset belongs to. Also, without enough information about the phenotypic features of the marmoset, I cannot picture what the animal looks like.

Overall, Wikipedia is not a reliable source because of the inaccuracy of the information. The articles on Wikipedia are prone to vandalism because of their weak policies. The policies of Wikipedia which are the “Five Pillars,” do not enforce any rules to protect the website. People have the freewill to make any edits to articles and the edits can possibly be a form of vandalism. The editors of Wikipedia have the freedom to vandalize articles if they want to due to the third pillar which states that “Wikipedia is free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute” (“Wikipedia:Five pillars”). The fifth pillar which states that “Wikipedia does not have firm rules” also allows them to carry out the vandalism of articles (“Wikipedia:Five pillars”). Even Wikipedia’s article on the “Five Pillars” can be modified by anyone and that is their own policies too. Because of Wikipedia’s weak policies, the information on their articles is inaccurate and unreliable.

I believe that Wikipedia should only be used as a quick and easy access source to information for personal needs. The quick and easy access is Wikipedia’s usefulness, but the reliability is not so accurate. It should not be used as a reliable source for a research paper because of the lack of protection the website really needs. Due to the lack of protection, vandals can vandalize any article at anytime as long as they have access to the internet. Also, articles can be edited without a user account, therefore you cannot look up the user of a specific edit and determine for yourself whether or not that editor is reliable or not. So if you are working on a research paper, Wikipedia is not the website to visit for your informational needs.

Works Cited
“Call of Duty Black Ops.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 7 May 2012. Web. 17 May 2012.

Haas, Eric. “Will Unethical Editing Destroy Wikipedia’s Credibility?” AlterNet. Independent Media Institute. 26 Oct. 2007. Web. 15 May 2012.

“Marmoset.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 May 2012. Web. 17 May 2012.

Miliard, Mike. “Wikipediots: Who Are These Devoted, Even Obsessive Contributors To Wikipedia?” CityWeekly, Salt Lake City News. Copperfield Publishing Inc. 1 Mar. 2008. Web. 15 May 2012.

“Wiki.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 May 2012. Web. 11 May 2012.

“Wikipedia.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 17 May 2012. Web. 11 May 2012.

“Wikipedia:Five pillars.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 12 May 2012. Web. 13 May 2012.