Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why Wikipedia is untrustworthy

There was a fascinating piece in Saturday's Independent on Wikipedia and the fact that it is being censored for PR purposes. For example, and focusing on those with a political aspect, references to 'careerist MPs supporting the leader' have been erased by Labour HQ surfers; a piece on Letwin's gaffe and subsequent disappearance from the 2001 election campaign was erased by, yes, the Conservative Party; even Amnesty International tidied up their entry deleting references to an anti-American agenda. As the links show, the stories are all available elsewhere, so why are these organisations so worried about Wikipedia.

The reason seems to be, and this is not alluded to in the article too well, that Wikipedia is the fount of all knowledge for the lazy. Every year we repeat to students the mantra 'do not reference Wikipedia', so they plagiarise it instead - bless them! But seriously it is becoming the place for the random facts to back up essays and who knows what else; maybe government reports, editorials, news. It certainly gets traffic, it advertises receiving around 30,000 hits per day. The worry then is that this could be a serious PR tool.

But this censorship could be the prelude to something else, the undermining of campaigns by setting up false entries. It would be fairly cheap to have someone building false and damaging profiles of political opponents and ensuring the negative versions are on the web more than any favourable or objective versions. It could be a battle ground where parties can write and re-write their own and their opponents' history, and thus it could show its true potential, to be entirely misleading due to a lack of any regulation. It is a shame but it is a clear lesson that Wikipedia is probably going to be about as accurate as the average autobiography as no one wants people to get the wrong idea about them when trying to get elected.

1 comment:

Heather Yaxley said...

Chris Anderson in The Long Tail, quotes Wikipedia as being a valuable starting point for research - but even that view is being undermined by the propensity of contributors to sanitise the content.

There have always been means of addressing errors in Wikipedia, but as ever, these "black artists" of PR, seek to rewrite in the style of Orwell's 1984.

As such, the credibility of Wikipedia declines further.