Open main menu

Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2017-08-05/In the media

< Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost‎ | 2017-08-05
Wikipedia used to judge death penalty, arms smuggling, Indonesian governance, and HOTTEST celebrity: Wikipedia and reliable sources of information continue to define each other

Court cases built on Wikipedia articles

HuntsvilleUnitHuntsvilleTX.jpg
The Huntsville Unit houses the Texas execution chamber where TaiChin Preyor received lethal injection following his lawyer's examination of the article, "Capital punishment in Texas".

On July 18 the New York Post reported on an "utterly incompetent" lawyer who was accused of using Wikipedia to defend her client, TaiChin Preyor. Preyor was arrested for the fatal stabbing of Jami Tackett during a drug-related robbery in 2004. Preyor's new lawyers claimed that "It appears she relied on Wikipedia, of all things, to learn the complex in and outs of Texas capital punishment." The lawyer had, among other things, the Wikipedia article titled "Capital punishment in Texas" printed out and labeled "research". Preyor was executed on July 27.

VVS 100th IMG 0063 (7727429476).jpg
The Supreme Court of Estonia ruled that information in the Wikipedia article Mil Mi-28 was insufficient for determining whether a company was importing combat helicopters from Dubai at Muuga Harbour.

On July 26, Estonian Public Broadcasting reported that the Supreme Court of Estonia decided that checking the Wikipedia article Mil Mi-28 is an inadequate method for determining whether to levy a tariff for civilian versus combat helicopter parts. The story began in 2015, when parts for Russian helicopters arrived at Muuga Harbor in Estonia from Dubai. The company shipping them claimed that they were parts for civilian helicopters; however, it was eventually discovered that they were intended for combat helicopters. In response to the sale, Europe's Tax and Customs board fined the company 1,600 euros, citing a Wikipedia page. The company promptly sued, and the Supreme Court eventually found that Wikipedia was not a sufficiently credible source to justify an order of punishment.

These are just the most recent developments in a long history of lawyers and courts using Wikipedia as a source. The Signpost covered the beginning of this trend in a UK court case in 2006, and further cases in 2007. The latter was prompted by a New York Times article that year by Noam Cohen, a frequent contributor to its Wikipedia-related stories. At the time, Cohen reported that more than 100 American court cases had cited Wikipedia, including 13 from the federal appeals courts (as distinct from American state appeals courts, within each of the states). Why did the judiciary choose to cite Wikipedia? Cohen quoted Stephen Gillers of the New York University Law School as saying that the most critical factor is public acceptance, including acceptance by the litigants: "A judge should not use Wikipedia when the public is not prepared to accept it as authority." In March of 2017, Eugene Volokh wrote an opinion piece concerning the Texas Supreme Court using Wikipedia to define what 'Welfare queen' meant. Perhaps by Gillers' criteria this indicates public/Wikipedia alignment on the understanding of this term. Every circuit court in the United States has used Wikipedia as a source for general knowledge and/or slang terms.

The proliferation of Wikipedia as a source has drawn criticism from some, such as Cass Sunstein and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. However, others such as Judge Richard Posner maintain that "Wikipedia is a terrific resource … because it [is] so convenient, it often has been updated recently and is very accurate." However, Judge Posner also noted that it "wouldn’t be right to use it in a critical issue". Other scholars agree that Wikipedia is most appropriate for "soft facts", when courts want to provide context to help make their opinions more readable. Many agree that "Selectively using Wikipedia for … minor points in an opinion is an economical use of judges' and law clerks' time."

While it remains difficult to identify lawyers who admit to using Wikipedia, paradoxically, it has become common for lawyers to claim that their lesser esteemed colleagues and rivals get all their information from Wikipedia.

A Wikipedia approach to things

Anies-baswedan-Dec-2010.jpg
Anies Baswedan, who is governing Jakarta in the manner of a Wikipedia editor managing articles

The Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan envisions "collaborating with citizens to tackle social issues" the Nikkei Asian Review reported on July 27. He has compared his approach with that of Wikipedia, saying "[The] movement approach is Wikipedia. They provided the platform and allowed everyone to participate, fill in the entry, provided the information – and it has created a very rich information [source], Today, we are entering a 21st century in which the citizens of a city, with its connectivity, are able to interact among themselves. And between those people and the government, those interactions can translate into cooperation for the betterment of a community, of a society, of a nation."

In brief

Linkin Park-Rock im Park 2014- by 2eight 3SC0327.jpg
Billboard noted the surge of traffic to Wikipedia's article for Chester Bennington of band Linkin Park following the musician's death
  • Supreme Court Justice praises Wikipedia: Anthony Kennedy, an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court, speaking at the Salzburg Academy of Media and Global Change praised the 'tremendous potential of Wikipedia'. (reported in the Washington Examiner) (July 27, 2017)
  • The Most Worthy Rectangle: For two years, an incredible list of different, completely false slang terms for Australian currency existed. Junkee Media as well as much of Twitter were ecstatic over the now-removed names. (reported in Junkee Media) (July 21, 2017)
  • Wikipedia pageviews as a measure of celebrity popularity Since the 1930s Billboard has published "Billboard charts", a ranking of the popularity of music. A recent article notes that the newer Billboard Social 50 is using new media metrics to identify which artists are most popular. Along with Instagram reactions and Twitter mentioned, this report determines the relevance of celebrities by their Wikipedia pageviews. (reported in Billboard), (July 28, 2017)
  • Wikipedia editathon reports: All good news editors take every opportunity to report local Wikipedia WP:Meetups. Rekord East reports with SABC's additional view that the Swedish Embassy in Pretoria hosted a HerStory editathon for women's issues (July 21). Genomeweb reports on a computational biology Wikipedia editing event in Prague (July 30). Feminism in India blogs their editathon for Indian women in politics (August 1).



Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next week's edition in the Newsroom.