Should Wikipedia be asked to cure the Internet?
Bloomberg Businessweek recently published an op-ed in which the writer argued for a "Digital Protection Agency". According to the article, after social media companies make a mistake "they mop it up with Wikipedia or send out a message that reads, 'We take your privacy seriously'". This practice is becoming increasingly common as companies face recoil over videos and comments that propagate conspiracy theories and fake news. In an article published by Wired, entitled Don't Ask Wikipedia to Cure the Internet, the author criticized the move by companies, writing "Using the crowdsourced encyclopedia as a shield, platforms abdicate responsibility for their own problems." A Washington Post article noted that Wikipedia is becoming the "good cop" of the internet. The decisions, however, are not incredibly out of line with the moves of other companies, such as Amazon and Apple, to utilize Wikipedia as their digital assistant.
In October of 2017, Facebook announced that they would be adding an information button () to their news feed that users could click on to read the Wikipedia page of the news organization publishing an article, in an effort to combat the spread of fake news. In March of 2018, YouTube stated that text boxes called "information cues," with links to Wikipedia (and other sources) would appear next to videos to help discredit conspiracy theories. The Wikipedia foundation said in a statement that "We were not given advance notice of this announcement", and Katherine Maher tweeted that "frankly, we don’t want you to blindly trust us. Sure, we’re mostly accurate - but not always! We want you to read Wikipedia with a critical eye. Check citations! Edit and correct inaccurate information! You can’t do that in a simple search result." A month before, Google (the parent company of YouTube) decided to put a label next to state owned media organizations, linking to the Wikipedia article.
In the face of such disinformation and privacy concerns, some went so far as to propose a Facebook clone, run in the same manner as Wikipedia. This hypothetical social media service was termed 'Wikiface'. Others raised concerns about the reliability of such measures, arguing that taking content from Wikipedia opens the floor up for conspiracy theorists to spread their views, or for vandalism to be given a wider field of view. Such things have previously happened, including an instance when vandals caused Siri to respond to the question "What is an Indian?" by saying "they are a little brown and they smell like curry and they eat it". In late March, Wikimedia's Chief Revenue Officer complained about Apple and Amazon using Wikipedia's content without giving back to the foundation.
Several Wikipedians gave their thoughts:
"it's a good thing if these social media companies use Wikipedia properly. If they started linking to unverified material or add content into Wikipedia themselves, then it could be bad for the companies' (and Wikipedia's) reputations. The reader would not benefit if they are directed to a poorly sourced article that itself looks like it could be a hoax. However, among some groups, the perception of Wikipedia as a reliable source is low. In an ideal world, the articles that are being linked-to would be at least of the same quality as you may expect from an article that is run for Did You Know. It would be optimal if Wikipedia could recruit experts in these subject areas that could help edit the Wikipedia articles, discrediting the hoaxes.
Most controversial topics are already semi protected and relatively decently watched. I am hoping that this will be enough to deal with much of the potential disruption.
- On the plus side this sort of exposure may bring in more people who are interested in improving or maintaining these topics as they may see Wikipedia as having a potentially greater impact.
- Well YouTube has announced this effort, I do not think it has rolled out yet. It would be nice to help with maintenance if they provided us with a list of articles they plan to link to. This would also allow us to determine what effect their change has on readership if any.
- We could of course potentially build something internally [by] creating a list of articles based on traffic coming from YouTube.
— Doc James
Mike Pompeo did not serve in the Gulf War after all
Quartz describes in this piece how an IP inserted an unsourced claim that the CIA director, and current nominee for the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo served in the Gulf War – he did not. His cavalry squadron was not one of the units sent to Iraq in 1991. The problem is that several other outlets repeated the claim and months went by before the CIA issued a correction and the error was removed from Wikipedia. The Quartz piece said, "The situation shows how much major media outlets have come to rely on Wikipedia, a crowd-sourced encyclopedia run by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit that employs less than 300 people".
The false claim was picked up by the Los Angeles Times ("an army officer who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War"), The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. Trey Gowdy, in his letter of support for the nominee, wrote "Michael Pompeo spent five years serving in the United States Army, including in the Gulf War". The article was viewed over 850,000 times between when the erroneous information was added in December 2016, and when it was corrected in April 2018.
- Penny Wong: In February, Buzzfeed and others reported that "The Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet has launched an investigation into who in the department is editing [vandalizing] the Wikipedia page of Labor's leader in the Senate, Penny Wong". After several months, the department has given up the investigation.
- Previews: It was noted by several news organizations that Wikipedia added page previews "designed to help save you from disappearing too far down internet rabbit holes".
- The tale of a tweet: Government officials of Uttar Pradesh were left red-faced when they sent Guru Nanak birthday tweets–about seven months early. They were quick to blame the mishap on Wikipedia, with one writing "Sorry for Guru Nanak Ji’s birthday tweet. The confusion happened due to Wikipedia (enclosed). Apologies to everyone".
- They like trains: The New York Times reported on the work of two members of WikiProject New York City Public Transportation, Epicgenius and Kew Gardens 613.