How Wikipedia is a Platform for Leaking Information

Do you trust Wikipedia? For many people, the online encyclopedia is the first stop for information on new topics. Although the founder touts that Wikipedia is a hub for surprisingly consistent accuracy, compared with that of Encyclopedia Britannica, the open-editing nature of the website has seen better days. Wikipedia was established in 2001 to do what encyclopedias do best: present information on a wide variety of topics. Although this all happened with one caveat- the information would be sourced and cultivated by anyone, at any time. A contrast to traditional encyclopedias which rely on hired researchers and writers to organize and present the information, Wikipedia capitalized on many universal characteristics of the internet that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Since the internet’s accessibility is instantaneous and omnipresent, Wikipedia was empowered to reverse the traditional editorial process. Typically, an editor checks over content and then publication is pushed forward, but Wikipedia promotes a “post first, check after” system that capitalizes on the fact that their editors (so really anyone) can immediately check that published information, reverse and improve upon it if need be.

But as one can imagine, just as easily as someone can check for accuracy, they can also read and accept the information as fact with the same speed. Wikipedia has become a trusted source precisely because this system works just enough for people to not notice the inaccuracies, but there are profound consequences for this. For example, a series of articles have been published highlighting the impact Wikipedia has on scientific research. There is a strong link between the language researchers are using, across all areas of study, and the language found on Wikipedia on those topics. This indicates that even specialized researchers are relying on an encyclopedia that anyone can edit as a source.

Adding to that level of trust, the level of readership is all too compelling an incentive for those who want to vandalize or leak information. Wikipedia’s editing system can be hijacked too easily and many examples of this can be seen in the pop culture realm. Rumors flying around about Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy have impacted every website, including Wikipedia. Even before there was any solid proof of it, her Wikipedia page had information edited to reflect the spreading information.

There also is a fundamentally subjective question that must be answered every time someone adds information about a scandal to a Wikipedia page: how much weight should this be given on the page? Wikipedia’s guidelines mention this as a consideration when editing, but essentially leaves the judgment up to the editor. And as seen in Fergie’s national anthem fluke in February, it is often weighted greater than needed. She has been a famous musician since she was a child and this one-time, relatively unimportant event in her career has made an appearance as its own paragraph on her Wikipedia page. Even more prominent is the example of internet personality Logan Paul posting a video of him wandering upon a hanged man in a Japanese forest. The resulting outcry against this action became part of the introductory paragraph in his Wikipedia page. This was definitely an awful act on his part, but the point remains that it becomes challenging to decide with objectivity, who will determine the right percentage of prominence this should have on his Wikipedia page. Was this such a big event that it became part of his identity as an internet personality? Such questions are hard to answer, and Wikipedia has yet to address them in its editing policies. Even behind lengthy articles on its guidelines, Wikipedia still has some logistical demons to confront to fulfill its core mission.

Thea Fries