Jaeheon Shim
Hi! I'm Jaeheon Shim, a computer programmer and technology enthusiast. Here on Learn The Technology, I write about technology and the effect it is having on our modern world. I write about a broad range of topics, ranging from 3D Printing to Cybersecurity.

Is Wikipedia Really That Unreliable?

Many people believe that Wikipedia is an outlet of fake information, mainly because it’s content is available for anyone to edit and revise. Wikipedia is hated by many teachers with a passion and they don’t allow it to be used on assignments. However, Wikipedia is also one of the most information-packed sources of information, making it tempting for us to take information from it rather than browse other web pages. It can sometimes be frustrating when all of the information for your research is right there on Wikipedia, but you must reference a difference source because of it’s “unreliability”.

Wikipedia is mostly unreliable because anyone on the internet can edit articles on it. Some people on the internet purposely provide false information to Wikipedia for trolling or “revenge editing”, a process of making someone look bad by writing fake news about them. Sometimes, even rival companies might purposely write fake information on Wikipedia pages about each other.

Wikipedia is known to have unverified information

Wikipedia Knows.

Of course, Wikipedia knows that this is happening, and has taken steps to prevent unreliable information from reaching its pages. These methods include blocking off certain articles that may be prone to vandalism, such as certain political articles. These articles become protected so that only specific users can edit them. Articles can only become protected by Wikipedia admins to prevent abuse, but an editor can always request protection on a specific article.

You also might also have seen numbers such as these next to words in a Wikipedia article[7]. These are citations, links pointing back to sources that cross-reference the information featured in the Wikipedia article. A Wikipedia article with more citations will generally be more reliable. However, the sources cited in the article might not necessarily be trustworthy. If you are not allowed to use a Wikipedia article as a source, it can be helpful to find alternative sources using the citations from the Wikipedia article.

“Good Content”

Wikipedia also has another way for approving articles. Articles that have gone through a nomination process and met the criteria have a green plus mark on the article page. A Good Content icon indicates the article conveys high quality information. A Good Content icon also indicates the author is trustworthy.

To receive good article status, an editor nominates an article if they think it meets the good article criteria. Then, another editor will check that article against the criteria and approve it. The process is pretty straightforward.

Of course, humans being humans, we can also expect this process to be manipulated. For this reason, articles can be reassessed for their credibility.

According to Wikipedia, Wikipedia marks about 1 in 200 articles as good articles. Wikipedia editors obviously use this screening process sparingly.

Information on Wikipedia is mostly dependent on the popularity of the article. For example, an article on Bill Gates is more likely to be credible because many editors have revised over it. An article written on a topic much less accessed would have much less revisions, and false information could go unnoticed.

It’s not all fun and games

The fact that Wikipedia carries unreliable information in important topics cannot go unnoticed. Fake facts in notable articles have in fact gone unnoticed for a while. Users dislike Wikipedia because of these small things.

In other cases, people actually hire professional editors to create false articles surrounded in facts that seem credible. These editors are not new to the subject; they know how to go unnoticed in the industry in fake articles, and how to create good articles with many citations. These articles might even seem more trustworthy than other articles that are actually true. As Stephen Harrison states in his article “Wikipedia’s Top-Secret ‘Hired Guns’ Will Make You Matter (For a Price)“,

A market of pay-to-play services has emerged, where customers with the right background can drop serious money to hire editors to create pages about them; a serious ethical breach that could get worse with the rise of—wait for it—cryptocurrency payments.

Wikipedia’s Top-Secret ‘Hired Guns’ Will Make You Matter (For a Price), Stephen Harrison

In fact, small editing battles start over topics with different sides. Even small articles can spark an intense fight.

On the other hand, internet trolls vandalism articles on purpose just to cause mayhem. These vandals usually don’t favor any side, but can still have big effects. They sometimes remove entire sections and replace them with meaningless words. Sometimes they remove a single word, changing the entire meaning of the sentence. Small but deadly

Finally: humans are biased. Editor bias hugely influences Wikipedia articles. For example, you can assume that the authors who wrote the article on President Trump are supporters of him, and probably voted for him (If they could). Why? They just care more about the subject than others. Information in articles are bound to be biased in these cases.

So can you use Wikipedia to decide which presidential candidate to vote for? Probably not. However, I think it should be okay for you to use Wikipedia for other things, such as looking up part specifications for your nuclear missile. And finally, I don’t think anyone should hate Wikipedia for what it is. It is the free encyclopedia after all. If you have a teacher that hates Wikipedia with a passion, you can buy a Wikipedia shirt here to wear to their classes everyday :).

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1 Response

  1. Bob Spiro says:

    Nice article, I like that you linked the Wikipedia shirt haha

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