Lord of the blogs

Most professors want students to continue to avoid Wikipedia like the plague. Almost every syllabi I’ve ever skimmed on the first day of class said that the site does not count as a source in any bibliography for any assignment. Ever. Professionals and journalists too lament how the emerging blogosphere allows Joe Schmoe, who has no press credentials, to write anything as fact without being held accountable, thereby skirting around the traditional information gatekeepers. Still, the popular online encyclopedia says a lot about the future of the Internet and information.

Academics’ disdain for Wikipedia is legitimate to an extent. We shouldn’t necessarily rely on one page for all our information.The evolution of Wikipedia, however, shows that people demand the same order and bureaucracy in the digital age that they require in everyday society. As much as we brandish our First Amendment rights, there is a resistance against user-generated content being uncensored. Wikipedia is already going in a direction where its users are expected to cite their sources. Eventually the site could become just as reliable as an academic journal.

Further proof that Wikipedia is susceptible to intervention and not just an academic Lord of the Flies free-for-all occurred last week when two Germans convicted of murdering an actor sued Wikipedia for publishing their names on the site. According to German privacy law, criminals are granted anonymity in the news after they have paid their debt to society. The two men, who have served their sentence, want Wikipedia to grant them the anonymity they are given back home — pitting American First Amendment rights against other countries’ laws.

Though the outcome hasn’t been decided, the case shows that the information posted by anyone on Wikipedia is not immune to being challenged. Wikipedia’s content is now subject to the law, and other institutions. For example, during the period of journalist Daniel Pearl’s abduction, Wikipedia honored The New York Times’ request that no one write of his kidnapping. NYT felt that such news would only further endanger Pearl. Not only did Wikipedia participate in this unprecedented media blackout, but the editors also went in and revised information to make Pearl appear more sympathetic toward the Muslim faith, so as to appease his kidnappers.

Online articles have begun linking to Wikipedia. One article I was reading on Slate about physiognomy directed me to Wikipedia’s definition of the art. Though our professors might still scorn the site, newspapers – which are supposed to be the ultimate source of credibility – are now entrusting Wikipedia to give readers accurate information.

And as of August, Wikipedia editors control all the information. Though anyone can still go in and update a page, the changes don’t show up until an editor has reviewed and approved the revision.

This democratic information age is mirroring a real life democratic society. The people’s voices still matter, but gatekeepers are springing up to bring order. Some people have cried out against this new Wikipedia filter, the way some people desire limited government.

Though Wikipedia is still riddled with errors and isn’t the most reliable source, the direction it is aiming for indicates that online information can only be entirely unrestricted for so long.



Filed under The Public Square

6 responses to “Lord of the blogs

  1. mackenco

    What’s great for me about Wikipedia is, although I can’t specifically cite it, it’s still a great aggregator of information. Wikipedia is my typically starting point for writing a paper, since it has information about all the topics, and links to all the “real,” cite-able information. We may never get to a point where the site moves past its stereotype of a place where anyone can post anything, factual or not, but nevertheless it’s providing a lot of information and is a gateway to a lot more.

  2. Lora Larson-Miller

    First off, I love wikipedia. Whenever I have to write a paper or study for a final, I always go to wikipedia to give me a general overview of what I should know about a specific topic. Also, I believe it is somewhat reliable because most of the information posted is cited at the bottom of the page. So if you are skeptical about what you are reading, you can always visit its original source for confirmation. Thus, I think as long as students don’t directly cite Wikipedia, professors shouldn’t criticize wikipedia, since I feel like half of the time, wikipedia can do a better job explaining something than from lecture, no offense.

    Secondly, I find your comment about how wikipedia controlling the content more so than in the past is reflecting our democratic society. While wikipedia started off as an open-source movement, I think it is important and necessary at times that its content be monitored and check, considering it is providing us with factual statements, not blogging about one’s opinion. Also, if wikipedia is claiming to be a encyclopedia, I do think it needs to live up to that reputation and be monitored. For those who have a problem with limiting its content, should find another outlet.

  3. I agree with Lora. I don’t understand why anyone writing on Wikipedia should care if content is monitored. The only things that should be posted on there are facts, since it markets itself as an encyclopedia. No one uses it to find out what one person thinks about a topic, they use it to learn more about something in an easy-to-understand way. I’m glad that they’re regulating content more. I’ve used it as a resource since high school, and I remember that there were quite a few errors in it back then that just weren’t regulated. Now, I rarely find something that isn’t cited or supported by facts. Wikipedia is definitely moving in the right direction, and even if academics never accept it, it’s still a great resource for students.

  4. katie

    Though Wikipedia may appear unreliable, it really is a great resource that provides background, details, or just about anything about anything or anyone. Like Lora said, the original citation is at the bottom of the page, and with the editor’s final consent, the information is becoming more reliable. For writing papers, no student should depend only on one source, but Wikipedia is great for getting a grasp on a subject or reading something in simpler terms.

    • taystac

      I also see Wikipedia as a very useful research tool and information outlet. I particularly like that many of the pages offer both sections regarding criticism and support for topics. By providing both sides of a particular event, issue, or etc. in an easy to read and accessible manner I have found that the site is very helpful when trying to form an opinion on a particular topic. While I do believe that Wikipedia is still not viable enough to act as a a main source I think it is very useful in providing a multitude of information on both sides of a particular topic that helps me gain a better overall opinion on something.

  5. Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write whatever they want, so you know you are getting the best possible information.
    Also, Wikipedia is essentially becoming the de facto site for knowledge on the internets, people need to have faith in it.

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