Wikipedia's "credibility transformation"
Discover the captivating tale of English Wikipedia's credibility makeover in an intriguing APSR article by Sverrir Steinsson, summarized on Political Science Now. Wikipedia's shift from hosting pseudoscience and conspiracy theories to becoming a myth-busting powerhouse is unveiled. Through internal battles, changing policy interpretations, and editor exoduses, Wikipedia has emerged as a trusted source of factual information. It's a fascinating journey that proves even the wildest institutions can reinvent themselves for the better.
By conducting an extensive analysis of a diverse range of Wikipedia articles spanning topics such as climate, health, gender, and sexuality, Steinsson provides insights into the notable shifts in content and language that occurred over time. The transformation of English Wikipedia from hosting fringe beliefs to actively debunking myths was a gradual yet significant process. For instance, the evolution of our Homeopathy article gradually transitioned from describing the subject as a "controversial system of alternative medicine" to categorizing it unequivocally as a pseudoscience.
Steinsson examines Wikipedia's governance structure, saying that the underlying power struggles and editorial debates that shaped the platform's trajectory; as editors with anti-fringe perspectives gained influence and contributors holding pro-fringe viewpoints gradually departed, a new interpretation of Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View guideline emerged, emphasizing the importance of factual accuracy rather than a wide array of viewpoints, and ultimately enhancing the credibility of Wikipedia. For Steinsson, this change occurred gradually through internal processes, including the resolution of early disputes, the departure of certain editors, and the evolution of rule interpretations. Driven by a combination of compulsory power, where dissenters were sanctioned, and productive power, which delegitimized certain rule interpretations, this pattern of change may have broader implications, and can potentially explain similar transformations in other institutions and contexts (such as political movements and parties).
The article challenges the notion that external events or changes in external sources were the primary drivers of this transformation. Instead, it points to the internal reinterpretation of institutional norms as the driving force behind Wikipedia's evolution. In an era dominated by social media and online engagement, the case of Wikipedia serves as a testament to the potential for dynamic digital platforms to adapt and improve. The narrative unravels the interplay between internal conflicts, evolving policy interpretations, and the reshaping of editorial landscapes, providing a thought-provoking exploration of institutional malleability.
Have we already covered this enough?
Wikipedia's credibility has also been a topic of discussion in other outlets, such as an article by columnist Teri Sforza in The Orange County Register. The article highlights the concerns raised by two professors, Shira Klein from Chapman University and Jan Grabowski from the University of Ottawa (refer to the last edition of The Signpost), regarding alleged distortion and misinformation found in Wikipedia entries related to the Holocaust and Polish-Jewish wartime history. The professors argue that nationalist editors have manipulated the content to glorify Polish heroism, downplay anti-Semitism, and minimize Polish collaboration with the Nazis. They call for the Wikimedia Foundation to take decisive action to protect historical accuracy, as well as its reputation as a source of truth. The professors also say that the safeguards in place to combat disinformation on Wikipedia are ineffective, and call for the involvement of experts to address the issue. The article concludes by stating that Wikipedia's reliability is a matter of concern, given its widespread usage and influence as a major source of information.
In an article by the Jewish Telegraph Agency Klein is quoted saying "There is a systemic problem here that goes way beyond the distortion of Holocaust history": "This is the seventh-most viewed site in the world, yet the safeguards Wikipedia has in place for battling disinformation are scarily ineffective. If it’s true for the history of the Holocaust, it is probably true for other cases we have yet to discover. With ChatGPT amplifying Wikipedia on an unprecedented scale, this new failure is all the more worrying."
It must be said, however, that these press reports have their own problems with reliability. The OC Register claims that the arbitration committee banned User:Levivich. This is untrue. Moreover, both articles refer to a 2018 Polish criminal law as though it were still in force today. In fact, the relevant law was repealed later in 2018, after widespread international criticism.
- Punting: Section 230 is the part of US law that protects website owners from legal responsibility for content posted by third parties. It is the legal bedrock that Wikipedia, as well as many tech companies, rely on to keep their websites open. Both main US parties have long agreed that this law needs to be changed, but unsurprisingly disagree on their proposed changes. And two big United States Supreme Court cases recently brought these questions to the forefront (see in-depth Signpost coverage in April). The SCOTUS ruling said that the companies could not be expected to have prevented terrorist acts merely based on their websites having been used to make posts, reaffirming precedent for the protections of Section 230. The Hill reported the story in ‘’Supreme Court punts Section 230 debate back to Congress’’ .
- OpenAI's Approach: Inspired by Wikipedia: Reuters reports how OpenAI, the company behind the Generative Pre-trained Transformer family of large language models, is exploring the concept of collective decision-making similar to Wikipedia's model, where diverse views come together to agree on content. This comes as one of several proposals by the company to increase regulatory barriers to the development of neural networks, including licensure requirements.
- Wikipedia's Wacky Footballer Fails: An article on Planet Football highlights the creation of a Twitter account dedicated to sharing side-splittingly awkward footballer photos sourced from Wikipedia articles.
- Notable Notability Fail?: Billy Penn brings up the existence of a Wikipedia page for Philadelphia's "French Quarter," highlighting its lack of detailed information and potential failure to meet Wikipedia's notability guidelines for geographic features. "The designation has been around 24 years, but nobody calls it that anymore — if they ever did." Sources in the article make it clear the designation was a late 90s publicity campaign by the city: Arguably notable as an attempt to advertise Philadelphia, but given it was "based on the establishment of three French restaurants and a creperie in the area in the 1990s", one can't help but feel that we're not the ones that should be mocked here.
- Feud Continues – Wikipedia Page Update Pending: The Wikipedia page about the musical group Oasis may need another update as Noel and Liam Gallagher's ongoing feud takes a bitter turn. After a tabloid report fueled hopes of a reunion, Noel called Liam a "coward" for not reaching out to discuss it. In response, Liam fired back, referencing past controversies and accusing Noel of insensitivity. According to an article on 1057ThePoint.com, it seems the Oasis Wikipedia page is destined for further revisions – as it stands right now the article states 2025 as a year the band will be active. Whatever.
- In Defense of Comprehensive Reading: Arts writer Dion Everett, in a thought-provoking piece for Varsity, sheds light on the pitfalls of clickbait-driven book criticism and the reliance on summaries and Wikipedia entries. Everett aptly emphasizes that these sources fall short in capturing the nuanced essence and depth of a book, although an image sourced from Wikimedia Commons accompanies the article.
- Green is the New Black: Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and the host of the COP28 climate conference in the United Arab Emirates, is facing criticism as his team is accused of paid editing of Wikipedia pages. The edits were made to Al Jaber's own Wikipedia page and COP28. The Centre for Climate Reporting and The Guardian conducted an investigation that uncovered these edits. The appointment of an oil executive as the conference chair has raised concerns, with figures like Caroline Lucas from the Green Party criticizing the influence of oil companies and their CEOs on global climate conferences.
- Wikipedia Rejects UK Age Verification Bill: In TechCity this week we can read that Wikimedia Foundation has announced its refusal to comply with the age verification requirements outlined in the UK's Online Safety Bill, citing incompatibility with its content moderation and user verification model. This decision raises concerns about the possible shutdown of Wikipedia in the UK, as the bill mandates robust age checks for sites featuring "pornography". It will not be the first country, nor the last.
- Webcomic xkcd did it again: Please see Meryl Streep seagull incident (disambiguation).
- Jimmy Wales Interview: In a podcast interview, Jimmy Wales and Stewart Baker discuss the sustainability of Wikipedia's model, address claims of bias, and explore the opportunities and risks presented by AI models like ChatGPT for the online encyclopedia.
- Music Company Goes Off-Key: TorrentFreak writes that a small music company targets a Wikipedia article in its effort to combat YouTube ripping sites, by requesting Google to delist the Comparison of YouTube downloaders page. The delisting battle between music industry groups and YouTube downloaders continues, even raising questions about the presence of explanatory content on Wikipedia.
- Wikipedia's Spanish Version Gets a Makeover: Despite not being the only version of Wikipedia to get a makeover, the Spanish edition has gained attention in an article by La Diaria, which highlights the recent aesthetic changes from Vector 2022 aimed at enhancing the user experience and streamlining navigation and search functionality. The redesign features a cleaner appearance, an improved search bar, and seamless switching between different language versions of articles. These updates were implemented based on extensive feedback and discussions. In case you missed the opportunity to provide feedback, do not fret — 2010 Vector is still an option for you.
- Russian fork: ixbt.com and many others report on Рувики ("Ruwiki"), a new Russian Wikipedia fork. For more information on planned replacements for the Russian Wikipedia see previous coverage. For even more information see this issue's News and notes.