Criticism of Wikipedia
Criticism of Wikipedia — of the content, procedures, and operations, and of the Wikipedia community — covers many subjects, topics, and themes about the nature of Wikipedia as an open-source encyclopedia of subject-entries that almost anyone can edit. The purpose of the Wikipedia project has been criticized for the uneven handling, acceptance, and retention of articles about controversial subjects. The principal concerns of the critics are the factual reliability of the content; the readability of the prose; and a clear article-layout; the existence of systemic bias, of gender bias, and of racial bias among the editorial community that is Wikipedia. Further concerns are that the organization allows the participation of anonymous editors (facilitating editorial vandalism); the existence of social stratification (allowing cliques); and over-complicated rules (allowing editorial quarrels), which conditions permit the misuse of Wikipedia.
Unreliable content; in “Wikipedia: The Dumbing Down of World Knowledge” (2010), Edwin Black characterized the editorial content of articles as a mixture of “truth, half-truth, and some falsehoods”. In that vein, in “Wisdom?: More like Dumbness of the Crowds” (2011), Oliver Kamm said that the encyclopedic articles usually are dominated by the editors with the loudest and most persistent editorial voices (talk pages and edit summaries), usually by an interest group with an ideological “axe to grind” on the subject, topic, or theme of the article in question.
Politics and ideology; in “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia” (2012), by Timothy Messer–Kruse, and in “You Just Type in What You are Looking for: Undergraduates’ Use of Library Resources vs. Wikipedia” (2012), by Mónica Colón–Aguirre and Rachel A. Fleming–May, the authors analyzed and criticized the undue-weight policy (relative importance of a given source), and concluded that, because the purpose of Wikipedia is not about providing correct and definitive information about a subject, but to present, as editorially dominant, the majority-opinion perspective taken by the authors of the sources for the article; therefore, the uneven application of the undue-weight policy creates omissions (of fact and of interpretation) that might give the reader false knowledge about the subject matter, which knowledge the reader has based upon the factually-incomplete content of the Wikipedia article.
Hostile environment; in Common Knowledge?: An Ethnography of Wikipedia (2014), Dariusz Jemielniak (a Wikipedia steward), said that the complexity of the rules and laws governing editorial content and the behavior of the editors is a burden for new editors and a licence for the “office politics” of disruptive editors. In the follow-up article, “The Unbearable Bureaucracy of Wikipedia” (2014), Jemielniak said that abridging and rewriting the editorial rules-and-laws of Wikipedia for clarity of purpose and simplicity of application would resolve the bureaucratic bottleneck of too many rules. In The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System: How Wikipedia’s Reaction to Popularity is Causing its Decline (2013), Aaron Halfaker said that the over-complicated rules and laws of Wikipedia unintentionally provoked the decline in editorial participation that began in 2009 — frightening away new editors who otherwise would contribute to Wikipedia.
Misuse; in “Wikipedia or Wickedpedia?” (2008), the Hoover Institution said that Wikipedia is an unreliable resource for correct knowledge, information, and facts about a subject, because, as an open-source website, the editorial content of the articles is readily subjected to manipulation and propaganda. Therefore, in academia, the handbook Academic Integrity at MIT (2014), officially informs students that Wikipedia is not a reliable academic source, that “the bibliography published at the end of the Wikipedia entry may point you to potential sources. However, do not assume that these sources are reliable — use the same criteria to judge them as you would any other source. Do not consider the Wikipedia bibliography as a replacement for your own research.”
- 1 Criticism of content
- 1.1 Accuracy of information
- 1.1.1 Not authoritative
- 1.1.2 Comparative study of science articles
- 1.1.3 Lack of methodical fact-checking
- 1.1.4 Neutral point of view and conflicts of interest
- 1.1.5 Scientific disputes
- 1.2 Quality of the presentation
- 1.3 Systemic bias in coverage
- 1.4 Sexual content
- 1.5 Exposure to vandals
- 1.6 Privacy concerns
- 1.1 Accuracy of information
- 2 Criticism of the community
- 2.1 Jimmy Wales' role
- 2.2 Conflict of interest cases
- 2.3 Allegations of unfair treatment of female contributors
- 2.4 Lack of verifiable identities
- 2.5 Editorial process
- 2.6 Social stratification
- 3 See also
- 4 Further reading
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Criticism of content
Accuracy of information
Wikipedia acknowledges that the encyclopedia not be used as a primary source for research, either academic or informational. The British librarian Philip Bradley said that "the main problem is the lack of authority. With printed publications, the publishers have to ensure that their data are reliable, as their livelihood depends on it. But with something like this, all that goes out the window." Likewise, Robert McHenry, editor-in-chief (1992–97) of Encyclopædia Britannica, said that readers of Wikipedia articles cannot know who wrote the article they are reading—it might or it might not have been written by an expert or an amateur in the subject matter. In 2015, Wikipedia's co-founder Larry Sanger was interviewed by Zach Schwartz in Vice which he said, among other things, that "I think Wikipedia never solved the problem of how to organize itself in a way that didn't lead to mob rule" and that since he left the project, "People that I would say are trolls sort of took over. The inmates started running the asylum."
Comparative study of science articles
In the scientific journal Nature, the article “Internet Encyclopaedias Go Head-to-head” (2005) reported the results of a blind experiment (single-blind study) comparing the factual and informational accuracy of entries from Wikipedia and the Encyclopædia Britannica. The 42-entry sample comprised science articles and biographies of scientists, which were compared for accuracy, by anonymous, academic reviewers who found that the average Wikipedia entry contained 4.0 errors and omissions, while the average Encyclopædia Britannica entry contained 3.0 errors and omissions; the study concluded that “Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries”. Nevertheless, the reviewers’ principal criticisms of the Wikipedia science entries were two: (i) thematically-confused content, without an intelligible structure (order, presentation, interpretation); and (ii) that undue weight is given to controversial, fringe theories about the subject matter.
The dissatisfaction of the Encyclopædia Britannica editors led to Nature magazine publishing additional survey-method documentation that substantiated the results of the comparative study. Based upon the additional documents, Encyclopædia Britannica denied the validity of the study, stating it was fatally flawed, because the Britannica extracts were compilations that sometimes included articles written for the youth version of the encyclopædia. In turn, Nature magazine acknowledged that some Britannica articles were compilations, but denied that such editorial details invalidated the conclusions of the comparative study of the science articles. Moreover, the editors of Encyclopædia Britannica also argued that, while the Nature study showed that the rate of error, between the two encyclopaediae, was similar, that the errors in a Wikipedia article usually were errors of fact, while the errors in an Encyclopædia Britannica article were errors of omission; thus Britannica is more accurate than Wikipedia. Subsequently, Nature magazine rejected the Britannica response with a rebuttal of the editors’ specific objections about the research method of the study.
Lack of methodical fact-checking
Inaccurate information that is not obviously false may persist in Wikipedia for a long time before it is challenged. The most prominent cases reported by mainstream media involved biographies of living people.
The Wikipedia Seigenthaler biography incident demonstrated that the subject of a biographical article must sometimes fix blatant lies about his own life. In May 2005, an anonymous user edited the biographical article on American journalist and writer John Seigenthaler so that it contained several false and defamatory statements. The inaccurate claims went unnoticed from May until September 2005 when they were discovered by Victor S. Johnson, Jr., a friend of Seigenthaler. Wikipedia content is often mirrored at sites such as Answers.com, which means that incorrect information can be replicated alongside correct information through a number of web sources. Such information can develop a misleading authority because of its presence at such sites.
In another example, on March 2, 2007, MSNBC.com reported that then-New York Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had been incorrectly listed for 20 months in her Wikipedia biography as valedictorian of her class of 1969 at Wellesley College (which she was not, though she did speak at commencement.) The article included a link to the Wikipedia edit, where the incorrect information was added on July 9, 2005. The inaccurate information was removed within 24 hours after the MSNBC.com report appeared.
Attempts to perpetrate hoaxes may not be confined to editing existing Wikipedia articles, but can also include creating new articles. In October 2005, Alan Mcilwraith, a former call center worker from Scotland, created a Wikipedia article in which he claimed to be a highly decorated war hero. However, the article was quickly identified as a hoax by other users and deleted.
There have also been instances of users deliberately inserting false information into Wikipedia in order to test the system and demonstrate its alleged unreliability. Gene Weingarten, a journalist, ran such a test in 2007. He inserted false information into his own Wikipedia article, and it was removed 27 hours later by a Wikipedia editor. Wikipedia considers the deliberate insertion of false and misleading information to be vandalism.
Neutral point of view and conflicts of interest
Wikipedia regards the concept of a neutral point of view (NPOV) as one of its non-negotiable principles; however, it acknowledges that such a concept has its limitations—its policy indeed states that articles should be "as far as possible" written without bias. Mark Glaser, a journalist, also wrote that this may be an impossible ideal due to the inevitable biases of editors.
In August 2007, a tool called WikiScanner developed by Virgil Griffith, a visiting researcher from the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, was released to match anonymous IP edits in the encyclopedia with an extensive database of addresses. News stories appeared about IP addresses from various organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Diebold, Inc. and the Australian government being used to make edits to Wikipedia articles, sometimes of an opinionated or questionable nature. Another story stated that an IP address from the BBC itself had been used to vandalize the article on George W. Bush. The BBC quoted a Wikipedia spokesperson as praising the tool: "We really value transparency and the scanner really takes this to another level. Wikipedia Scanner may prevent an organisation or individuals from editing articles that they're really not supposed to." Not everyone hailed WikiScanner as a success for Wikipedia. Oliver Kamm, in a column for The Times, argued instead that:
The WikiScanner is thus an important development in bringing down a pernicious influence on our intellectual life. Critics of the web decry the medium as the cult of the amateur. Wikipedia is worse than that; it is the province of the covert lobby. The most constructive course is to stand on the sidelines and jeer at its pretensions.
WikiScanner only reveals conflicts of interest when the editor does not have a Wikipedia account and their IP address is used instead. Conflict of interest editing done by editors with accounts is not detected, since those edits are anonymous to everyone except certain Wikipedia admins.
The 2005 Nature study also gave two brief examples of challenges that Wikipedian science writers purportedly faced on Wikipedia. The first concerned the addition of a section on violence to the schizophrenia article, which exhibited the view of one of the article's regular editors, neuropsychologist Vaughan Bell, that it was little more than a "rant" about the need to lock people up, and that editing it stimulated him to look up the literature on the topic.
Another dispute involved the climate researcher William Connolley, who was opposed by other editors. The topic in this second dispute was the greenhouse effect; The New Yorker reported that this dispute was far more protracted, and led to arbitration, which took three months to produce a decision. The outcome of arbitration, as reported by Nature, was a six-month parole for Connolley − during this time he was restricted to one revert per day.
Exposure to political operatives and advocates
While Wikipedia policy requires articles to have a neutral point of view, it is not immune from attempts by outsiders (or insiders) with an agenda to place a spin on articles. In January 2006 it was revealed that several staffers of members of the U.S. House of Representatives had embarked on a campaign to cleanse their respective bosses' biographies on Wikipedia, as well as inserting negative remarks on political opponents. References to a campaign promise by Martin Meehan to surrender his seat in 2000 were deleted, and negative comments were inserted into the articles on U.S. Senator Bill Frist and Eric Cantor, a congressman from Virginia. Numerous other changes were made from an IP address which is assigned to the House of Representatives. In an interview, Wikipedia de facto leader Jimmy Wales remarked that the changes were "not cool".
Larry Delay and Pablo Bachelet write that from their perspective, some articles dealing with Latin American history and groups (such as the Sandinistas and Cuba) lack political neutrality and are written from a sympathetic Marxist perspective which treats socialist dictatorships favorably at the expense of alternate positions.
In 2008, the pro-Israel group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) organized an e-mail campaign to encourage readers to correct perceived Israel-related biases and inconsistencies in Wikipedia. CAMERA argued the excerpts were unrepresentative and that it had explicitly campaigned merely "toward encouraging people to learn about and edit the online encyclopedia for accuracy". Defenders of CAMERA and the competing group, Electronic Intifada, went into mediation. Israeli diplomat David Saranga said that Wikipedia is generally fair in regard to Israel. When it was pointed out that the entry on Israel mentioned the word "occupation" nine times, whereas the entry on the Palestinian People mentioned "terror" only once, he responded, "It means only one thing: Israelis should be more active on Wikipedia. Instead of blaming it, they should go on the site much more, and try and change it."
Political commentator Haviv Rettig Gur, reviewing widespread perceptions in Israel of systemic bias in Wikipedia articles, has argued that there are deeper structural problems creating this bias: anonymous editing favors biased results, especially if the editors organize concerted campaigns of defamation as has been done in articles dealing with Arab-Israeli issues, and current Wikipedia policies, while well-meant, have proven ineffective in handling this.
On August 31, 2008, The New York Times ran an article detailing the edits made to the biography of Alaska governor Sarah Palin in the wake of her nomination as running mate of Arizona Senator John McCain. During the 24 hours before the McCain campaign announcement, 30 edits, many of them flattering details, were made to the article by Wikipedia single-purpose user identity Young_Trigg. This person has later acknowledged working on the McCain campaign, and having several Wikipedia user accounts.
In November 2007, libelous accusations were made against two politicians from southwestern France, Jean-Pierre Grand and Hélène Mandroux-Colas, on their Wikipedia biographies. Jean-Pierre Grand asked the president of the French National Assembly and the Prime Minister of France to reinforce the legislation on the penal responsibility of Internet sites and of authors who peddle false informations in order to cause harm. Senator Jean Louis Masson then requested the Minister of Justice to tell him whether it would be possible to increase the criminal responsibilities of hosting providers, site operators, and authors of libelous content; the minister declined to do so, recalling the existing rules in the LCEN law.
On August 25, 2010, the Toronto Star reported that the Canadian "government is now conducting two investigations into federal employees who have taken to Wikipedia to express their opinion on federal policies and bitter political debates."
In 2010, Al Jazeera's Teymoor Nabili suggested that the article Cyrus Cylinder had been edited for political purposes by "an apparent tussle of opinions in the shadowy world of hard drives and 'independent' editors that comprise the Wikipedia industry." He suggested that after the Iranian presidential election, 2009 and the ensuing "anti-Iranian activities" a "strenuous attempt to portray the cylinder as nothing more than the propaganda tool of an aggressive invader" was visible. The edits following his analysis of the edits during 2009 and 2010, represented "a complete dismissal of the suggestion that the cylinder, or Cyrus' actions, represent concern for human rights or any kind of enlightened intent," in stark contrast to Cyrus' own reputation as documented in the Old Testament and the people of Babylon.
Commandeering or sanitizing articles
Articles of particular interest to an editor or group of editors are sometimes commandeered[not in citation given][unreliable source?] and sanitized. Organizations like Sony, Diebold, Nintendo, Dell, the CIA and the Church of Scientology were all shown to have sanitized pages about themselves to continually reflect a point of view that sheds a favorable light on the subject or group. Editors essentially "squat" on pages, watching for negative entries, then immediately revert them. This is especially true of pages on politicians as shown on USA Congressional staff edits to Wikipedia. There are also accusations of editors sanitizing pages to remove any negative information about persons or organizations. The page on Scientology has also been subject to being commandeered and has been put under the Wikipedia:Protection policy. These habits of commandeering, sanitizing and squatting discourage informed experts from spending the time and attention to make quality entries for fear that accurate and time-consuming work will be quickly deleted.
Editing for financial rewards
In January 2007 Rick Jelliffe stated in a story carried by CBS and IDG News Service that Microsoft had offered him compensation in exchange for his future editorial services on Wikipedia's articles related to OOXML (Office Open Extensible Markup Language). A Microsoft spokesperson, quoted by CBS, commented that "Microsoft and the writer, Rick Jelliffe, had not determined a price and no money had changed hands—but they had agreed that the company would not be allowed to review his writing before submission". Also quoted by CBS, Jimmy Wales expressed his disapproval of Microsoft's involvement: "We were very disappointed to hear that Microsoft was taking that approach".
Quality of the presentation
Quality of the writing
- U.S. History
In the essay, “Can History be Open Source?: Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” (2006), the academic historian Roy Rosenzweig criticized the encyclopedic content and writing style used in Wikipedia, for not distinguishing subjects that are important from subjects that are merely sensational. That Wikipedia is “surprisingly accurate in reporting names, dates, and events in U.S. history”, and that most of the factual errors he found “were small and inconsequential”, some of which “simply repeat widely held, but inaccurate, beliefs”, which are also repeated in the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia and in the Encyclopædia Britannica; yet Rosenzweig’s major criticism is that:
“Good historical writing requires not just factual accuracy but also a command of the scholarly literature, persuasive analysis and interpretations, and clear and engaging prose. By those measures, American National Biography Online easily outdistances Wikipedia.”
Rosenzweig also criticized the “waffling—encouraged by the NPOV policy—[which] means that it is hard to discern any overall interpretive stance in Wikipedia history [articles]”, and quoted the historical conclusion of the biography of William Clarke Quantrill, a Confederate guerrilla in the U.S. Civil War, as an example of weasel-word waffling:
“Some historians . . . remember [Quantrill] as an opportunistic, bloodthirsty outlaw, while other [historians] continue to view him as a daring soldier and local folk hero.”
In American National Biography Online, the historian James M. McPherson contrasted the content and writing style of Wikipedia's biography of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to that of the U.S. Civil War article, and found that each entry was essentially accurate in covering the major episodes of President Lincoln’s life, but praised the historian “McPherson’s richer contextualization . . . his artful use of quotations to capture Lincoln’s voice . . . and . . . his ability to convey a profound message in a handful of words.” In contrast, McPherson said that Wikipedia’s history-article prose tends to be “both verbose and dull” and thus difficult to read, because “the skill and confident judgment of a seasoned historian” are absent from the antiquarian writing style of Wikipedia, when compared to the writing style used by professional historians in the American Heritage magazine. That while Wikipedia usually provides many references, they are not the most accurate references.
In the article “Wikipedia Cancer Information Accurate”, a study of medical articles, Yaacov Lawrence (of the Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University) found that the cancer entries were mostly accurate, but were written in college-level prose, and not in the ninth-grade-level prose found in the Physician Data Query (PDQ) of the National Cancer Institute. That “Wikipedia’s lack of readability may reflect its varied origins and haphazard editing.” In the article “Fact or Fiction? Wikipedia’s Variety of Contributors is Not Only a Strength” (2007), ”The Economist magazine noted that the quality of the writing in Wikipedia articles usually indicates the quality of the editorial content: “Inelegant or ranting prose usually reflects muddled thoughts and incomplete information.”
The Wall Street Journal debate
In the September 12, 2006, edition of The Wall Street Journal, Jimmy Wales debated with Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of Encyclopædia Britannica. Hoiberg focused on a need for expertise and control in an encyclopedia and cited Lewis Mumford that overwhelming information could "bring about a state of intellectual enervation and depletion hardly to be distinguished from massive ignorance."
Wales emphasized Wikipedia's differences, and asserted that openness and transparency lead to quality. Hoiberg said that he "had neither the time nor space to respond to [criticisms]" and "could corral any number of links to articles alleging errors in Wikipedia", to which Wales responded: "No problem! Wikipedia to the rescue with a fine article", and included a link to the Wikipedia article Criticism of Wikipedia.
Systemic bias in coverage
Wikipedia has been accused of systemic bias, which is to say its general nature leads, without necessarily any conscious intention, to the propagation of various prejudices. Although many articles in newspapers have concentrated on minor factual errors in Wikipedia articles, there are also concerns about large-scale, presumably unintentional effects from the increasing influence and use of Wikipedia as a research tool at all levels. In an article in the Times Higher Education magazine (London) philosopher Martin Cohen frames Wikipedia of having "become a monopoly" with "all the prejudices and ignorance of its creators", which he describes as a "youthful cab-driver's" perspective. Cohen's argument, however, finds a grave conclusion in these circumstances: "To control the reference sources that people use is to control the way people comprehend the world. Wikipedia may have a benign, even trivial face, but underneath may lie a more sinister and subtle threat to freedom of thought." That freedom is undermined by what he sees as what matters on Wikipedia, "not your sources but the 'support of the community'."
Critics also point to the tendency to cover topics in a detail disproportionate to their importance. For example, Stephen Colbert once mockingly praised Wikipedia for having a "longer entry on 'lightsabers' than it does on the 'printing press'." In an interview with The Guardian, Dale Hoiberg, the editor-in-chief of Encyclopædia Britannica, noted:
People write of things they're interested in, and so many subjects don't get covered; and news events get covered in great detail. In the past, the entry on Hurricane Frances was more than five times the length of that on Chinese art, and the entry on Coronation Street was twice as long as the article on Tony Blair.
This critical approach has been satirised as "Wikigroaning", a term coined by Jon Hendren of the website Something Awful. In the game, two articles (preferably with similar names) are compared: one about an acknowledged, serious, or classical subject and the other about a popular or current one. Defenders of a broad inclusion criteria have held that the encyclopedia's coverage of pop culture does not impose space constraints on the coverage of more serious subjects (see "Wiki is not paper"). As Ivor Tossell noted:
That Wikipedia is chock full of useless arcana (and did you know, by the way, that the article on "Debate" is shorter than the piece that weighs the relative merits of the 1978 and 2003 versions of Battlestar Galactica?) isn't a knock against it: Since it can grow infinitely, the silly articles aren't depriving the serious ones of space.
In 2014, supporters of holistic healing and energy psychology began a change.org petition asking for "true scientific discourse" on Wikipedia, complaining that "much of the information [on Wikipedia] related to holistic approaches to healing is biased, misleading, out-of-date, or just plain wrong". In response, Jimmy Wales said that Wikipedia only covers works that are published in respectable scientific journals.
Notability of article topics
Wikipedia's notability guidelines, which are used by editors to determine if a subject merits its own article, and the application thereof, are the subject of much criticism. Nicholson Baker considers the notability standards arbitrary and essentially unsolvable:
There are quires, reams, bales of controversy over what constitutes notability in Wikipedia: nobody will ever sort it out.
Still, a lot of good work—verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an on-line encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come. [...] It's harder to improve something that's already written, or to write something altogether new, especially now that so many of the World Book-sanctioned encyclopedic fruits are long plucked. There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking peoples' work—even to the point of laughing at nonstandard "Engrish". They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.
Yet another criticism about the deletionists is this: "The increasing difficulty of making a successful edit; the exclusion of casual users; slower growth—all are hallmarks of the deletionists approach."
Complaining that his own biography was on the verge of deletion for lack of notability, Timothy Noah argued that:
Wikipedia's notability policy resembles U.S. immigration policy before 9/11: stringent rules, spotty enforcement. To be notable, a Wikipedia topic must be "the subject of multiple, non-trivial published works from sources that are reliable and independent of the subject and of each other." Although I have written or been quoted in such works, I can't say I've ever been the subject of any. And wouldn't you know, some notability cop cruised past my bio and pulled me over. Unless I get notable in a hurry—win the Nobel Peace Prize? Prove I sired Anna Nicole Smith's baby daughter?—a "sysop" (volunteer techie) will wipe my Wikipedia page clean. It's straight out of Philip K. Dick.
In the same article, Noah mentions that the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Stacy Schiff was not considered notable enough for a Wikipedia entry before she wrote an extensive New Yorker article on Wikipedia itself.
There have been suggestions that a politically liberal viewpoint is predominant. According to Jimmy Wales: "The Wikipedia community is very diverse, from liberal to conservative to libertarian and beyond. If averages mattered, and due to the nature of the wiki software (no voting) they almost certainly don't, I would say that the Wikipedia community is slightly more liberal than the U.S. population on average, because we are global and the international community of English speakers is slightly more liberal than the U.S. population. There are no data or surveys to back that." Andrew Schlafly created Conservapedia because of his perception that Wikipedia contained a liberal bias. Conservapedia's editors have compiled a list of alleged examples of liberal bias in Wikipedia. In 2007, an article in The Christian Post criticised Wikipedia's coverage of intelligent design, saying that it was biased and hypocritical. Lawrence Solomon of the National Review considered the Wikipedia articles on subjects like global warming, intelligent design, and Roe v. Wade all to be slanted in favor of liberal views.
In a September 2010 issue of the conservative weekly Human Events, Rowan Scarborough presented a critique of Wikipedia's coverage of American politicians prominent in the approaching midterm elections as evidence of systemic liberal bias. Scarborough compares the biographical articles of liberal and conservative opponents in Senate races in the Alaska Republican primary and the Delaware and Nevada general election, emphasizing the quantity of negative coverage of Tea Party-endorsed candidates. He also cites some criticism by Lawrence Solomon and quotes in full the lead section of Wikipedia's article on its rival Conservapedia as evidence of an underlying bias.
In 2012, a professor at Northwestern University and another professor at the University of Southern California analyzed Wikipedia articles on U.S. politics, going back a decade, and wrote a study that showed that articles with a large number of contributors lead to more unbiased articles, but that the majority of articles still retain a Democrat lean from Wikipedia's early years.
American and corporate bias
In 2008, Tim Anderson, a senior lecturer in political economy at the University of Sydney, said that Wikipedia administrators display an American-focused bias in their interactions with editors and their determinations of which sources are appropriate for use on the site. Anderson was outraged after several of the sources he used in his edits to the Hugo Chávez article, including Venezuela Analysis and Z Magazine, were disallowed as "unusable". Anderson also described Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy to ZDNet Australia as "a facade" and that Wikipedia "hides behind a reliance on corporate media editorials".
Wikipedia has been criticized for having a systemic racial bias in its coverage, due to an under-representation of people of colour within its editor base. The President of Wikimedia D.C., James Hare, noted that "a lot of black history is left out" of Wikipedia, due to articles predominately being written by white editors. Articles that do exist on African topics are, according to some critics, largely edited by editors from Europe and North America and thus reflect their knowledge and consumption of media, which "tend to perpetuate a negative image" of Africa. Maira Liriano of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has argued that the lack of information regarding black history on Wikipedia "makes it seem like it's not important."
Gender bias and sexism
Wikipedia has a longstanding controversy concerning gender bias and sexism. Gender bias on Wikipedia refers to the finding that between 84 and 91 percent of Wikipedia editors are male, which allegedly leads to systemic bias. Wikipedia has been criticized by some journalists and academics for lacking not only women contributors but also extensive and in-depth encyclopedic attention to many topics regarding gender. Sue Gardner, the former executive director of the foundation, said that increasing diversity was about making the encyclopedia "as good as it could be". Factors the article cited as possibly discouraging women from editing included the "obsessive fact-loving realm", associations with the "hard-driving hacker crowd", and the necessity to be "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists." In 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation set a goal of increasing the proportion of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015. In August 2013, Gardner conceded defeat: "I didn't solve it. We didn't solve it. The Wikimedia Foundation didn't solve it. The solution won't come from the Wikimedia Foundation." In August 2014, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales acknowledged in a BBC interview the failure of Wikipedia to fix the gender gap and announced the Wikimedia Foundation's plans for "doubling down" on the issue. Wales said the Foundation would be open to more outreach and more software changes.
Wikipedia has been criticized for allowing graphic sexual content such as images and videos of masturbation and ejaculation as well as photos from hardcore pornographic films found on its articles. Child protection campaigners say graphic sexual content appears on many Wikipedia entries, displayed without any warning or age verification.
The Wikipedia article Virgin Killer—a 1976 album from German heavy metal band Scorpions—features a picture of the album's original cover, which depicts a naked prepubescent girl. In December 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation, a nonprofit, nongovernment-affiliated organization, added the article to its blacklist, criticizing the inclusion of the picture as "distasteful". As a result, access to the article was blocked for four days by most Internet service providers in the United Kingdom.
In April 2010, Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia who had left the organization eight years previously, wrote a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, outlining his concerns that two categories of images on Wikimedia Commons contained child pornography, and were in violation of U.S. federal obscenity law. Sanger also expressed concerns about access to the images on Wikipedia in schools. Sanger later said that it was probably not correct to call it "child pornography", which most people associate with images of real children, and that he should have said "depictions of child sexual abuse". Wikimedia Foundation spokesman Jay Walsh said that Wikipedia doesn't have "material we would deem to be illegal. If we did, we would remove it." Following the complaint by Larry Sanger, Jimmy Wales deleted many sexual images without consulting the community; some were reinstated following discussion. Critics, including Wikipediocracy, noticed that many of the sexual images deleted from Wikipedia since 2010 have reappeared.
Exposure to vandals
As an online encyclopedia which almost anyone can edit, Wikipedia has long had problems with vandalism of articles, which range from "blanking" articles to inserting profanities, hoaxes or nonsense. Wikipedia has a range of tools available to users and administrators in order to fight against vandalism, including blocking and banning of vandals and automated bots that detect and repair vandalism. Supporters of the project argue that the vast majority of vandalism on Wikipedia is reverted within a short time, and a study by Fernanda Viégas of the MIT Media Lab and Martin Wattenberg and Kushal Dave of IBM Research found that most vandal edits were reverted within around five minutes; however they state that "it is essentially impossible to find a crisp definition of vandalism". While most instances of page blanking or the addition of offensive material are soon reverted, less obvious vandalism, or vandalism to a little viewed article, has remained for longer periods.
A 2007 peer-reviewed study that measured the actual number of page views with "damaged" content, concluded:
42% of damage is repaired almost immediately, i.e., before it can confuse, offend, or mislead anyone. Nonetheless, there are still hundreds of millions of damaged views.
Most privacy concerns refer to cases of government or employer data gathering; or to computer or electronic monitoring; or to trading data between organizations. "The Internet has created conflicts between personal privacy, commercial interests and the interests of society at large" warn James Donnelly and Jenifer Haeckl. Balancing the rights of all concerned as technology alters the social landscape will not be easy. It "is not yet possible to anticipate the path of the common law or governmental regulation" regarding this problem.
The concern in the case of Wikipedia is the right of a private citizen to remain private; to remain a "private citizen" rather than a "public figure" in the eyes of the law. It is somewhat of a battle between the right to be anonymous in cyberspace and the right to be anonymous in real life ("meatspace"). Wikipedia Watch argues that "Wikipedia is a potential menace to anyone who values privacy" and that "a greater degree of accountability in the Wikipedia structure" would be "the very first step toward resolving the privacy problem." A particular problem occurs in the case of an individual who is relatively unimportant and for whom there exists a Wikipedia page against their wishes.
In 2005 Agence France-Presse quoted Daniel Brandt, the Wikipedia Watch owner, as saying that "the basic problem is that no one, neither the trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, nor the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible for the content."
In January 2006, a German court ordered the German Wikipedia shut down within Germany because it stated the full name of Boris Floricic, aka "Tron", a deceased hacker who was formerly with the Chaos Computer Club. More specifically, the court ordered that the URL within the German .de domain (http://www.wikipedia.de/) may no longer redirect to the encyclopedia's servers in Florida at http://de.wikipedia.org although German readers were still able to use the US-based URL directly, and there was virtually no loss of access on their part. The court order arose out of a lawsuit filed by Floricic's parents, demanding that their son's surname be removed from Wikipedia. On February 9, 2006, the injunction against Wikimedia Deutschland was overturned, with the court rejecting the notion that Tron's right to privacy or that of his parents were being violated.
Criticism of the community
Jimmy Wales' role
The community of Wikipedia editors has been criticized for placing an irrational emphasis on Jimmy Wales as a person. Wales' role in personally determining the content of some articles has also been criticized as contrary to the independent spirit that Wikipedia supposedly has gained.[not in citation given] In early 2007, Wales dismissed the criticism of the Wikipedia model: "I am unaware of any problems with the quality of discourse on the site. I don't know of any higher-quality discourse anywhere."
Conflict of interest cases
According to Business Insider, "In September of 2012, there was quite a bit of media attention surrounding two Wikipedia employees who were running a PR business on the side and editing Wikipedia on behalf of their clients."
Allegations of unfair treatment of female contributors
Some female editors have stated that they have been harassed by male editors.
In an article for Slate, David Auerbach criticized the decisions made by the Arbitration Committee, in a December 2014 case centered around the site's Gender Gap Task Force. Auerbach was critical of the committee's decision to permanently ban a female editor involved in the case, while not banning her male "chief antagonists", stating "With the Arbitration Committee opting only to ban the one woman in the dispute despite her behavior being no worse than that of the men, it's hard not to see this as a setback to Wikipedia's efforts to rectify its massive gender gap."
In January 2015, The Guardian reported that the Arbitration Committee had banned five feminist editors from gender-related articles on a case related to the Gamergate controversy, while including quotes from a Wikipedia editor alleging unfair treatment. Other commentators, including from Gawker and ThinkProgress, provided additional analysis while sourcing from The Guardian 's story. Reports in the Washington Post, Slate and Social Text described these articles as "flawed" or factually inaccurate, pointing out that the Arbitration case had not concluded as at the time of publishing; no editor had been banned. After the result was published, Gawker wrote that "ArbCom ruled to punish six editors who could be broadly classified as 'anti-Gamergate' and five who are 'pro-Gamergate'." All of the supposed "Five Horsemen" were among the editors punished, with one of them being the sole editor banned due to this case. An article called "ArbitrationGate" regarding this situation was created (and quickly deleted) on Wikipedia, while The Guardian later issued a correction to their article. The Committee and the Wikipedia Foundation issued press statements that the Gamergate case was in response to the atmosphere of the Gamergate article resembling a "battlefield" due to "various sides of the discussion [having] violated community policies and guidelines on conduct", and that the Committee was fulfilling its role to "uphold a civil, constructive atmosphere" on Wikipedia. The Committee also wrote that it "does not rule on the content of articles, or make judgements on the personal views of parties to the case". Michael Mandiberg, writing in Social Text, remained unconvinced.
Lack of verifiable identities
Scandals involving administrators and arbitrators
Wikipedian David Boothroyd, a Labour Party member, created controversy in 2009, when Wikipedia Review contributor "Tarantino" discovered that he committed sockpuppeting, editing under the accounts "Dbiv", "Fys" and "Sam Blacketer", none of which acknowledged his real identity. After earning Administrator status with one account, then losing it for inappropriate use of the administrative tools, Boothroyd regained Administrator status with the "Sam Blacketer" sockpuppet account in April 2007. Later in 2007, Boothroyd's Sam Blacketer account became part of the English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee. Under the Sam Blacketer account, Boothroyd edited many articles related to United Kingdom politics, including that of rival Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Boothroyd then resigned as an administrator and as an arbitrator.
In July 2006 The New Yorker ran a feature about Wikipedia by Stacy Schiff about a highly credentialed Wikipedia editor. The initial version of the article included an interview with a Wikipedia administrator known by the pseudonym Essjay, who was described as a tenured professor of theology. Essjay's Wikipedia user page (now removed) made the following claim:
I am a tenured professor of theology at a private university in the eastern United States; I teach both undergraduate and graduate theology. I have been asked repeatedly to reveal the name of the institution, however, I decline to do so; I am unsure of the consequences of such an action, and believe it to be in my best interests to remain anonymous.
Essjay also claimed on his userpage that he held four academic degrees: Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (B.A.), Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.), Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology (Ph.D.), and Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD). Essjay specialized in editing articles about religion on Wikipedia, including subjects such as "the penitential rite, transubstantiation, the papal tiara"; on one occasion he was called in to give some "expert testimony" on the status of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church. In January 2007, Essjay was hired as a manager with Wikia, a wiki-hosting service founded by Wales and Angela Beesley. In February, Wales appointed Essjay as a member of the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee, a group with powers to issue binding rulings in disputes relating to Wikipedia.
In late February 2007 The New Yorker added an editorial note to its article on Wikipedia stating that it had learned that Essjay was Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old college dropout from Kentucky with no advanced degrees and no teaching experience. Initially Jimmy Wales commented on the issue of Essjay's identity: "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it." Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, responded to Wales on his Citizendium blog by calling Wales' initial reaction "utterly breathtaking, and ultimately tragic." Sanger said the controversy "reflects directly on the judgment and values of the management of Wikipedia."
Wales later issued a new statement saying he had not previously understood that "EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes." He added: "I have asked EssJay to resign his positions of trust within the [Wikipedia] community." Sanger responded the next day: "It seems Jimmy finds nothing wrong, nothing trust-violating, with the act itself of openly and falsely touting many advanced degrees on Wikipedia. But there most obviously is something wrong with it, and it's just as disturbing for Wikipedia's head to fail to see anything wrong with it."
On March 4, Essjay wrote on his user page that he was leaving Wikipedia, and he also resigned his position with Wikia. A subsequent article in The Courier-Journal (Louisville) suggested that the new résumé he had posted at his Wikia page was exaggerated. The March 19, 2007 issue of The New Yorker published a formal apology by Wales to the magazine and Stacy Schiff for Essjay's false statements.
Discussing the incident, the New York Times noted that the Wikipedia community had responded to the affair with "the fury of the crowd", and observed:
The Essjay episode underlines some of the perils of collaborative efforts like Wikipedia that rely on many contributors acting in good faith, often anonymously and through self-designated user names. But it also shows how the transparency of the Wikipedia process—all editing of entries is marked and saved—allows readers to react to suspected fraud.
The Essjay incident received extensive media coverage, including a national U.S. television broadcast on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson and the March 7, 2007, Associated Press story. The controversy has led to a proposal that users claiming to possess academic qualifications should have to provide evidence before citing them in Wikipedia content disputes. The proposal was not accepted.
Wikipedia has been criticised for allowing editors to contribute anonymously—or pseudonymously. Some argue that this creates a lack of accountability. Some say this also causes incivility in debates between Wikipedians. For privacy reasons, Wikipedia even forbids editors to reveal information about an anonymous editor on Wikipedia. A whistleblower in violation of this policy may be banned from Wikipedia.
In Wikipedia itself, the term "anonymous" is used in a much narrower sense than in the citations above—namely, only those editors who do not have a registered account and use an auto-generated IP-labeled account are called anonymous, or "anons".
Level of debate, edit wars and harassment
The standard of debate on Wikipedia has been called into question by persons who have noted that contributors can make a long list of salient points and pull in a wide range of empirical observations to back up their arguments, only to have them ignored completely on the site. An academic study of Wikipedia articles found that the level of debate among Wikipedia editors on controversial topics often degenerated into counterproductive squabbling:
"For uncontroversial, 'stable' topics self-selection also ensures that members of editorial groups are substantially well-aligned with each other in their interests, backgrounds, and overall understanding of the topics ... For controversial topics, on the other hand, self-selection may produce a strongly misaligned editorial group. It can lead to conflicts among the editorial group members, continuous edit wars, and may require the use of formal work coordination and control mechanisms. These may include intervention by administrators who enact dispute review and mediation processes, [or] completely disallow or limit and coordinate the types and sources of edits."
In 2008, a team from the Palo Alto Research Center found that for editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5% in 2004 to about 15%, and people who only make one edit a month were being reverted at a 25% rate. According to The Economist magazine (2008), "The behaviour of Wikipedia's self-appointed deletionist guardians, who excise anything that does not meet their standards, justifying their actions with a blizzard of acronyms, is now known as "wiki-lawyering". In regards to the decline in the number of Wikipedia editors since the 2007 policy changes, another study stated this was partly down to the way "in which newcomers are rudely greeted by automated quality control systems and are overwhelmed by the complexity of the rule system."
Another complaint about Wikipedia focuses on the efforts of contributors with idiosyncratic beliefs, who push their point of view in an effort to dominate articles, especially controversial ones. This sometimes results in revert wars and pages being locked down. In response, an Arbitration Committee has been formed on the English Wikipedia that deals with the worst alleged offenders—though a conflict resolution strategy is actively encouraged before going to this extent. Also, to stop the continuous reverting of pages, Jimmy Wales introduced a "three-revert rule", whereby those users who reverse the effect of others' contributions to one article more than three times in a 24-hour period may be blocked.
In a 2008 article in The Brooklyn Rail, Wikipedia contributor David Shankbone contended that he had been harassed and stalked because of his work on Wikipedia, had received no support from the authorities or the Wikimedia Foundation, and only mixed support from the Wikipedia community. Shankbone wrote that "If you become a target on Wikipedia, do not expect a supportive community."
Consensus and the "hive mind"
Wikipedia seeks not truth but consensus, and like an interminable political meeting the end result will be dominated by the loudest and most persistent voices.
Wikimedia advisor Benjamin Mako Hill acknowledged Wikipedia's disproportional representation of viewpoints:
In Wikipedia, debates can be won by stamina. If you care more and argue longer, you will tend to get your way. The result, very often, is that individuals and organizations with a very strong interest in having Wikipedia say a particular thing tend to win out over other editors who just want the encyclopedia to be solid, neutral, and reliable. These less-committed editors simply have less at stake and their attention is more distributed.
Wikimedia steward Dariusz Jemielniak admits:
Tiring out one's opponent is a common strategy among experienced Wikipedians [...] I have resorted to it many times.
In his article, Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism (first published online by Edge: The Third Culture, 30 May 2006), computer scientist and digital theorist Jaron Lanier describes Wikipedia as a "hive mind" that is "for the most part stupid and boring", and asks, rhetorically, "why pay attention to it?" His thesis follows:
The problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous.
Lanier goes on to argue the economic trend to reward entities that aggregate information, rather than those that actually generate content. In the absence of "new business models", the popular demand for content will be sated by mediocrity, thus reducing or even eliminating any monetary incentives for the production of new knowledge.
Lanier's opinions produced some strong disagreement. Internet consultant Clay Shirky noted that Wikipedia has many internal controls in place and is not a mere mass of unintelligent collective effort:
Neither proponents nor detractors of hive mind rhetoric have much interesting to say about Wikipedia itself, because both groups ignore the details... Wikipedia is best viewed as an engaged community that uses a large and growing number of regulatory mechanisms to manage a huge set of proposed edits... To take the specific case of Wikipedia, the Seigenthaler/Kennedy debacle catalyzed both soul-searching and new controls to address the problems exposed, and the controls included, inter alia, a greater focus on individual responsibility, the very factor "Digital Maoism" denies is at work.
Kat Walsh, a former chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, has criticized Wikipedia's increasingly complex policies, saying "It was easier when I joined in 2004... Everything was a little less complicated.... It's harder and harder for new people to adjust." According to a top Wikipedia administrator Oliver Moran, "policy creep" is "the real barrier".
In his 2014 book titled Common Knowledge?: An Ethnography of Wikipedia, Wikipedia steward Dariusz Jemielniak asserts that the sheer complexity of the rules and laws governing content and editor behavior has become excessive and creates a learning burden for new editors. Jemielniak suggests actively abridging and rewriting the rules and laws to fall within a fixed and reasonable limit of size and complexity to remedy their excessive complexity and size.
It has been argued that, despite the perception of Wikipedia as a "shining example of Web democracy", "a small number of people are running the show". In an article on Wikipedia conflicts in 2007, The Guardian discussed "a backlash among some editors, who argue that blocking users compromises the supposedly open nature of the project and the imbalance of power between users and administrators may even be a reason some users choose to vandalise in the first place" based on the experiences of one editor who became a vandal after his edits were reverted and he was blocked for edit warring.
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Such checking leads to a daily battle of wits with the cyber-wreckers who insert erroneous, ludicrous and offensive material into entries. How frequently entries get messed about with depends on the controversy of their subjects. This week the entry Muslim is being attacked dozens of times a day following the row about cartoons of Mohammed with angry denunciations of suicide bombing and claims of hypocrisy. Prime Minister Tony Blair's entry is a favourite for distortion with new statements casting aspersions on his integrity.
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The Wikipedia's open structure makes it a target for trolls and vandals who malevolently add incorrect information to articles, get other people tied up in endless discussions, and generally do everything to draw attention to themselves.[dead link]
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