Wikipedia 101: Check your sources

Tech Culture

A few months back, The New Yorker published a long piece about online encyclopedia Wikipedia. This week, the magazine ran an editors' note detailing a problem with one of the sources in the article.

Wikipedia 101: Check your sources

The Web encyclopedia's management team recommended a Wikipedia administrator, known to the Wikipedia community and to the article's author only as "Essjay," as a source for the story. According to the article, the source, who described himself online as "a tenured professor of religion at a private university" with "a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law," remained anonymous on Wikipedia and to the magazine because he was concerned about retribution from people he ruled against.

It turns out, however, that Essjay is a 24-year-old named Ryan Jordan, who is not a teacher and holds no advanced degrees. Jordan was recently hired by Wikia, a commercial company co-founded by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Wales told The New Yorker that he didn't "really have a problem with" Essjay's online profile, and regarded it as a "pseudonym."

The incident had bloggers buzzing trying to decide where the bigger problem lay: Was Wikipedia to blame for allowing administrators to lie about who they are? Or should the reporter have been more thorough in checking her sources?

Blog community response:

"This is hardly a felony, but it does make you wonder about what else happens at Wikipedia that Jimmy Wales doesn't have a problem with. For me, a more interesting question is the degree of Schiffs error: should she, e.g., have insisted on some verification of Essjay's credentials, or at least omitted his academic claims. This illustrates, if nothing else, how journalists get lied to, pretty regularly."

"One of the points I try to make about Wikipedia, and am usually ignored because one type of pundit wants to sneer at Wikipedia's large amount of pop-culture, while another type of pundit wants to hype it as the self-emergent ubermind, is that it fundamentally runs by an extremely deceptive sort of social promise. It functions by selling the heavy contributors on the dream, the illusion, that it'll give them the prestige of an academic ('writing an encyclopedia'). It won't deliver. All that'll happen is those citizen-lunchmeats will work for free, while the Wikia investors will reap the rewards. But it's a powerful dream."

"If credentials don't matter, why bother faking them? Ah, well, Schiff put it best in the final line of her article: 'Your truth or mine?'"
--Rough Type

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