No more Wikiwashing

| November 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Although many teachers disparage its reliability, Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia built collaboratively, has been named by Alexa.com as the sixth-most popular website in the world. The Wikimedia Foundation, which backs the enterprise, is now set to change its terms of use in a fundamental way. Wikimedia says that paid contributors to the encyclopaedia must now disclose their affiliations and accreditations. The shift comes after several investigations into ‘Wikiwashing’.

In 2013, for example, a British Petroleum (BP) employee was accused of providing nearly half the text for the BP Wikipedia entry, including sections discussing the corporation’s environmental record. Wikimedia’s decision to change its terms of use could herald the demise of the site, says Kim Osman from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. “Paid editing refers broadly to anyone who receives compensation for their contributions to the encyclopaedia and… seems at odds with the open user-led model of volunteer collaboration that Wikipedia is famous for. “The fear is that opening up the platform to any form of commercial involvement changes its nature and threatens its sustainability as a site of free and neutral knowledge.”

Osman acknowledges the flip side of the dilemma: that professional paid editors should theoretically provide more accurate data, especially because the number of volunteer editors and contributors has declined steadily since 2007. In the end, says Osman, students should continue to regard Wikipedia – and all other sources of crowd-sourced online knowledge – with caution, double-checking facts for veracity to develop their digital literacy skills. Mark Graham, associate professor at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, says that Wikipedia’s reputation for “structural openness” (meaning that anyone can access and participate in the construction of knowledge) is just a front. “Even though 60% of the world’s population is concentrated in Asia, less than 10% of Wikipedia articles relate to the region. The same is true in reverse for Europe, which is home to around 10% of the world’s population but accounts for nearly 60% of geotagged Wikipedia articles.” 

Category: e-Education, Summer 2014

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