Critical views of Wikipedia

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For the many who watch Wikipedia from afar and through other wikis, their mission to slowly build specific encyclopedic content, rather than verify content before publication, has incorrectly become synonomous with "wiki". MeatballWiki has an article, "Wikipedia Is Not Typical", which focuses on this problem. Others point out that the Wikipedian goal actually misses the whole point of collaborative editing technology, which is to produce quality output which represents something "more true than not". Even though goodwill among "inside" contributors is a side effect of their dedication to a common goal, editorial biases and "edit wars" continually show up in the very public wiki process and final content.

Even some insiders have criticized Wikipedia's culture as "destructive" and "abusive". For instance, "The Cunctator" referred to its "vile mailing list" in December 2003, "R. K." called it the "Nazipedia", because he believes there is viciously anti-semitic bias, and there are debates which seem to focus on whether a "GodKing" or sysop pronouncement regarding "the truth" can or must be accepted as truth within Wikipedia itself. In discussions, it is the loudest of voices attracting the most supporters who often dominate the direction. This is exacerbated whenever voting mechanisms instead of consensus mechanisms are used, such as the Votes for Deletion process. All such criticisms point to the reality of Wikipedia being a community first, a cult even, and an encyclopedia second.

A thorough analysis of Wikipedia's policies and practices reveals an encyclopedia (yet apparently more of a "culture blog") whose goal is to objectively reflect the popular perceptions of the general public, especially of the dominant, Wikipedian majority perceptions about cultural, scientific and intellectual issues. There is an unquestionable, dogmatically imposed wikiculture, which puts the wiki's social dynamics above accuracy and truth. Now that Wikipedia is podcasting, the problems described on these pages are only likely to be further amplified.

"I think we're finally beginning to be taken seriously. We have half a million articles, and we're approaching the level of respectability which Encyclopedia Britannica labored for centuries to achieve."
Ed Poor, "Wikipedia hits the big time" (listserv, March, 2005)

Overview

Interestingly, Wikipedia founder, Jim Wales, worked under the title "God King" for several years, and encouraged new Wikipedia contributors and leaders to use his cult-like language and terms on the wiki, discouraging any opposition to his views and proposed wiki policies. "Jimbo" is also an unabashed Objectivist, one school of thought frequently recognized as a cult of pseudo-philosophers requiring strict conformity of thinking and uncritical support of Ayn Rand and her followers. Casual, though philosophical, email conversations with Wales can quickly become challenges for his beliefs and he will abruptly end them, using ad hominem suggestions throughout. Not surprisingly, Wales has become a cult figure within Wikipedia, supporting his community's primary function as a cult-like social network. Jimbo's biases are noteworthy only because Wikipedia has become the largest and most widely known "wiki".

Any casual review of edit-histories at Wikipedia suggests that power users, who spend several hours a day making small edits to numerous pages, often dominate discussions, and comprise the most active elements of the administrative ranks. Yet, people who are qualified and interested in administrative functions can hold quite different interests from these power users. Most power users are skilled at using the many wiki laws and rules of conduct to their personal advantage, turning Wikipedia into a political arena that often resembles a banana republic.

Thus, outsiders, new users, and those constructively critical are often blocked from discussions under vague allegations, such as "trolling", or being a known "problem user". Such disputes are not limited to Wikipedia, but Wikipedia's administrators regularly invoke the power of their community, reasoning that such people are excluded for "behavioral reasons", not for critical policy arguments, when the truth was quite the opposite. Some administrators might not be adept at the personal or editorial skills which can best resolve conflicts among contributors. An inability or unwillingness among such untrained administrators to consistently articulate what they find problematic contributes to a less productive collaborative environment, and exacerbates conflicts.

The quick deletion or reversion of particular views and whole articles without discussion or refutation, eliminating the contributions of several authors on grounds that a suspect author contributed a "kink in the chain". Such actions can be a disregard of their own simple rules for deletion, as well as the conservatism reagarding elimination of text. Due to the limitations of their views and resulting software, the labeling of a suspect author's IP address, pseudonyms and "sock puppets", as a banned author is quite common as well, and justifies for some administrators an extension of blocking tactics and invasions of privacy, based on ad hominem reasoning. Many other wikis, such as Wikinfo, have long moved to a model requiring logins, which prevents most casual vandalism, spam, and provides true anonymous editing. When necessary, an account can be blocked from editing, still preserving the privacy of individuals, and only in rare cases are IP addresses or ranges exposed to the public. Wikipedia will likely never address this major tension between the "wiki way" and the way of the internet.

More Questions

Yet another flaw in the management of Wikipedia is the lack of a common understanding on adding external links to resources into articles. Wikipedia (like many Wikis) has problems with wikispam, however, many users at Wikipedia feel obliged to remove most or all external website links added to articles, whether they are useful or not. This includes legitimate links to websites directly related to the article at hand, perhaps because that external site has advertisments. Further, those who regularly add external links will find themselves being labeled as spammers or self-promoters and warned to cease their efforts or face being banned. This external link paranoia has driven many good editors away from Wikipedia, while Wikipedia itself is becoming more and more commercialized and marketed as a product.

Lastly, the popular selections of adminstrators and merely casual verification of selected content is employed, instead of a more formal fact-checking process. Correction of inaccuracies or misinformation is never assured, or even common, and when corrections are eventually made, it can be weeks, months, or years after the misinformation has been served and forked to readers and to other web services. Justifying this effective dissemination of ignorance by clinging to the "wiky way" is no longer reasonable, due to the increasing popularity of Wikipedia, and its goal of representing the canon of human knowledge.

As a result, Wikipedia has distinct and well-known limitations as an encyclopedia, and functions primarily as a cult-like community. There is no special process or mechanism to deal with a political disputes, with factions that can't or won't reconcile their terms to each other, even when disputes arise over matters of fact. The community explicitly has refused to work out any useful policy for terminology disputes, identity disputes, even factual disputes, and prefers to allow itself, the community, to decide such matters. There are no designated "Editors" to make final content decisions, even in matters of fact, in any language. Instead, all of these editorial problems result in clear power struggles, forcing contributors, even those of strong qualifications, to answer to a mob of pro-Wikipedia zealots and hype-pushers, even when there is abuse of those contributors from others of no particular qualifications. Disputes are therefore never really settled, though they many be endlessly discussed, while actions are taken within obvious groupthink parameters.

Stirling Newberry in January 2005 has said Wikipedia is in serious danger of "capsizing", over the issues of credibility and authenticity, but some critics suggest that this is already happening, that it is unavoidable. Wikipedia is an interesting social experiment, but it is certainly not immune to the dark side of its own success, with vandalism, spam, frequent internet attacks and huge bandwidth needs. The many valid criticisms offered of Wikipedia must be taken to heart, rather than explained away, if Wikipedia is to survive as a source of anything but "problem users" and false statements. Otherwise, it may only be a "pseudopedia".

"Obviously, I would not design the system the same way if given the chance again."
Larry Sanger, [1], (Slashdot, April, 2005)

A recent and revealing example of the vandalism and false information on Wikipedia is the falsely reported death of actor/comedian David Adkins, also known as "Sinbad," on March 14, 2007.

The supposed death of Sinbad was inserted into his article by an anonymous user, and the article wasn't noticed or corrected for 72 minutes. In the subsequent 36 hours, the article was edited more than a hundred times by many different users, including many vandals. It was subsequently protected from editing. By March 16, the hoax had been reported by more than 200 news sources in several countries. [2] and on the morning of March 16, the Drudge Report linked to the Associated Press article as "WIKIPEDIA Falsely Reports Sinbad's Death..."

Some Wikipedians held up the fact that the error was corrected within 72 minutes as a victory, while one user noted that this is five times longer than the "15 minutes of fame" promised by Andy Warhol [3] and that it was nothing of which Wikipedians could be proud.

Wikipedia spokeswoman Sandra Ordonez told the Reuters that numerous Wikipedia users, assuming that the correction was vandalism, switched the text of the article back to indicate that Sinbad was indeed dead. She claimed there are "various checks and balances" to ensure correct information on Wikipedia, but didn't explain what those chacks or balances were. [4]

Dispute resolution

Wikipedia divides disputes into two types: content disputes and conduct disputes. In practice, of course, many disputes are mixtures.

A study found that about a third of Requests for Comment were never resolved. This seems not to include those formally resolved as "no consensus".

Content disputes

The policy for these is discussion, perhaps inviting others to join in, to try to reach "consensus". There are various fora where one can ask for others to join in the discussions. However, according to [5] (whose official status seems unclear), these can be used only in simple disputes. Thus it is likely to be in the interest of propagandists to complicate issues as much as possible. That page mentions no methods for complicated content disputes. It is not clear whether Wikipedia thinks it has any procedure for dealing with complicated content disputes.

Where the process of trying to reach consensus fails, policy is that the content of an article should return to the status quo ante bellum (except for cases where the policy on biographies of living people applies for legal reasons) and the article should be retained rather than deleted. This policy puts a premium on getting in first to write an article embodying one's own point of view.

Furthermore, quite apart from the theoretical policy outlined above, there are practical problems. The founder himself admits there is a problem with small but fanatical groups imposing bias because few bother to oppose them.

Conduct disputes

Minor disputes can be dealt with at the administrators' noticeboard. Major ones can be dealt with by the Arbitration Committee. There is, however, an intermediate range where administrators cannot be very effective but ArbCom will not deal with such "trivial" matters. Wikipedia has just reached a "consensus" that Requests for Comment in such cases are "deprecated", without having anything to replace them ([6]). (It has been claimed that there is a similar pattern on content disputes, with intermediate-sized ones the main problem.)

Decline

Wikipedia's edit rate has been declining since 2007, and its view rate declined sharply in 2013; the drop in view rate is contemporaneous with introduction by Google of Knowledge Graph[1] The decline in Wikipedia editing is associated with consolidation of power by blocs of point of view editors who strongly discourage both opposing viewpoints and editing by naive editors.[2]

Size

A member of Wikipedia's own Arbitration Committee admits that its articles are "far too many to be effectively monitored by a slowly diminishing number of editors".

Systemic bias

Wikipedia is at least aware of this problem and has a project to counter it. However, that project has only partial understanding of the causes of this bias. It mentions only the selection bias of its contributors, but systemic bias is an inevitable consequence of WP's fundamental policies. It is intended to follow "reliable sources". For example, "Neutrality requires that each article or other page in the mainspace fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources" ([7]). Likewise, whether a topic should have an article of its own is determined by coverage in RSs ([8]). But economically advanced countries will inevitably produce far larger quantities of RSs than less developed ones, so WP policies automatically produce a massive bias in favour of the arts, geography, history, languages, philosophies, politics, religions, sports etc. of advanced countries against the Third World.

Editorial Note

It should be said, Wikinfo was not founded initially to answer all of the kinds of objections to Wikipedia found on these pages. However, since July 2003, Wikinfo has grown and offered safe haven for many viewpoints which would be difficult or impossible to voice on Wikipedia. Both Wikipedia and Wikinfo, as well as other wikiwebs, have grown phenomenally, and as the problems related to editing on Wikipedia have grown, Wikinfo has developed as a place to avoid such drama through the polite forking of articles and creation of new content. Much of the criticism of Wikipedia below has been addressed on Wikinfo directly through our policy, or indirectly via our atmosphere and software, making Wikinfo a much more welcoming place for serious SPOV articles and discussion, we hope.

Case studies

See also

External links and further reading


References

Template:Critical views of Wikipedia