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.
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.