Once upon a time, Gomi of the late great Wikipedia Review compiled an introductory survey of criticism that is intended to provide the public with a range of different reasons to shun Wikipedia as an authoritative source of information.
1. Wikipedia contains incorrect, misleading, and biased information. Whether through vandalism, subtle disinformation, or the prolonged battling over biased accounts, many of Wikipedia’s articles are unsuitable for scholarly use. Because of poor standards of sourcing and citation, it is often difficult to determine the origin of statements made in Wikipedia in order to determine their correctness. Pursuit of biased points of view by powerful administrators is considered a particular problem, as opposing voices are often permanently banned from Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s culture of disrespect for expertise and scholarship (see below) makes it difficult to trust anything there.
2. Wikipedia’s articles are used to spread gossip, abet character assassination, and invade the privacy of the general public. So-called “Biographies of Living Persons” are often the result of attempts by powerful but anonymous editors and administrators at humiliating or belittling those real-world people with whom they disagree. Wikipedia’s “anyone can edit” culture has allowed baseless defamation of various individuals to spread widely through the Internet. When the family, friends, associates, or subjects of these biographies attempt to correct errors or insert balance, they are often banned from Wikipedia for “Conflicts of Interest”. Subjects of these hatchet jobs usually must resort to legal action to get the articles removed or corrected, a course not available to all.
3. Wikipedia over-emphasizes popular culture and under-emphasizes scholarly disciplines.Wikipedia contains more articles, of greater depth, on television shows, toy and cartoon characters, and other ephemera of popular culture than on many prominent historical figures, events, and places. Massive effort is spent on documenting fictional places and characters rather than science, history, and literature.
4. Wikipedia violates copyrights, plagiarizes the work of others, and denies attribution to contributions. Wikipedia contains no provision to ensure that the content it hosts is not the work of another, or that content it hosts is properly attributed to its author. It contains thousands of photographs, drawings, pages of text and other content that is blatantly plagiarized from other authors without permission.
5. Wikipedia, frequently searched and prominently positioned among results, spreads misinformation, defamation, and bias far beyond its own site. Wikipedia is searched by Google and is usually one of the top results. Its database is scraped by spammers and other sites, so misinformation, even when corrected on Wikipedia, has a long life elsewhere on the net, as a result of Wikipedia’s lack of controls.
Wikipedia Bureaucracy and “Culture”
1. Wikipedia disrespects and disregards scholars, experts, scientists, and others with special knowledge. Wikipedia specifically disregards authors with special knowledge, expertise, or credentials. There is no way for a real scholar to distinguish himself or herself from a random anonymous editor merely claiming scholarly credentials, and thus no claim of credentials is typically believed. Even when credentials are accepted, Wikipedia affords no special regard for expert editors contributing in their fields. This has driven most expert editors away from editing Wikipedia in their fields. Similarly, Wikipedia implements no controls that distinguish mature and educated editors from immature and uneducated ones.
2. Wikipedia’s culture of anonymous editing and administration results in a lack of responsible authorship and management. Wikipedia editors may contribute as IP addresses, or as an ever-changing set of pseudonyms. There is thus no way of determining conflicts of interest, canvassing, or other misbehaviour in article editing. Wikipedia’s administrators are similarly anonymous, shielding them from scrutiny for their actions. They additionally can hide the history of their editing (or that of others).
3. Wikipedia’s administrators have become an entrenched and over-powerful elite, unresponsive and harmful to authors and contributors. Without meaningful checks and balances on administrators, administrative abuse is the norm, rather than the exception, with blocks and bans being enforced by fiat and whim, rather than in implementation of policy. Many well-meaning editors have been banned simply on suspicion of being previously banned users, without any transgression, while others have been banned for disagreeing with a powerful admin’s editorial point of view. There is no clear-cut code of ethics for administrators, no truly independent process leading to blocks and bans, no process for appeal that is not corrupted by the imbalance of power between admin and blocked editor, and no process by which administrators are reviewed regularly for misbehaviour.
4. Wikipedia’s numerous policies and procedures are not enforced equally on the community — popular or powerful editors are often exempted. Administrators, in particular, and former administrators, are frequently allowed to transgress (or change!) Wikipedia’s numerous “policies”, such as those prohibiting personal attacks, prohibiting the release of personal information about editors, and those prohibiting collusion in editing.
5. Wikipedia’s quasi-judicial body, the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom), is at best incompetent and at worst corrupt. ArbCom holds secret proceedings, refuses to be bound by precedent, operates on non-existant or unwritten rules, and does not allow equal access to all editors. It will reject cases that threaten to undermine the Wikipedia status quo or that would expose powerful administrators to sanction, and will move slowly or not at all (in public) on cases it is discussing in private.
6. The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the organization legally responsible for Wikipedia, is opaque, is poorly managed, and is insufficiently independent from Wikipedia’s remaining founder and his business interests. The WMF lacks a mechanism to address the concerns of outsiders, resulting in an insular and socially irresponsible internal culture. Because of inadequate oversight and supervision, Wikimedia has hired incompetent and (in at least one case) criminal employees. Jimmy Wales’ for-profit business Wikia benefits in numerous ways from its association with the non-profit Wikipedia.
Photo credit: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.