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Wikipedia’s Balkanisation

By Andreas Kolbe, with input from Eric Barbour

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia anyone can edit – anonymously, under an assumed name. Credentials are unnecessary. The Wikimedia Foundation does not even make any provision to verify the credentials of actual subject matter experts who are happy to edit under their real names. As a result, such experts have no more standing in Wikipedia than any other anonymous contributor. At the same time, contributors are free to claim qualifications they do not have – sometimes with amusing (or terrifying, depending on your point of view) results.

Wikipedia is also one of the top Google links for almost any topic under the sun. Enter anything at all in Google, and a Wikipedia article is usually found near the top of the search listing – a reflection of the site’s top-10 Alexa ranking. This visibility, combined with the ease with which anyone can change content at any time, makes Wikipedia an irresistible magnet for social entrepreneurs, activists and extremists of all kinds.

Politically motivated Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik famously exhorted his sympathisers to edit Wikipedia to create new truths in support of his right-wing agenda. He even edited it himself (as did Pentagon shooter John Patrick Bedell and Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza). Advice on how to edit Wikipedia can be found on white supremacist website Stormfront.

According to the Wikipedia myth, the presence of extremists among its editor base poses no problem. Opposing activists, so the thinking goes, will balance articles. At best, however, this adversarial approach produces articles dominated by duelling extremist sources, with moderate and mainstream opinions underrepresented; moderates simply don’t care enough to engage in daily wars over article wordings. At worst, as the number of Wikipedia administrators continues to dwindle and the number of articles rises to

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