Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites on the internet. Founded in 2001, the website is used as a free encyclopedia on the internet and provides countless entries on various topics, events, and more. It’s a great place to learn more about anything you could ever want, and for many, serves as the initial source of research when writing academic papers.
The website is a non-profit organization, meaning that there is no financial gain for those who work on the site, and thus, instead of having employees, Wikipedia operates through volunteers and donations, and users often edit the information found within it. In fact, anyone with an account on Wikipedia can submit changes to information. These changes will still need to be approved and checked, but sometimes things go array due to this operations model.
Wikipedia has become one of the legitimate resources for an endless stream of facts and information from a small screw to a complex philosophical concept across the world. Even though it has been improving since Wikipedia’s user-edit nature has outed some serious editing scandals. Some of these scandals some of the most prominent are discussed below.
Paul Revere and Sarah Palin
In 2011, Sarah Palin maintained the already scandalous event of Paul Revere’s famous ride of warning Americans of the British advance was given a new twist. Palin’s supporters, believing that she could not be wrong, set out to edit the history of the Wikipedia page where, at the same time, some of the edits were already in process with an obvious agenda of mocking Palin.
As a result of these edits, the American patriot, Paul’s page received over 50,000 views per day from just 2,000.
This scandal goes to show how unreliable things can become within Wikipedia, and how despite the best efforts of the website, not everything will be impartial and be written with a neutral agenda. This can be seen the most on various political pages, be it political figures or political events. Individuals who are divisive, or those who have managed to rally up a significant following, are usually those that generate a lot of attention on Wikipedia, with many people trying to make edits and changes to either bolster their reputation or tarnish it.
In recent years, some Wikipedia pages that have had a lot of attempted changes include Donal Trump, Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
Political pursuits of the UK politician
In 2007, eagle,-eyed politicians noticed the senior UK politician David Miliband followed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown had entered untrue facts about drugs abuse and criminal convictions added to their Wikipedia pages. While this was highly scandalous, what made it more so was the IP addresses from which the edits were made which traced down back to the British government’s buildings.
This demonstrated that this was a pre-meditated tactic to try and help improve the profile of these politicians and make something that was unfactual and untrue appear like a real-life statistic. This scandal didn’t do much to harm the careers of those involved, however, and Gordon Brown maintained his role of Prime Minster up until 2010.
It’s never been publicly stated why these men thought it would be a good idea to do this. However, as Wikipedia is a website that has a good reputation and is one that is used as a primary source for a lot of people’s research, it’s not unfair to assume that this was done in an attempt to make these two men look more favorable and more attractive MPs.
Government Expenses scandal
Well, the mischievous UK government editors and Wikipedia page creators could stop at just that!
Three years after the scandal mentioned above, the Parliamentary expenses scandal rocked British politics in 2009. A recent report shows that it has gone over 10,000 edits made from the UK government buildings.
This is a pretty serious scandal. For most businesses, when staff overspends on their expenses, it’s the business that needs to fork out to cover these costs. However, the UK parliament is not a business. As a result of this, the money used for the expenses of the politicians comes out from things like taxes. This basically means that the money used in these expenses has been coming out of the public pocket, meaning that if these edits have been done to cover up questionable activity, then the public has no reliable way of knowing where their money is being put towards.
The UK parliament has previous history of some of their members racking up huge expenses, with one Tory MP being cited as having spent over £10,000 on biscuits in 2013. Some MPs have also been known to put their rent on their expenses, which goes to show that if they’re happy for stuff like this to be public knowledge, what payments are they hiding through making these edits and changes.
Johann Hari, also known as David Rose
After already suffering from the indignity of having his Orwell prize drawn due to plagiarism, the British journalist, Johann Hari, has set his secret life as a Wikipedia editor named David Rose.
David was exposed to attacking other journalists who had criticized him of his work as well as editing his own page in order to improve his status. Despite the IP address being traced to the independent Newspaper office where Hari used to work in January 2005, it was not until 2011, that David Rose has unmasked as Johann’s hair himself. Once exposed, he apologized for attacking other criticizing journalists and promised to work on his journalism ethics.
This is a pretty serious thing for a journalist to do, as it goes against fair play and in itself is a pretty despicable thing to do. It also goes as a way to highlight something alarming about Wikipedia, and the rest of the internet for that matter, which is that it’s very easy to become someone that you’re not online and then use that false profile to cause havoc on others without much repercussion. Essentially, Johann Hari used Wikipedia, a site designed to offer knowledge, as a platform to bully others and potentially hold them down and stop their career from progressing.
This act illustrates that if you want to be a journalist, you need to work hard to protect your public image and reputation, as you don’t know what others are going to do. Thankfully, budding journalists can learn a lot about this and other crucial skills and pieces of knowledge to help them thrive and succeed the ethical way. Online courses in journalism from St. Bonaventure University allow you to learn a new craft while letting you do so from the comfort of your own home.
Jimmy Wales getting paid for editing Wikipedia pages
According to wale’s own account in 2008, Jeffrey Vernon Markey, a former novel scientist contributed $5,000 to Wikipedia, in exchange to the contribution, Jimmy Wales agreed to edit Markey’s page and remove some information which Markey found speculative. While Wales denies these allegations, the page did show the records of Wales personally editing and locking the page. However, now searching the page on Wikipedia, it is nowhere to be found!
This demonstrates that even the founder of Wikipedia, the man who created this platform for knowledge and learning, can still be susceptible to shady tactics. This whole scandal goes against the ethos of the website. Donations are meant to be made to help keep the site running and pay for things such as the domain name and maintenance of the site. In essence, nothing should be expected in exchange for a donation.
With this coming in 2008, during the website’s infancy, it might have demonstrated some desperation from Wales, during a time when the financials of the website weren’t looking that good. However, it appears that the owner of the website has not had to swoop to these measures since to help fund the website. Nowadays, Wikipedia annually asks its user to donate to the website. Through this, it generates a decent amount of cash that has been used to add more and more functionality to the website. These days, Wikipedia earns $91 million through donations and other forms of revenue, suggesting that they don’t really need to bend over backward for a comparatively measly $5,000.
Hire a PR firm
In 2011, it was found that a renowned British PR firm used Wikipedia editing to give its clients a competitive edge. The company routinely deleted negative comments and information while adding positive facts about the client. They had about more than ten accounts for editing which were later edited by Wikipedia.
Jimmy Wales helping out his girlfriend
Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, got a little too far with his girlfriend’s Wiki page. Rachel Marsden is a radio commentator and asked her page to be deleted in 2006 and Wales took charge of the assignment himself and got personal about it. According to Wales, he had not edited the page, but IM conversations released by Marsden says something different.
In fact, looking at other scandals and the history of Wikipedia as a whole, Jimmy Wales has been a controversial character right from the start of the life of Wikipedia.
Perhaps his biggest issue comes in the debate of who is actually in charge of the website. Back in 2001, when the site first launched and was made public, there were numerous material and PR pieces stating that Wales was a co-founder of the website alongside Larry Sanger. In fact, Wales described himself as the co-founder as late as August 2002.
However, in 2005, it was seen that Wales made alterations to his own Wikipedia page where he removed any reference to Sanger and, specifically, any reference where it was stated that Sanger was the co-founder. It appears at this time, just when the website was becoming super popular, that Wales had a change of heart and wanted to run the website solo. Upon seeing these alterations, Sanger deemed the activity as him trying to re-write history and bend the truth, and this has resulted in the pair having a fractious relationship at the moment.
Wales has since apologized for editing his own page, which is something that is frowned upon within the Wikipedia community.
Is Wikipedia Trustworthy?
After all these scandals and changes, it begs the question. Can the average person trust the information presented on Wikipedia? Well, for the most part, you can use it to get a nice, entry-level understanding of a topic or a theory. However, due to how anyone can edit it, sometimes the information on there can be false or not as accurate as it should be. Countless pages have dates wrong, speculative facts, and other issues, meaning that it’s always a good practice to fact check what you’re researching on there before using it in anything important.
It’s also important to know that everyone on the website who may be editing pages will have an agenda, which will bleed into the entries and affect how they are presented. Someone might be motivated to make changes to a person’s page because they’re a huge fan and thus want to portray them in a positive light. Like some people discussed in this list, some might be out to slander, which can present the content in a less than favorable light. As a user of the website, you need to be aware of this and be prepared to not take everything learned from the website as gospel.
Instead, if you’re researching information for an academic project or if you’re trying to learn something to a good standard, it’s always best to find other resources that certified experts in the field have written. Look for published books, articles in magazines, and even journals online to ensure that the information you are getting is top quality. There’s a reason why teachers and some schools ban Wikipedia because, ultimately, it is a platform filled with lies, scandals, and interior motives that don’t lend themselves well to learning.