Mass Information or Misinformation?
Wikis and Info Verification
The internet has brought us into an age of incredible knowledge accessibility. The vast majority of human knowledge lies at our fingertips, a few clicks, taps, or voice commands away, details and history on every subject under the sun. One of the most popular sources of information online is the wiki. Wikis are subject-oriented websites that allow collaborative encyclopedia-style article writing. Under the wiki model, anyone can edit any article. This, naturally, leads to several questions, first of which is “how do we know the information found on a wiki is accurate?”
Hit and Miss-Information
One does not have to delve deep into the internet to find examples of wiki articles that contain information that is unsupported, biased, edited for humorous effect, or just plain false. My brother once found the Wikipedia article on spontaneous human combustion to have been edited in such a manner, explaining how the “rad gases could build up in the fam’s body.” My roommate relates how upon one occasion multiple wikis had been edited to give the incorrect composer of a particular film’s soundtrack. With the uncurated submission format of many wikis, it is all too easy for jokes, mistakes, or deceptions to slip by.
However, wikis are not entirely without value. For those with only a casual interest in a topic, wikis can provide a good overview. When read with a critical eye, wikis yield a wealth of information on many topics, and can generally be believed, though it is worthwhile to double-check any information you wish to repeat. Even for academic purposes, wikis can be useful. Wiki articles generally have a citations sections with links in the article taking you to a citation, and links in the citation to the source, if available. Rather than using wikis themselves as sources, it is a good option to find the sources within the source, which are usually much more credible.
The Wiki Walk
Wikis are a great method of consolidating the knowledge of the internet’s users into one place, and are great tools, but due to their collaborative nature are also somewhat suspect when it comes to the accuracy of their information. However, if you know your way around them and keep an alert mind when browsing, a walk through a wiki can yield a great deal of useful, relevant, and accurate information.