But now, in 2017, the era of fake news and alternative facts, I’d say it’s risen up the rankings. As sources of information go, It’s more reliable than most of the internet, much of the mainstream media, and a good many world leaders.
Imagine the kind of people who volunteer their own time to edit and update the online behemoth that is Wikipedia. I picture serious, studious people, who are interested in things and fond of accuracy. They probably have tidy houses and neat haircuts. I expect their interest in exploiting people or things for money or power is minimal.
You might not want to go for a beer with them necessarily, but you’d trust them not to invent tragedies or hack phones. As for the internet, the media, or the world leaders, they’d have you pick up the bar bill, drag you into a scuffle outside the nightclub, and pinch your cab on the way home.
And then blame you for the hangover.
Of course there is a subset of Wikipedia updaters who don’t fit the science-y researcher mould.
So, for example, according to legend, the Wikipedia page for actor Gary Oldman at one point contained the detail that he is a giraffe; Robbie Williams’ entry confirmed that in 2006 he was putting food on the table by ‘eating pet hamsters in and around Stoke-on-Trent’; and Janis Joplin fans, checking in on her page some years back, might have been nodding their heads sagely to discover that Ms Joplin ‘speed-walked everywhere and was afraid of toilets.’
Some of this information may or may not be strictly accurate. At the very least you would want corroborating evidence to back this stuff up.
But hey…no one is getting hurt.
Which makes this kind of fakery very different to the other kind of fakery – the stuff that influences public opinion, blames minorities, and heightens the national debate to a pitch so high (and simultaneously, a tone so low) that dogs all across the UK are relocating abroad while their EU doggy passports will still allow them.
The point I’m making is that Wikipedia might be patchy, but it’s not dangerous.
I was delighted to read in the Guardian this week that: “editors on English Wikipedia have come to a consensus that the Daily Mail is ‘generally unreliable and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist’.”
Which is ever so polite from those lovely fact-checkers that we imagined earlier.
They’re saying the Daily Mail is full of lies. And not the harmless kind.
And who am I to argue?