Actress Kangana Ranaut has claimed that the info-based website Wikipedia has been "totally hijacked by Leftists" as the information about her birthday and background is "warped".
Those of a certain vintage may remember a 1960s American film called It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. A runaway success, the comic heist caper was, however, subjected to severe cuts by its distributor United Artists to give it a shorter running time before general release.
As Wikipedia celebrates its 20th anniversary, there is perhaps a parallel to be drawn between it and United Artists to the extent of quality control exercised by an organisation putting content out in the public domain. Critics would argue this is a misreading of the function of the digital age and by extension of an online, free-to-use, ‘people’s encyclopaedia’ which works precisely because it breaks down traditional barriers to accessing information and generating it.
The democratisation of knowledge access is certainly good. But if a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing, half-baked information passed off as knowledge is downright disastrous. The short point is that while Messrs Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger are to be congratulated on establishing a successful corporation (later Trust) and they undoubtedly were the disrupters in the encyclopedia publishing business two decades ago, it’s a bit rich to celebrate Wikipedia’s anniversary as marking “20 years of free knowledge”.
In fact, Wales, in describing Wikipedia as “an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet” is more accurate. With the addendum that “highest possible quality” in the context of the Wikipedia model expressly does not constitute a guarantee for accuracy. The question does need to be asked: Who is responsible for the content on Wikipedia?
Wikipedia has a giveaway: “You are! Editing is a collaborative effort. Millions of people have contributed information to different parts of this project, and anyone can do so, including you. All you need is to know how to edit a page, and have some encyclopaedic knowledge that you would like to share.” That is the equal of saying if occasional bazaar gossip is good enough for you, welcome on board. Of course, the flip side is that if the content on Wikipedia isn’t predominantly accurate people will stop using it.
But no serious institution of any credibility accepts a Wikipedia attribution as authentic sourcing; only the naïve and those who lack any rigour do so, though they number in the hundreds of millions. If one is charitable, one could say that Wikipedia may provide online leads to kosher websites where domain specialists are responsible and organisations legally liable for content uploaded.
But even Google does that. Authenticity in the content business ought to be non-negotiable. That it evidently isn’t, as the success of Wikipedia and the like have shown, may mean those who believe so are digital Luddites. Alternatively, we may be living in a mad, mad, mad, mad world.