The art of editing Wikipedia

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In April 2010, the Sunday Times published an article which misquoted European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, attributing him the statement that tourism is a human right. The statement was later picked up by Wikipedia and became a title of the entire chapter on his English language biography page.

According to EurActiv.com, Tajani’s team tried to correct the chapter by adding the online version of his speech, but their attempts were blocked by the page moderators in line with Wikipedia’s no original research policy which considers a newspaper article more reliable than the original source, in this case the commissioner’s speech.

Editing Wikipedia - Thanks to Ross Mayfield on Flickr 

 

 

Why does it matter?

Inaccurate Wikipedia content can be problematic for an organisation such as the EU since Wikipedia is one of the largest reference websites, attracting nearly 68 million visitors monthly as of January 2010. According to Alexa.com, Wikipedia.org ranks as the 7th top site on the web, preceded only by Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo!, Windows Live and Baidu.com.

According to The Measurement Standard, organisations should regularly check their Wikipedia entries for two reasons. Firstly, Wikipedia has greatly improved its editing process and, thereby, its credibility. Secondly, Wikipedia entries on organisations usually rank very high on popular search engines. For example, if you google “european union”, the first two results are its official Europa website, while the third is a Wikipedia entry. Similar results can be observed when googling “european commission” and other EU institutions.

What is the problem?

In its FAQ for organisations, Wikipedia doesn’t only strongly discourage organisations from writing articles about themselves, but also advises them to avoid editing organisation-related articles due to the conflict of interest involved. In the case of factual errors within an existing article, organisations are invited to leave a note on the article’s talk page, post a comment on the help desk or contact Wikipedia via e-mail.

Organisations still determined to edit an article are strongly encouraged to declare their interests on their user pages and on the talk page of any article they edit. They must also comply with Wikipedia’s Conflict of interest guidelines and its policies on neutral point of view and verifiability. The latter specifies that they must back their contributions by reliable sources. This usually means third-party sources, since for most content, an organisation’s website doesn’t count as a source.

Transparency, transparency, transparency

In August 2007, Virgil Griffith released WikiScanner, a website which reveals anonymous edits of Wikipedia entries by organisations by linking them back to the computers from which they emanate using computers’ unique IP addresses. Among exposed organisations were Wal-Mart, AstraZeneca, UK Labour Party, the CIA and the Vatican (Times Online).

In light of the above mentioned and similar developments there is no such thing as anonymous editing of Wikipedia. According to The Measurement Standard, organisations should therefore limit themselves to adding their point of view to the existing content, act openly and always back up their information.

In his blog post, Dave Briggs goes even further and discourages organisations from editing articles about themselves at all. Instead, he suggests alternative actions such as publishing corrections on their website or blog. Organisations still determined to get involved are advised to be as transparent about it as possible and not to edit the entry itself, but explain the inaccuracies and link to correct information in the article’s talk page.

What about the Commission?

Since Wikipedia is – no doubt - an important online reference point, it is in our interest that entries related to the EU, its institutions and policies contain accurate information. However, due to a large number of articles related to the EU in various languages, monitoring and editing of Wikipedia would be a very complex and demanding project.

Wikipedia has over 360,000 English pages with a reference to the European Union (Google advanced search). Since it is practically impossible to check all of them, we need to find a way to identify the key pages and start by focusing on those. But what criteria should we use when defining the key pages? Is it the number of views, the frequency of edits or should we prioritise pages on certain policies, issues, etc.?

Furthermore, we cannot overlook the issue of languages. Although according to Alexa.com, English language Wikipedia gets 54% of Wikipedia.org site traffic, there are many other official EU languages that shouldn’t be ignored, e.g. German (8.1%), Spanish (5.7%), French (3.5%) and Italian (2.9%). The question is whether we should focus only on a few selected languages, deal with pages in all official EU languages or even include other languages such as Japanese (10.3%), Russian (3.5%) and languages of candidate member states.  

All things considered, monitoring and editing Wikipedia entries related to the EU would be risky, time-consuming and would require substantial human resources. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider all our options and their possible consequences before making the final decision.

In your opinion, should the European Commission edit EU-related Wikipedia pages? If yes, when and how should we do it? If no, what alternatives would you suggest? I am looking forward to your comments.

Alenka

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