Criticism of Wikipedia

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Wikipedia is a large project and a free encyclopedia. This encyclopedia is written by people who are not paid for their work. Because of this and other reasons, Wikipedia has been criticized by many people.

Main Points of Criticism[change | change source]

There are some things people do not like about Wikipedia:

  • Anyone can change an article in Wikipedia. Because of this, some articles in Wikipedia may not be completely true and accurate. Instead, they may show a false information.
  • There is the problem of vandalism, or purposefully making bad edits. Some vandalism is easy to see. Other vandalism may be harder to find.
  • Sometimes, people have a strong opinion about a subject. They will try to control the articles about that subject.
  • Things stated in articles need to have reliable sources. This is especially needed if there is controversy (argument) about them. Often there are some controversies in articles which do not have good evidence.
  • Some editors do not like each other; they will do things that do not make the Wikipedia better (like edit wars)
  • Sometimes, one group of people wants to change Wikipedia more than others. For this reason, the opinions of that group and their interests may be covered more in Wikipedia. This is usually called a systematic bias. It can be very misleading, because it only shows one side of an argument. There are also certain kinds of social groups that begin to think alike. This means that the group of editors as a whole want to please themselves rather than change articles.
  • Wikipedia contains some images and content that maybe disturbing (gross), offensive (hurtful) or inappropriate for children. They are also considered pornography. This type of content is not blocked because of Wikipedia's censorship policy.
  • Privacy Issues

Some people also do not like Wikipedia's community because they see things such as:

  • Lots of harsh rules
  • A lot of argument, edit warring and harassment (annoying or bothering others)
  • Complaints about harm from administrators
  • Very active editors
  • Large amount of administrator power

Critics of Wikipedia[change | change source]

Wikipedia knows that it should not be used as a primary source for research.[1] Librarian Philip Bradley stated in an October 2004 interview with The Guardian that:

"The main problem is the lack of authority. With printed publications, the publishers have to ensure that their data is reliable, as their livelihood depends on it. But with something like this, all that goes out the window."[2]

Robert McHenry, an American writer who worked for Encyclopedia Britannica, said that Wikipedia should not call itself an encyclopedia. He believes that the word "encyclopedia" means that there is a degree of authority and accountability to it. He also said that a resource anyone can change cannot have this. McHenry argues that:


"You the ordinary user, the turmoil and uncertainty that may lurk beneath the surface of a Wikipedia article is invisible. He or she arrives at a Wikipedia article via Google, perhaps, and sees that it is part of what claims to be an "encyclopedia". This is a word that carries a powerful connotation of reliability. The typical user does not know how conventional encyclopedias achieve reliability, only that they do."[3]

Orlowski often criticized Wikipedia. In December 2005, he wrote on an OpEd at The Register:


"If what we today know as 'Wikipedia' had started life as something called, let's say —'Jimbo's Big Bag O'Trivia'— we doubt if it would be the problem it has become. Wikipedia is indeed, as its supporters claim, a phenomenal source of pop culture trivia. Maybe a 'Big Bag O'Trivia' is all Jimbo [Jimmy Wales] ever wanted. Maybe not. For sure a libel is a libel, but the outrage would have been far more muted if the Wikipedia project didn't make such grand claims for itself. The problem with this vanity exercise is one that it's largely created for itself. The public has a firm idea of what an 'encyclopedia' is, and it's a place where information can generally be trusted, or at least slightly more trusted than what a labyrinthine, mysterious bureaucracy can agree upon, and surely more trustworthy than a piece of spontaneous graffiti—and Wikipedia is a king-sized cocktail of the two."[4]

A number of professors – such as Sarah Deutch, dean of social sciences and professor of history at Duke University, and Margaret Humphries, professor of history and clinical professor of medicine at Duke – have criticized Wikipedia for its perceived failure as a reliable source.[5] A related if somewhat ad hominem criticism is that many Wikipedia editors do not have degrees or other credentials generally recognized in academia.[6] The use of Wikipedia is not accepted in many schools and universities in writing a formal paper. Several educational institutions have blocked Wikipedia in the past while others have limited its use to only a pointer to external sources.[5] University of Maryland professor of physics Robert L. Park has described Wikipedia as a target for "purveyors of pseudoscience."[7]

Some academic journals do refer to Wikipedia articles, but they do not do this the same way as normal sources. For example, Wikipedia articles have been referenced in "enhanced perspectives" provided on-line in the journal Science. The first of these perspectives to provide a hyperlink to Wikipedia was "A White Collar Protein Senses Blue Light,"[8] Dozens of enhanced perspectives have provided such links since then. The publisher of Science says that these enhanced perspectives "include hypernotes - which link directly to websites of other related information available online - beyond the standard bibliographic references."[9]

Some librarians, academics, and editors of other encyclopedias consider it to have little use as a reference work.[5][10] Most university lecturers discourage students from citing any encyclopedia in academic work, preferring primary sources.[11] One university program and several schools have even banned Wikipedia citations specifically.[12]

Wikipedia's policies state that assertions should be supported by reliable, published sources—ideally, by peer reviewed publications.[13] Jimmy Wales, the de facto leader of Wikipedia,[14] stresses that encyclopedias of any type are not usually appropriate as primary sources, and should not be relied upon as authoritative.[15]

Most privacy issues refer to cases of government or employer gathering of data. It can also be caused by computer or electronic monitoring; or to trading data between organizations.[16] "The Internet has created conflicts between personal privacy, commercial interests and the interests of society at large" warn James Donnelly and Jenifer Haeckl.[17] Balancing the rights of all concerned as technology alters the social landscape will not be easy. It "is not yet possible to anticipate the path of the common law or governmental regulation" regarding this problem.[17]

The concern in the case of Wikipedia is the right of a private citizen to remain private; to remain a "private citizen" rather than a "public figure" in the eyes of the law.[18] It is somewhat of a battle between the right to be anonymous in cyberspace and the right to be anonymous in real life ("meatspace"). Wikipedia Watch argues that "Wikipedia is a potential menace to anyone who values privacy" and that "a greater degree of accountability in the Wikipedia structure" would be "the very first step toward resolving the privacy problem."[19] A particular problem occurs in the case of an individual who is relatively unimportant and for whom there exists a Wikipedia page against their wishes.

Criticism of Wikipedia Community[change | change source]

Kat Walsh, a chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, has criticized Wikipedia's increasingly detailed rules about changing the site. She said:


"It was easier when I joined in 2004... Everything was a little less complicated.... It's harder and harder for new people to adjust." [20]

Allegations have been made on Wikipedia's forums that harm from administrators has been slowly increasing in frequency and severity. It is one major reason that the number of editors has been going lower since 2006.[21]

The style of debate on Wikipedia has been questioned by people. They have noticed that the people who contribute can make a long list of salient points and pull in a range of observations to back up their arguments, only to have them completely ignored on the site.[22] An academic study of Wikipedia articles found that the level of debate among Wikipedia editors on controversial topics often degenerated into counterproductive squabbling:

"For uncontroversial, 'stable' topics, self-selection also ensures that members of editorial groups are substantially well-aligned with each other in their interests, backgrounds, and overall understanding of the topics...For controversial topics, on the other hand, self-selection may produce a strongly misaligned editorial group. It can lead to conflicts among the editorial group members, continuous edit wars, and may require the use of formal work coordination and control mechanisms. These may include intervention by administrators who enact dispute review and mediation processes, [or] completely disallow or limit and coordinate the types and sources of edits."[23]

In 2006, Jimmy Wales claimed that most of the edits on Wikipedia are made by a group of around 500 people who "all know each other".[24] However, at the same time it was claimed that if the amount of text was used as a metric instead of edit count, the result was often opposite. Most of the top contributors to the content of articles were people who edited Wikipedia sometimes, as well as those who had not registered for a Wikipedia account.[24]

To limit vandalism and to control the conduct of users, a class of volunteer administrators or "sysops" are given the means and authority to discipline users.[25] The ability of an administrator includes deleting articles, protecting pages from editing, and blocking users. These actions cannot be done or undone by ordinary (non-sysop) editors. Special rules and protocols are set up to prevent administrators from abusing their powers; such as on the Wikipedia:Articles for deletion page, a forum to discuss article deletions. An administrator who wishes to delete an article is required to post a notice on the article itself, and wait for comments of other editors, before deleting the article. Also, since every sysop can undo the actions of other sysops, any reported abuse by one individual can be corrected by their peers.

Even though that this can be done, those extra powers inevitably meant that the opinion of administrators, individually and as a whole, would rule over that of ordinary users in certain kinds of disputes.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. "Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia". Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Researching_with_Wikipedia. Retrieved 2005-12-14.
  2. Waldman, Simon (2004-10-26). "Who knows?". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2004/oct/26/g2.onlinesupplement. Retrieved 2005-12-30.
  3. McHenry, Robert (2005-12-14). "The Faith-Based Encyclopedia Blinks". TCS Daily. http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=111504A. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  4. Andrew Orlowski (2005-12-12). "Who's responsible for Wikipedia?". The Register. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/12/wikipedia_no_responsibility/page2.html. Retrieved 2007-10-27.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Lysa Chen (2007-03-28). "Several colleges push to ban Wikipedia as resource". Duke Chronicle. http://media.www.dukechronicle.com/media/storage/paper884/news/2007/03/28/News/Several.Colleges.Push.To.Ban.Wikipedia.As.Resource-2809247.shtml. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  6. Youngwood, Susan (April 1, 2007). "Wikipedia: What do they know; when do they know it, and when can we trust it?". Vermont Sunday Magazine (Rutland Herald). http://vermonttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070401/FEATURES/70330002. Retrieved 2007-04-05. "Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Wikipedia - both its genius and its Achilles heel - is that anyone can create or modify an entry. Anyone means your 10-year-old neighbor or a Nobel Prize winner - or an editor like me, who is itching to correct a grammar error in that Wikipedia entry that I just quoted. Entries can be edited by numerous people and be in constant flux. What you read now might change in five minutes. Five seconds, even." — Susan Youngwood.
  7. Bob Park (2007-03-23). "Wikipedia: Has a beautiful idea fallen victim to human nature?". What's New By Bob Park. http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN07/wn032307.html. Retrieved 2007-04-02.
  8. Linden, Hartmut (2002-08-02). "A White Collar Protein Senses Blue Light". Science. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/297/5582/777. Retrieved 2005. (subscription access only)
  9. Yolanda S. George and Shirley S. Malcolm. "Perspectives from AAAS" (PDF). American Association for the Advancement of Science. http://www.aaas.org/publications/books_reports/CCLI/PDFs/01_D_Perspectives.pdf. Retrieved 2007-10-27.
  10. McHenry, Robert (2004-11-15). "The Faith-Based Encyclopedia". Tech Central Station. http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=111504A. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  11. Noam Cohen (2007-02-27). "Wikipedia on an academic hit list". NY Times News Service. http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/02/27/2003350261. Retrieved 2007-04-16. "Middlebury professor Thomas Beyer, of the Russian department, said: 'I guess I am not terribly impressed by anyone citing an encyclopedia as a reference point, but I am not against using it as a starting point.'"
  12. "A Stand Against Wikipedia", Inside Higher Ed (January 26, 2007). Retrieved on January 27 2007.
  13. see Wikipedia:Verifiability
  14. Brian Bergstein (2007-04-02). "Wikipedia co-founder seeks to start all over again—this time with contributors' real names". Associated Press. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07092/772696-96.stm. Retrieved 2007-04-21. "Wikipedia's de-facto leader, Jimmy Wales, counters that real names are overrated." Sorin Adam Matei and Caius Dobrescu. "Ambiguity and conflict in the Wikipedian knowledge production system". 2006 International Communication Association Annual Meeting, Dresden, Germany. http://www.matei.org/ithink/papers/ambiguity-conflict-wikipedia/. Retrieved 2007-04-26. "The participants included several notable contributors, such as James Wales, Wikipedia’s founder and de facto arbiter and leader of the project." Holden Frith (2007-03-26). "Wikipedia founder launches rival online encyclopaedia". The Times. http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article1571519.ece. Retrieved 2007-04-26. "Wikipedia’s de facto leader, Jimmy Wales, stood by the site's format."
  15. Wikipedia: "A Work in Progress", BusinessWeek (December 14, 2005). Retrieved on 2007-01-29.
  16. See "Legal Issues in Employee Privacy" by Thamer E. "Chip" Temple III for further discussion
  17. 17.0 17.1 James Donnelly and Jenifer Haeckl (2001-04-12). "Privacy and Security on the Internet: What Rights, What Remedies?". MCLE. http://www.modl.com/images/library/114.html.[dead link]
  18. See "Libel"[dead link] by David McHam for the legal distinction
  19. Wikipedia's Hive Mind Administration, November 9, 2005 (copy of original text at Google Blogoscoped)
  20. Angwin, Julia; Fowler, Geoffrey (November 27, 2009). "Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages". Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125893981183759969.html. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  21. Bongwon Suh, Gregorio Convertino, Ed H. Chi, Peter Pirolli (2009), "The Singularity is Not Near: Slowing Growth of Wikipedia". Proc. WikiSym’09.
  22. Arthur, Charles (2005-12-15). "Log on and join in, but beware the web cults". The Guardian (London). http://technology.guardian.co.uk/online/insideit/story/0,,1667345,00.html. Retrieved 2006-07-14.
  23. Besiki Stvilla, Michael Twidale, Linda Smith, Les Gasser. "Information Quality Work Organization in Wikipedia" (PDF). Florida State University. http://mailer.fsu.edu/~bstvilia/papers/stvilia_wikipedia_infoWork_p.pdf. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Who Writes Wikipedia? (Aaron Swartz's Raw Thought)
  25. Hafner, Kate (June 17, 2006). "Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy". New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2010.

More reading[change | change source]

  • Andrew Keen. The Cult of the Amateur. Doubleday/Currency, 2007. ISBN 978-0-385-52080-5 (substantial criticisms of Wikipedia and other web 2.0 projects). Listen to: Does the Internet Undermine Culture?, NPR interview with A. Keen, Weekend Edition Saturday, June 16, 2007.
  • Sheizaf Rafaeli & Yaron Ariel (2008). Online motivational factors: Incentives for participation and contribution in Wikipedia. In A. Barak (Ed.), Psychological aspects of cyberspace: Theory, research, applications (pp. 243–267). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.[1]

Other websites[change | change source]