Wikipedia, and concerns over its reliability and accuracy, have been discussed on this blog before. It was also a common mantra among my teachers in public school to warn about the dangers of Wikipedia, because, as they said, anyone can go on there and write anything they want. As my fellow blogger and Pfister showed, however, editing Wikipedia was a much more complicated process than was often claimed. Still, I was curious as to how the perception of Wikipedia has changed over time and the results were rather interesting.
Being an online encyclopedia that is constantly updated and not subject to a single person’s control puts Wikipedia in a unique situation regarding its critics, because Wikipedia has an entry about itself. And since many articles are written by those who have no financial stake in the reputation of the website, Wikipedia’s own Wikipedia page does not shy away from common criticisms that have emerged concerning the site over the years.
The usual suspects are there, such as claims of inaccuracy and unreliability, and how educators often ban it from being cited in student’s papers. Other criticisms are present as well, ones that are not heard as often, such as privacy issues surrounding private citizens that have their own articles. There is also the way Wikipedia allows graphic and explicit content on its pages that could easily be accessed by children. Some of these criticisms could apply to the internet as a whole, and Wikipedia, being one of the world’s most famous websites, is simply a more prominent target.
It should be noted that, regardless of what educators and other intellectuals thought of Wikipedia in its early days, it was always popular with the average person. If it wasn’t then it would not have evoked the kind of reaction it did in schools, nor would the site have become as popular as it did. But opinions of Wikipedia among the media have changed since it first went online. It was better received in the 2010s, throwing off the appeal to tradition some of its critics often relied on.
What surprised me the most when reading about this was how Facebook, Google, and YouTube now link to Wikipedia to help people decipher truth from falsehood. While these sites’ opinions of Wikipedia are hardly the be-all-end-all—and some of the criticisms listed above might still be valid—it is ironic to see the site that was once denounced as unreliable now held up as a standard of credibility. Maybe new forms of writing simply take time to be accepted.