Michael Moynihan on Trusting Wikipedia with Your Life

Journalist Michael Moynihan was inspired to start a newspaper in Prague—or so his Wikipedia entry states. Never mind that he’s never been there. He investigates the perils of trusting the online encyclopedia when you’re a nobody—and when another guy with your name is identified as a “neo-fascist.” He expresses his thoughts in this Daily Beast piece:

It’s possible to quibble with or contest every second sentence in my encyclopedia entry, which quickly cratered my confidence in the website. But there are plenty of studies suggesting that Wikipedia is, despite its ability to be edited by anyone with excess free time and an Internet connection, about as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. It also has the benefit of being up to the minute: when news breaks, when a public figure dies, details are added to Wikipedia almost immediately. A fact check of important subjects with multiple editors—Darwinism, Squeaky Fromme, the Boxer Rebellion—suggests that the website is broadly trustworthy, terrific at aggregating links, and a worthy springboard to better material.

But what of those entries covering the hopelessly insignificant, like me? I won’t bore you by cataloguing all the mistakes in my entry (I found about a dozen), but the results weren’t terribly impressive. I’m unsure how long it remained on the page, but according to Wikipedia’s edit log, my biography once claimed that I had a “vagina” and—pardon the language—“love the cock.” The only people who can refute the first point are, I hope, biased in my favor and wouldn’t be trusted by Wikipedia as “reliable sources.” The second point, also difficult to disprove, seems irrelevant to the job of polemicist.

Great conclusion:

But just so we’re clear, Wikipedia: I’m not a fascist, I’ve never been to Prague, and I am currently an anatomically correct male. If any of this changes, I’ll find two corroborating, reputable sources and ask a friend to make the appropriate changes to my page.

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