In this basic guide, we try to demystify some prejudices against Wikipedia and, in addition, to resolve all doubts regarding this platform
“Source: Wikipedia“. These words often do not arouse much confidence. Quarantine has transformed many things, one of which is the way that students, from elementary school to university, search for reference information. With this autonomy to seek sources, educators ask themselves: would it be the Wikipedia a reliable platform?
The answer, incredible as it may seem, is positive. After years of enjoying a legitimate reputation, the company's commitment Wikipedia to the current generation transparency. It even seems to be a response to current times, after all, the large-scale dissemination of fake news has caused the company to revise its guidelines.
The significant initiative through the possibility of literally anyone with an internet connection to edit an entry. If on the one hand it is easy to publish a lie, on the other, it can be corrected by any of its millions of Internet users in an instant. But this organic effort may have its days numbered.
After all, in a report in the AAAI conference, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the MIT, claim that the application of AI can reduce the number of incidents of erroneous information, since a system with the technology can help identify and correct parts of text that need to be updated.
Understanding how the platform works can greatly simplify your experience as a whole. For this reason, the Showmetech set out to make a guide to resolve any debt along the way. The idea here is to really understand the entire Wikipedia building process.
Understand the Wikipedia and its importance for the online environment to measure its impact on the world. The platform today, perhaps, the largest and most complete collaborative encyclopedia in the world. Its English version, considered the most complete, has more than 5 million entries. For the Brazilian Portuguese, the numbers are more modest: 930 thousand entries. Wikipedia is available for constant updating for more than 300 languages.
To browse Wikipedia, just look at it as a large online community, which allows any user to create an account, anonymous, able to edit or add information to an entry. Accessing the entries even simpler, after all, it only takes a few clicks to check some information on the platform.
It is worth remembering that the site guidelines are very specific, and recommend, in a very clear way, to maintain neutrality in the production of texts for entries, in addition to the commitment to the truth of the facts. Something that, in practice, the opposite is often proven.
The veracity of his facts is questionable precisely because the texts on Wikipedia can be easily changed. What makes Wikipedia a great asset for students is precisely because it is the site as the largest source of information across the internet, with over 40 million articles on any and all subjects. Whether it's your favorite celebrity to academic topics, Wikipedia accumulates a lot more information than any traditional encyclopedia.
In other words, what makes Wikipedia interesting for students lies precisely in its asset in becoming the first research option. In case you are not familiar with a certain subject, the big first step to, in fact, starting a search, maybe it is a brief consultation to this online encyclopedia, in order to find out, even if superficially, what you are looking for as information.
A collective effort
What makes Wikipedia's reputation questionable as an encyclopedia is perhaps that, in its launch, back in 2001, the site's more flexible guidelines allowed, in fact, that each and every user was able to create and edit an entry without any limitation. This is no longer a reality.
What has made Wikipedia's work grow considerably over the years is precisely the creation of a group of volunteer editors worldwide, committed to spreading the right information. Their hard work helps to keep the Wikipedia environment organized and, quite possibly, reliable.
After all, the Wikimedia Foundation (as they are best known) has created very strict guidelines, as well as collaborative mechanisms for constant control and checking of this material. The size commitment extends to debates in internal forums. It is worth remembering that, when checking the end of each Wikipedia entry, there is a thorough bibliography that brings direct sources, such as books or academic papers published in scientific newspapers and magazines. News links from traditional websites can also serve as a bibliographic source.
It is worth remembering that it is necessary that a certain topic needs to reach a certain degree of notoriety in order to become an entry and be available for access to the common user. This initiative prevents Wikipedia from maintaining its degree of credibility and from random, and often erroneous, topics being available for consultation.
And it is perhaps in the understanding of how online communities work that a great victory for Wikipedia. The platform was able to bring together a series of individuals from various places, with their particularities and worldviews. In the end, what can we say that Wikipedia, after all, is a very plural source of information.
If we compare it with the so-called traditional encyclopedia, which is usually written, edited and formatted by a homogeneous and restricted group of researchers, this ends up working against Wikipedia itself. A traditional source of information does not have its credibility questioned at all times, precisely because of its immutable nature.
Still, is it possible to cite Wikipedia as a reliable source?
Even in the midst of so many controversies, Wikipedia has a reliability index close to that of Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the most respected encyclopedia in the world, with 2.92 errors per article for Britannica, while Wikipedia's rate is around 3.86.
But it is always valid to remember that mistakes happen. There may be cases in which months pass before information is properly corrected and, in the meantime, a network of misinformation can form about this topic. Until an editor makes the necessary changes, it is impossible to measure the scope of the erroneous information.
There is a Wikipedia guideline called Wikipedia reliability, which provides that certain information is used maliciously, or that the tool is used maliciously. To prevent this from happening, there is a history record of changes to each entry, to avoid destroying reputations, for example, since celebrity pages and notorious figures make up, for the most part, the information available through Wikipedia.
But if you are a student and feel discouraged about using Wikipedia as a source of information, know that, knowing all of this, the Wikimedia Foundation has stipulated three fundamental guidelines for promoting a healthy and reliable information exchange environment. First of all, Wikipedia editors and editors need to maintain a neutral point of view above all circumstances.
In practice, this means that the content should not be produced in a biased manner, always seeking to be as complete and didactic as possible. Second, research, in turn, should not be autonomous, in the sense that it must always be written based on reliable material, even avoiding errors that reinforce the first step. Finally, every entry must make supporting material available in a transparent manner. Thus, as many editors as those who wish to consult the material can check the sources.
A community born of credibility
It seems very easy to gain a degree of autonomy on Wikipedia, right? The answer: no. Like any group of people looking to deliver a serious job, there are levels of hierarchy, which allows only those who meet certain requirements to, in fact, have greater control over the editing of information.
To measure more accurately, let's go to the numbers: while there are about 38.4 million Wikipedians (name assigned to those who are part of Wikipedia), with 134 thousand working in the last month, there are only 1,206 administrators for the English language.
But it's not just that. In order to be as transparent as possible, Wikipedia makes the process of editing such an entry available. In practice, it is possible to see the whole discussion of Wikipedians in relation to a particular topic, which makes the site more cautious in relation to attacks.
Let's use the Nintendo in Brazilian Portuguese as an example. When accessing the page, it is possible, in just one click, to follow the discussion of users in relation to the content of the entry, just click on the “discussion” tab. It is possible to notice that, even though it is not, in fact, a Wikipedia user, it does not in any way prevent access to this type of information.
The same goes for the entire history of editions of the entry itself. This means that, in real time, anyone can follow all editions made in the virtual encyclopedia. Just access the tab "see history". It contains information on all changes made, by time and date, as well as the registration of the user who made it. This even allows administrators to remedy possible setbacks.
It is worth remembering that, sensitive topics are mostly blocked for controversial issues, based briefly on the beliefs of their writer. This happens, for example, on pages like Alcoro or big Bang. In this way, it prevents you from breaking with the neutral point of view that prevails in these entries. On these pages it is possible to check a lock in the upper right corner of each one.
For this, the level of hierarchy once again prevails. While some entries are only available for editing for administrators (gold level or protected page), moderate levels such as silver and blue are semi-protected, the first being also available for self-reports while the second for self-confirmed.
Remember that Wikipedia's commitment extends to constant updating. For this reason, the largest encyclopedia means that all entries that will be created and all that have been edited will go through and have gone through what they call abuse filter. This means that the guidelines will always be respected and properly documented. For this reason, all newly created entries appear in the list recent pages to be analyzed.
The same thing happens for any and all changes that are also on the list recent changes, that have search filters, such as showing specific categories such as changes in non-registered publishers or even cataloging entries written by editors with less than 10 editions.
Notices for users
Even though the content of Wikipedia seeks to be as neutral as possible, there is the production of entries promoted as advertising. When this happens, there will always be, at the top of the page, a warning, in yellow, that, in fact, such an entry was produced with sponsorship, for example. For a more practical example, something very close to the well-known #ad on the pages of digital influencers on Instagram.
Another prerequisite that, often ignored, is the presence of sources for consultation at the end of the page, very close to what we know as the bibliography of an encyclopedia. The notice, this time, will be available in blue, in the same mold as the previous announcement.
For these reasons, always check any and all sources of information linked to the entry you are looking for. This is because, in addition to being able to verify if it is correct, or even controversial, you can even find sources of information that best fit the type of research you are doing, whether you are a student or not.
Remember that research should always break the barriers of Wikipedia. For this reason, create a healthy routine in the search for information. Always try to consult with traditional information media, if possible from several sources. Look for expert points of view, different points of view, encyclopedias and academic papers.
We always need to promote autonomy in the search for information. Even though Wikipedia shows more and more commitment to promoting a safe environment for consulting information, we need to remember that it should only be a secondary source of information, never the primary one.
Source: CrashCourse, The Guardian, James Cook University, MIT and Wired.