The Wikipedia experiment

By Scott Singer

We’ve all heard the rumors: it’s public, crowded and uncontrollable. No; it’s not the stands at a football game or an EDM concert–I’m talking about Wikipedia, a mainstay at the top of Google searches and a collection of over 30 million web pages.

Throughout their academic careers, students are told that Wikipedia is too unreliable to use as a source–anyone can edit the articles and can add false information. I decided to see if these claims of misinformation were true through a small experiment.

As an avid Seahawks fan as a young Seattlite, I always imagined myself handing the Lombardi trophy to the game-winning quarterback at a Seattle Super Bowl. One night a few weeks ago, I decided to make my dream close to a reality (at least according to Wikipedia)–changing the Super Bowl XL page from the 2005 season, when the Seahawks lost to the Steelers. In the lower paragraphs, I edited section 3.3 of the page–the post-game ceremony– to read,“NFL play-60 kid of the year Scott Singer delivered the Vince Lombardi trophy to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.” I saved my edits at midnight and hit the hay.

By 6:15 the next morning, my name was erased from all records of that Super Bowl. I was shocked–how would anyone know to factcheck such seemingly realistic information?

Wikipedia’s quick fact-checking dates back to a famous incident in 2005, the same year the Seahawks gained a Super Bowl berth. The Wikipedia page for former USA Today Editor John Seigenthaler Sr. linked the journalist to the assassination of JFK–an event in which he was clearly uninvolved. The phony information went undetected for several months, until the problem was exposed by one of Seigenthaler’s friends, who told members of the press. Since then, Wikipedia has had a bad reputation, in part because of this one incident.

Today, Wikipedia is more reliable than ever, having learned from the incident. Besides administrators who check for vandalism of entries by anonymous editors–like myself–Wikipedia has Bots that correct common spelling errors and block links to certain websites. Most importantly, Wikipedia continues to grow: it is currently the sixth most-visited site in the world, meaning that the number of editors increases and the accountability of the website continuously improves.

It’s a shame that I won’t be known in the history books as the guy who gave the Super Bowl XL trophy to Roger Goodell. But that’s for the better: once I give Goodell the trophy in Super Bowl LXII (calling my shot), readers will know that Wikipedia has their facts straight.