Wikipedia and the Misinformation Feedback Loop

Wikipedia and the Misinformation Feedback Loop

You are probably aware that I am rather passionate about the uses and abuses of online content as a source of information and misinformation. The ability for the internet to completely distort and manipulate our view of the world is immense and so far isn’t taken seriously enough — particularly by the media operations that still use the internet for fact-checking.

What hadn’t occurred to me before was the feedback loop of misinformation caused by Wikipedia and highlighted yesterday by a brilliant post by Will Critchlow over at SEOmoz.

This is exactly the problem I see with democratised information gathering. We know Wikipedia is fallible and unreliable — no news there. But even Wikipedia’s attempts to correct mistakes can be subjected to the same feedback loop if the erroneous news reports containing ‘facts’ sourced from Wikipedia end up validating the very Wikipedia entries that caused the error in the first place.

Fight for the Truth or Accept the Lie?

Mainstream news is held to a higher level of accountability than the internet – it has to be. We need to know that when we open a newspaper the essential facts will be correct. After all, news is one of the primary records of our society and the source of future history books. Do we want to create a fictional history for our descendants or should we assert our responsibility as guardians over our own written record?

So if mainstream media continues to move more and more to the internet for fact-checking and news gathering, how should we validate information on the net if the democratic model is faulty?

Either the internet has to achieve the same expectations we have for accuracy, or we must accept a news media below our current set of standards. You might believe that the solution is for news media to just stop using the internet for stories, but that would be a vain hope. We can’t prevent the internet from permeating other media and changing information gathering behaviour, so we must then ensure appropriate safe-guards are in place.

It is too easy to blame the media and put the whole responsibility for fixing this problem at their door. I think that is unfair. We already know from previous situations, where people have attempted to restrict or change online behaviour, that it never works. Music downloading is the biggest example. If attempts to restrict file-sharing have failed and businesses are now having to adapt their business models to the internet, it should be obvious to us now that user behaviour is fixed and the supplier (in this case, of information) must change in approach. Therefore, the internet has to adapt to the ways in which users – including news services – want to use it. We need to find more accurate ways of validating online information.

Now is the time to determine how the internet will inform us in the future – before practices become too entrenched. Is there a solution? Possibly. Stay tuned…


  1. Thanks for spreading this further. It’s an interesting one to try to fix from a systematic perspective rather than case by case. Thought-provoking post.

  2. Who in our mainstream media is using Wikipedia as a source? Certainly, If you have information of this nature, I’d like to see it.
    The mainstream media will be using the internet to gather information for a long time. You can’t just blame either the media or ‘the internet’ for this relationship. Everyone media outlet (and everyone that reads the paper) knows that some sources can be trusted and some can’t. The same with the internet. Stories in search of true credibility should either name their sources or at least attempt to place them. (ie. a source inside the White House says…)

  3. Sounds to me like the internet and information building is becoming more and more…..human.
    Sure there are growing pains but wouldn’t you much rather have news and facts (or nonfacts) coming from a variety of sources rather than just one or two?
    Perhaps the truth (or non truth)- which is very relative to begin with – is harder to control but the truth has a better chance of surfacing under the current “all inclusive” circumstances.
    As far as history goes, many of the stories and historical information is flawed already. It all depends on who’s telling the story. Do the Brits tell the same story about our (the US’s) war for independence? I doubt it. Do the Japanese tell the same story about WWII as us (the US’s)? Or Germany? Or Italy….again I doubt it. History is relative to your perspective.
    We are much better off today. Whether it is wrong or right, the most important thing is that it is on record. Future generations can and will decide for themselves. Lets trust them to do so.

  4. Excellent, thoughful perspective. Blogs are great. They contribute to the marketplace of ideas, but there needs to be a factual account from which others can verify their take on the truth. That role has been the traditional media’s bread and butter. Without responsibility, the press will cease to be useful.

  5. yeah, good point about people not changing their behaviour, i wish people would stop quoting the bible like it’s the absolute source of truth lol

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