Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Myths about Wikipedia: The paid fact-checkers

In this awful economy, people are quickly realizing how thoroughly uneffective the want ads in the paper are for getting a job. They would have more fun flushing their resume down the toilet. So they realize that they must "think outside the box" in their job search, and try to figure out where the jobs could possibly be at. There's a restaurant near my house, and they don't seem to have enough waiters, or I heard in the news that there is a shortage of truck drivers, etc.

So then they think: "Wikipedia is a pretty good reference, but it has the occasional bit of false info, therefore, they need more paid fact-checkers." Such a line of thought is wrong on so many levels, but first consider why Wikipedia can't pay fact-checkers: it can't pay anyone to work on the content.

When Wikipedia started to become famous, the more puritannical elements of our society were first and foremost concerned that Wikipedia would become a source of free porn for bored teenagers. In order to escape persecution as pornographers, the Wikimedia Foundation hides behind Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act: Wikipedia doesn't provide content; it provides a service for users to post content.

Mike Godwin, Wikipedia's general counsel, is aware of this and he likes to edit Wikipedia. Therefore, his user page has the following disclaimer: "Unless it is otherwise stated, any edit or contribution to Wikimedia projects by Mike Godwin is an act of a regular member of the community, not a legal or official action of the General Counsel or the Legal Department of the Wikimedia Foundation."

Theoretically, this means that if Mike Godwin chose to upload a picture of himself going down on himself, the responsibility for that action would be solely his, and not the Wikimedia Foundation's.

A side effect of this is that then the Wikimedia Foundation is protected against claims of libel. If Mike Godwin were to edit Wikipedia to say that John McCain likes to go down on himself, again, the responsibility for such a statement would fall on Mike Godwin, and not the Foundation. However, in that scenario, we know who Mike Godwin is, whereas in real life we often have little clue as to who an IP address or a cryptic user name represents.

That sweet deal would be invalidated if Wikipedia paid anyone to check facts. The next time John McCain gets slandered on Wikipedia, people would ask if the paid fact-checkers were asleep at the wheel. So it's much easier to not pay fact-checkers at all.

If you want a job at Wikipedia, you have to be a close friend of Jimbo's. Otherwise, the only kind of job you can get in Wikipedia is the kind that doesn't pay anything, monetarily or otherwise.

No comments:

Post a Comment