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What is the role of Wikipedia in an era of so much content?

June 6, 2011

Strangely, I’m going to write about Sarah Palin for the second time in ten days.

Last week, Sarah Palin said this about Paul Revere:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free and we were going to be armed.”

This led to Sarah Palin fans going to Wikipedia and changing it to reflect the notion that he warned the British, wore bells, etc.

So what’s the deal? Sarah Palin has unwittingly caused Wikipedia to wonder what it is all about. This Wikipedia talk page has a thoughtful conversation on the role of Wikipedia in an era of so much content. Here’s a quote:

“I kindly remind people that it’s not our job here at Wikipedia to decide what’s true, but to report what reliable sources say, such as the LA Times, WDHD TV in Boston, numerous others. And they quoted an American politician saying that bells were used.”

Sarah Palin said what she said. Reliable sources reported what she said. So should what she said about Paul Revere enter the Paul Revere Wikipedia page? The LA Times reported on what she said. Someone added what she said to the Paul Revere article, and quoted the LA Times.

Here’s their argument from the page that suggests the quote should not be added:

“It’s not the LA Times that’s questionable as a reliable source, it’s Palin herself. Even if the Times (& others) quoted her accurately, her off-hand, poorly-informed view doesn’t belong here, per WP:UNDUE, and I have reverted. Hertz1888 (talk) 15:30, 5 June 2011 (UTC)”

Credible? Sarah Palin is a former VP Candidate, former Governor of a state, and current potential candidate for the presidency. What she says has relevance, even if it is grammatically incoherent.

Wikipedia doesn’t deal in facts, it deals in verifiable truths. It isn’t in dispute that Sarah Palin said what she said about Paul Revere.

Fans of Palin then took to Wikipedia to “defend” her words. The goal was to add content that made her words sound less ‘bad’. But here’s the question:

“It doesn’t tell the reader looking for information on Paul Revere anything useful.”

This is interesting. As the amount of content increases, and gets ‘reported’ by verifiable sources, debates like this one will continue on Wikipedia. What content on the internet does add value? And what’s the definition of a reliable source?

A blog post?

A Twitter post?

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