The media just got punk’d

Image courtesy of

By

It’s time to face a startling fact: Wikipedia is often wrong about many things.

This may seem like a very obvious fact to some, but it’s not so obvious to all.

In truth, the reliance on Wikipedia as a credible source has become cemented as more and more media outlets are using Wikipedia to source their material.

For not-so obvious reasons, this is a problem since anyone can post material on Wikipedia without having it double-checked.

The internet moves at the speed of light and with this speed it’s a given that most information is still passing through word of mouth, such as in the case of American actor Patrick Swayze.

Swayze, beloved for his films like “Dirty Dancing,” “Road House” and “Point Break,” was proclaimed dead through thousands of posts from the ever popular social networking status update site, Twitter.com. It was even reported on his Wikipedia page that he had indeed died, yet, Swayze is not dead.

Another incident of faulty research occured when  Irish student Shane Fitzgerald posted a faulty quote by French composer Maurice Jarre, whom had died March 28 of this year.  The purpose for the false quote was not that the sociology major was up to another case of shenangians but was working on a social experiment.

In an article for the Irish Times, Fitzgerald summed up that he wanted to show just how we are all connected through the globalization of the internet.

 The quote, although decent, was completely false, Jarre had never said those exact words in print, and yet, Fitzgerald added the phony quote to Jarre’s Wikipedia page as a matter of reported fact.

Originally, the quote was removed from Wikipedia within a couple of minutes, however, Fitzgerald posted it again and it was left on the site for almost 24 hours.

In the following month, the quote had circulated through major internet news outlets as well as newspapers and magazines.

That is until Fitzgerald came clean about the hoax and then those same newspapers and magazines, like Britain’s “The Guardian,” had to issue public retractions for the usage of a fake quote.

It’s been reported that journalism is dead and while that sentiment may be hyperbole, it seems that the days of using legitimate sources to accredit material is hobbling on one foot.

Wikipedia is used by all walks of life for all types of purposes. The facts from Wikipedia are used in magazine articles, speech reports for classes and yes even academic essays.

Fitzgerald, in a report for the Irish times, said of his hoax, “If I could so easily falsify the news across the globe, even to this small extent, then it is unnerving to think about what other false information may be reported in the press.”

Aside from the fact that at that stage in their careers professional journalists shouldn’t be so lazy and actually check their facts, it’s beyond common sense that one would check the attribution just to be safe.

In an essay, an instructor would undoubtedly check sources for any misleading information.

Everyone knows that the internet is made up of fake pages and people pretending to be who they aren’t. The same goes for the trading of information.

Anyone can post anything on Wikipedia, so why is it a trusted source for information?

It’s not the same as using an online version of an Encyclopedia, these sites are hopefully accredited sources of information and are go-to places to get solid, reputable facts.

It even says on the homepage for Wikipedia “The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

Akin to a ‘Duh” moment, it also says on the about Wikipedia page of the site that while anyone can use the site to add and edit information, they should do so within the editing policies.

Yet it seems that common sense is not so common after all. If a group of professional journalists and writers could so easily be fooled by a quote, it really goes to show how much the press has begun to rest on it’s laurels.

In the present moment we don’t have time to be making silly mistakes, it’s time to get the facts straight.