We all know at this point that Wikipedia can’t be trusted due to its propensity for creating reality from thin air, among other things. Bad ideas take root in the site and are integrated into articles on a regular basis, with an extensive team of SysOps and volunteers to sift out the chaff and silence the white noise, hopefully reversing any “bad faith” edits and preventing vandalism, inaccuracy, and absurdity from taking root. One would hope for this, anyway. The reality of it is quite different.
Wikipedia, being a website, naturally links to other websites as its references. A problem arises here though, as any idiot with ten bucks and a bad idea can register a domain name and set up a blog or wiki or whatever else and post whatever garbage they please, in the hopes that someone will read it and take them seriously. Worse still, there are dozens of websites that provide a soapbox for free; places such as Blogspot, LiveJournal, tumblr, and twitter, and before them web 1.0 provided innumerable free hosts, with GeoCities and Angelfire on top.
Wikipedia (and its related WikiMedia projects) has a vast code of conduct and set of impenetrable rules that only the most dedicated of users can interpret correctly, and one can easily get lost trying to navigate through the various policy pages that cover everything from biographies to style to harassment. One of their most important polices, aside from the pipe dream of assuming good faith, is that of verifiability. If something is stated as fact in an article, readers should be able to verify that it is indeed true, with everything being carefully referenced and requests for valid references on information that can’t be readily verified. Sources must be reliable and respectable and not just some random thing somebody once said in a forum post or in some other wiki.
This is where we begin to run into trouble. Wikipedia users attempt to remain vigilant and police the cited sources, sometimes going so far as to get into internet fights over who’s right and who’s wrong. Despite all this, bad sources manage to sneak into articles all the time, whether they’re placed there by vandals, biased users, or just well-meaning writers who don’t realize that the Anime News Network is not actually a news company and probably shouldn’t be considered a valid source, no matter how much its writers love anime. Come, dear reader, and dive into the rabbit hole with me. Let’s see just how reliable Wikepedia is as a source of information, be it trivial or not.
We’ll start with a website known as “The Daily Dot,” which, according to Wikipedia (yes, I’m quite aware of the irony here,) is an online newspaper that covers internet topics. It aims to be the “hometown newspaper” of the internet. The site was started by a pop musician who, as far as we can tell, has no background in journalism whatsoever (Fact-checking? What’s that?) This site came to light when one of their writers spewed hundreds upon hundreds of words about the hilarious ShitRedditSays subreddit, most of them ill-informed. A cursory search indicates that The Daily Dot is cited as a reference on a handful of Wikipedia articles, despite being little more than an internet rumors blog masquerading as a legitimate news source. More damning is the fact that the site seems to think the “Men’s Rights” movement is valid and not filled to the brim with misogynistic hate groups.
After this, I wanted to look further. If this claptrap could be considered a valid source, why couldn’t any other blog or forum? As it turns out, any blog or forum post actually is a valid source! On a whim, the editors here at Oh Internet! began searching Wikipedia for other questionable sources and found a treasure trove of bad citations:
tumblr is a “microblog” service, with millions of blogs and users, most of them posting random pictures. It has a set of rules but most likely admins cannot police the entire site, and objectionable content undoubtedly slips through the cracks. Does this make tumblr a reliable source? Absolutely! Everything is reliable! Let’s see where tumblr is referenced:
Twitter is another microblogging service, popular with dunderheaded marketing firms and PR reps trying to shoehorn themselves into social networks. It’s also a sea of endless stupidity and inadvertent humor where teenagers complain about their parents, racists post crap and are called out on it, and terrible customer service reps find their fifteen minutes. This must be a great place to find facts, right? Right!
- Roses (album) (Edited 04/04/2012, original link seems to have been oversighted. Here, have a Twitter search instead.)
- A Dramatic Turn of Events
- Mass Effect 3
LiveJournal is a blogging platform with numerous social aspects and is home to millions of bloggers, furries, and Russians. Started by Brad Fitzpatrick to keep in touch with friends, the site exploded in popularity in the early 00s, and was sold off to various other companies who made bad decisions, thus ruining the site. Nevertheless, it is still quite popular and undoubtedly a great source of unbiased true information:
Yahoo! Answers is a place where you ask a question and people who know absolutely nothing will answer it. This is a very reliable source of information:
reddit is a news aggregator that bills itself as “[t]he front page of the internet.” It’s known for being wildly misogynistic and fanatically devoted to its users’ concept of “free speech,” which is the right to act like a total jackass and be as unironically offensive as possible, and then to defend these positions fervently, to the point that many users defend pedophilia and the sharing of CP. reddit seems like it would be a great source!
- List of gravity hills (Edited 04/02/2012)
- Binocular dysphoria (Edited 04/02/2012)
- Moorish idol (Edited 04/02/2012)
- Young Americans for Liberty (Edited 04/02/2012)
Know Your Meme is a site that began its life by directly copy/pasting Encyclopedia Dramatica articles (this was before ED had evolved into OHi,) and then trying to make money off of them. They’re often unfunny and are a leading reason that this meme or that is all over your damned Facebook, dumbing the place down. Valid source of credible information? You bet your ass it is!
Craigslist is a site where you advertise sex and stolen car stereos.
deviantART is a website devoted to the extended cast of Sonic the Hedgehog. There are other things there, and maybe some of it is even considered art, but Sonic reigns supreme.
- Rook (Transformers)
- List of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episodes
- List of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic characters
- Lauren Faust
Above Top Secret is a website run by Alex Jones that is dedicated to various conspiracy theories and anti-government rhetoric. As such, it can be considered the home for expert knowledge of spacemen and C.H.U.D.s.
- List of UFO sightings
- Corporate Cannibal
- Multirole combat aircraft
- San Pedro Mountains Mummy
- Vela Incident
- April 1909
Rense.com is home to Jeff Rense, another conspiracy theorist with a radio show and absolutely amazing hair. Unlike ATS, Rense’s site seems to have traveled through time from the year 1997. A website that looks like GeoCities and is plastered with ads for herbal remedies, buying silver to hoard, and David Dees illustrations? Yes, this is a fine source of information!
The “Anime News Network” has the dubious distinction of being one of the most-linked domains from Wikipedia pages. This is because anime is vastly more important than things like history, culture, or science. Need to know anything about Japan? We’ll learn it from anime!
- List of The New York Times Manga Best Sellers of 2010
- List of Once Piece episodes (season 4)
- Monkey D. Luffy
- Excel Saga
Not even one of my favorite websites is spared here. Something Awful is a humor website that most often takes the piss out of other websites, bad video games, good video games, dumb nerdy stuff, and everything else. Here we find that Lowtax and his writing staff are quite knowledgeable:
Just to be fair to comedy websites and internet forums, we’re including eBaumsworld here too. eBaums users know things about stuff!
Wookieepedia is a Star Wars fan wiki. As such, it’s bound to be well-referenced and extensively researched. Ha, who am I kidding? Of course there are no references here!
The above examples are all from relatively well-known websites and there are numerous articles that use them as sources. If we keep digging, however, we find that there are plenty more unreliable or questionable sources in plenty of other articles:
- Child pornography laws in the United States, Referencing Sankaku Complex, a site that I’m pretty sure will get me fired for browsing it at work.
- Harem (genre), referencing UrbanDictionary.
- Catgirl, referencing Virtual Neko, some sort of Second Life thing.
- Otherkin, referencing KitsuneNet, which I am never ever visiting.
- Fanon (fiction), referencing TVTropes, which is a den of evil.
- Brian Jones, referencing an Angelfire web page.
- Walter Berg, referencing the Final Fantasy wiki.
As we can see from even cursory searches, we simply cannot trust Wikipedia. There are too many people with too many agendas and no idea what verifiability or notability actually is, especially when faced with Wikipedia’s convoluted definitions of both. Anyone can edit, even without an account, and despite having thousands of users, moderators, SysOps, and revert-happy bots, bad edits make it through and worse, they last. If you encounter a bad source, go ahead and report it here, and someone who’s way more obsessed with this than we are will look into it and probably post a bunch of tags all over an article. Remember,
Questionable sources are those with a poor reputation for checking the facts, or with no editorial oversight. Such sources include websites and publications expressing views that are widely acknowledged as extremist, or promotional in nature, or which rely heavily on rumors and personal opinions. Questionable sources are generally unsuitable for citing contentious claims about third parties, which includes claims against institutions, persons living or dead, as well as more ill-defined entities. The proper uses of a questionable source are very limited.
Now that you know this, get back to reading articles about anime and the intricacies of lightsaber combat.
Editor’s note: several of these articles have been edited since this post was made.