If Wikipedia Says It Loves You, Check It Out

February 2nd, 2009; 8:24 am by Ryan Thornburg

The idea of using social media to report a story is appalling to some journalists. They have a certain germophobia when it comes to the Internet. Because it is littered with rumor and lies, they never use it as a source for a story, they say. They’re right, of course. Social media like Twitter and Wikipedia are littered with rumor and lies, but so are most city halls and almost every other place journalists ply their trade.

Social media, I tell my students who have been scared away from it by other professors and editors, are like all sources — a great place to start and a lousy place to finish.

Armed with the same skepticism and curiosity with which I treat any other source, I try to teach students to stop worrying and love the hyperlink.

No journalist has been long in the business before he or she hears someone warn them, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” They’re taught that this mantra of ultimate skepticism — to question even your own mother’s love — will keep them fiercely independent.

That phrase, though, too often gets interpreted as “If your mother says she loves, you, don’t believe her.” But journalism doesn’t happen until the second part of the sentence — until curiosity is piqued and some effort is made to satisfy that curiosity.

Journalists shouldn’t avoid social media as a reporting tool simply because they can get infected with lies and rumor. Journalists should inoculate themselves with curiosity and wonder how they work.

One good case study is the story of Jared Fogel, spokesman for Subway sandwiches. He died … but Wikipedia saved his life… here’s how…

Imagine you get a Twitter message from one of your friends — someone you know and trust — that Jared is dead. It might have even come from someone with a reputation to protect. It might have even come from Kevin Rose, one of the founders of Digg.com, a site rumored at one point to be worth about $300 million.

You’re a skeptical journalist. How do you check it out? (Presuming neither Subway nor Jared’s people are returning your call…)

A lot of people on June 25, 2008, turned to Google for help. And that’s not a bad place to start. So let’s search “Jared Fogel death” just to get things started. The first link we get is to Snopes.com. You — like the vast majority of searchers — click on the first link. Most searchers never look beyond the first three links and very, very, very few every go beyond the first page.

So Snopes said the story is false. But our skepticism can’t end here. We’ve got a good ol’ fashioned “he-said, she-said” on our hands, a virtual 1-1 tie in this steel-cage death match of truth.

What now?

We could just go back to Google and settle this with a popularity contest — more sites claiming the news is fake would win out over more sites claiming it’s true. But truth and popularity rarely go hand in hand. So let’s put that on hold for a second, and we will come back later to understanding just how something ends up as the top link on Google anyway.

Journalists learn that it’s important to understand whether their sources have an ax to grind. So it would be great to know who’s behind this Snopes.com anyway. This brings us to one of my most favorite things about the Internet. It’s my favorite because it speaks directly to one of my core beliefs about journalism — that transparency breeds accountability. The Internet can be an incredibly transparent place.

The Internet has a big ol’ database (or collection of databases, really) that store the names and contact information for every domain name (like “snopes.com”). You can query that database by using one of several Web sites that use the WHOIS protocol. For this example, we’ll use the one at Network Solutions.

Type “snopes.com” in to the search field on that site, and you’ll see that it is owned by David Mikkelson in Agoura Hill, California. You can even call him at (702) 988-4047. (And, just to save time for the most curious among you, here’s where you can reach the owner of this site.)

Of course, there are plenty of ways to hide a domain’s owner from public view. But this is at least a nice start. A Google search for “David Mikkelson” turns up a nice summary of information about snopes.com that you can check out when you call him.

All signs at this point are pointing to the rumors of Jared’s death being greatly exaggerated. But what if you had started from a slightly different point. Let’s say your first Google search was for “Jared Fogel” with the “death.” The first link at the top of that query would be to our old nemsis Wikipedia.

As I’m sure you know, Wikipedia is a site that can be edited by anyone. And certainly it has had its share of nefarious editors hacking the site. Perhaps the most famous are the ones done by congressional staffers.

Inaccuracies have also plagued Jared Fogel’s page, where his death has been reported and removed several times. But once again transparency comes to the rescue. For every Wikipedia entry, any reader can see when it was edited, who made the edits and what the edits included. For a real understanding of how Wikipedia actually stays relatively free of error despite its lack of centralized governance, let’s check out the “History” page for Fogel’s entries. (You can get to the history page of any entry by clicking on the “History” tab at the top of the entry page.)

At first glance, the history page looks like an indecipherable log of technical details. That’s why you should now spend a few minutes reading the user’s guide to this feature. I’m going to check my email. Give me a shout when you’ve read it…

…OK, you back? Any questions?

Now, on the same day that one of Digg’s founders was spreading the rumor on Twitter and Google saw a jump in Jared queries, let’s see what the unwashed masses were doing to the truth on Wikipedia.

7:02 p.m. - Jared’s dead.

7:10 p.m. - Not quite dead yet.

8:42 p.m. - We are sad to report…

(Someone spends the next 11 minutes adding fantastic details about his death to the page. At one point, however, the anonymous editor seems to doubt his or her technical accuracy. The possibility of factual accuracies never seem to dawn on him or her.)

9:00 p.m. - He’s baaack.

11:09 p.m. - Another anonymous editor makes a gutsy defense of the 8:42 edits.

11:30 p.m. - Not completely healed, but some progress toward truth.

12:34 a.m. - Yes, his death was a hoax…

2:20 a.m., June 28 - Dead.

2:21 a.m. - Not dead….And he remains in this state until July 11, when he briefly dies again in the Wiki world.

There are two ways to read the history. One is that it is proof that horrible, horrible factual errors make it in to Wikipedia. Most of the erroneous edits were made anonymously, identifiable only by the IP address from which they came.

On the other hand, the errors get corrected amazingly fast for a site on which no one is responsible. Vandalism and lies do not tend to stay on Wikipedia for long.

But is taking the chance worth getting bad information in to your stories? I guess it depends on the alternatives. One study found that newspaper sources reported finding that 21 percent of the stories for which they were a source had an objective error, 18 percent a math error and 53 percent a subjective error. I wonder how that would stack up to Wikipedia at any given moment.

So, by all means, use Wikipedia as a source. But just know how to use it. Here are some tips:

  • Check out the article’s sourcing. Most articles are well footnoted with links to primary source documents. You can use those footnotes as your source, rather than Wikipedia.
  • Check the history page for any entry about which you have questions. See if there have been a lot of edits around a specific piece of information.
  • See what you can find out about the person who added the doubted material. Is the person anonymous? Have a profile page on Wikipedia? Does he or she make a lot of edits across topics? Is he or she a specialist on one topic? How many of his or her edits are reversed by subsequent editors?

Hopefully, you’re still skeptical of Wikipedia. You might even be getting ready to argue that Wikipedia itself is nothing more than a lawless board of anonymous bickering. Not true, I’d argue. Check out Wikipedia’s policies, which include a “neutral point of view” that should warm even a journalist’s heart.

Even still I hope you’re skeptical of Wikipedia and other social media. That’s fine. In fact, that’s good. The point is not to accept everything with blind faith. The point is to understand how social media works and to use that understanding for good instead of evil. If you do, you just might win $10,000.

Save or Share This Post:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Live
  • NewsVine
  • Print this article!
  • Reddit
  • SphereIt
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis

Leave a Reply


Tramadol dosage Tramadol without prescription Buy cheap tramadol Prescription tramadol Buy tramadol at a cheap price online Buy tramadol cheap medication inurl Canine tramadol side effects Cod tramadol Next day tramadol No prescription tramadol Tramadol depression Buy tramadol on line Order tramadol Tramadol contains Tramadol foreign Tramadol high Tramadol on line Tramadol saturday delivery Tramadol withdrawal Can take tramadol with vicodin Cheap tramadol fedex overnight Is tramadol a synthetic opiate Is tramadol addictive Is tramadol an opiate Tramadol cheap Tramadol dogs Tramadol ship to 50 states Will crushing tramadol get it to work faster Buy tramadol by cod pay Buy tramadol online without perscription Cheap tramadol cod delivery Getting high on tramadol Is tramadol narcotic Tramadol addiction Tramadol by cod Tramadol cash on delivery Tramadol dog Tramadol medication Tramadol without a prescription Cheapest tramadol cod Possession tramadol washington Tramadol 180 Tramadol hcl 50 mg Tramadol hcl 50 mg tab Tramadol overnight Tramadol saturday delivery norx Tramadol side effects for dogs Veterinary tramadol Can you snort tramadol Controlled substances tramadol Does tramadol get you high Free overnight tramadol Hair follicle drug sample example report tramadol Info on tramadol aside Tramadol hcl Tramadol euphoria Viagra Buying viagra Buying viagra online Does viagra help you have multiple erections Cheapest uk supplier viagra Viagra suppliers in the uk Viagra equivalent Buy cheap viagra online uk Viagra uk Herbal viagra reviews Purchase viagra online Viagra for sale without a prescription Women does viagra work Problems with viagra Free viagra sample Which is better cialis or viagra Buy viagra online Generic viagra Free viagra Cheap viagra Buy viagra Viagra for women Viagra side effects Watermelon viagra Alternative to viagra Female viagra Herbal viagra Natural viagra Order viagra Viagra online Viagra best What is better viagra or levitra Viagra alterna Levitra versus viagra Compare cialis levitra viagra Viagra uk cheap purchase buy Viagra generic Viagra for sale Venta de viagra Viagra 6 free samples Viagra cialis levitra Discount viagra Viagra energy drink Viagra attorneys Viagra cheap Uk alternative viagra Watermelon and viagra Buy viagra online inu Viagra online uk Best price for generic viagra How does viagra work Canada viagra Websites for generic viagra tablets Online viagra Try viagra for free Cheap viagra line uk Uk viagra sales Viagra inurl Viagra on line Viagra samples Cheapest viagra Cheapest viagra prices Free viagra in the uk Viagra canada Over the counter viagra Viagra dosage Viagra testimonials Viagra without prescription Generic viagra india Guaranteed cheapest viagra Mail order viagra Suppliers of viagra Viagra alternative Viagra discount Viagra no perscription usa Cheapest viagra in uk Gay viagra Online pharmacy viagra Viagra cialis generica Viagra generico impotencia Buy viagra onli Cheapest viagra anywhere Cheapest viagra to buy online in uk Mexico pharmacy generic viagra Viagra commercials Viagra results Viagra super active Order viagra online Viagra alternative new drugs Viagra where to buy in the united kingdom Adverse side effects of viagra Effects of viagra Natural viagra substitutes Non prescription viagra Cialis Buy cialis doctor online Which is better cialis or viagra Generic cialis Cheapest cialis What is the generic name for cialis Buy cialis online Buying generic cialis Buy cialis Cialis forum Cialis for order Cialis online Daily cialis Venta de cialis Viagra cialis levitra Compare cialis levitra viagra Cialis injury attorney ohio Cheap cialis Cialis attorney ohio Cialis injury lawyer ohio Cialis lawyer columbus Cialis attorneys Cialis injury attorney columbus Cialis lawyer ohio Cialis attorney columbus Cialis generic Cialis injury lawyer columbus Cialis cost Cialis professional Cialis side effects Cialis to buy new zealand Cialis daily Discount cialis Buy generic cialis Cialis dosage Cialis clock Viagra cialis generica Sildenafil cialis generico Cheap cialis sale online Low cost cialis Is levitra better than cialis Prices cialis Viagra versus cialis Cialis canada Cialis commercial Cialis vs viagra Order cialis online Cialis for women Cialis overnight Daily use cialis Generic cialis 10mg Cialis soft tabs Cialis for daily use Generic cialis price compare Cialis cheap Cialis experience Cialis uk Herbal cialis How does cialis work Liquid cialis Top internet cialis web sites Viagra cialis Cheap generic cialis Cialis daily use Cialis message board Cialis no prescription Cialis reviews Cialis super active Comprar cialis generico Generic cialis from india Viagra cialis online What medical plans pay for cialis medication Ciales Cialis daily dose Cialis generic link otstoyname viagra Cialis pricing Cialis pro Cialis women Order cialis Prescription cialis us pharmacy Buying cialis Cialis alternative Cialis on line Cialis small packs Free cialis Generic cialis india Generic cialis price comapre Generic cialis soft Generic cialis soft online Levitra vs cialis Cialis super active online kaufen Cialis super active kaufen Potenzmittel cialis super active kaufen Original cialis super active kaufen Cialis super active kaufen in Cialis super active kaufen apotheke Cialis super active zum kaufen Orginal cialis super active kaufen Cialis super active kaufen Wo kann mann cialis super active kaufen Cialis online kaufen Cialis kaufen Potenzmittel cialis kaufen Original cialis kaufen Cialis kaufen in Cialis kaufen apotheke Cialis zum kaufen Orginal cialis kaufen Cialis kaufen Wo kann mann cialis kaufen Kaufen cialis online Kaufen cialis Levitra online kaufen Levitra kaufen Potenzmittel levitra kaufen Original levitra kaufen Levitra kaufen in Levitra kaufen apotheke Levitra zum kaufen Orginal levitra kaufen Levitra kaufen Wo kann mann levitra kaufen Kaufen levitra Kaufen levitra online Kaufen original levitra Kaufen levitra original Kaufen levitra - best pharmacy online Cheapest price for you! kaufen levitra Viagra online kaufen Viagra kaufen Potenzmittel viagra kaufen Original viagra kaufen Viagra kaufen in Viagra kaufen apotheke Viagra zum kaufen Orginal viagra kaufen Viagra kaufen Wo kann mann viagra kaufen Viagra professional online kaufen Viagra professional kaufen Potenzmittel viagra professional kaufen Original viagra professional kaufen Viagra professional kaufen in Viagra professional kaufen apotheke Viagra professional zum kaufen Orginal viagra professional kaufen Viagra professional kaufen Wo kann mann viagra professional kaufen Viagra online kaufen Viagra kaufen Potenzmittel viagra kaufen Original viagra kaufen Viagra kaufen in Viagra kaufen apotheke Viagra zum kaufen Orginal viagra kaufen Viagra kaufen Wo kann mann viagra kaufen Viagra professional online kaufen Viagra professional kaufen Potenzmittel viagra professional kaufen Original viagra professional kaufen Viagra professional kaufen in Viagra professional kaufen apotheke Viagra professional zum kaufen Orginal viagra professional kaufen Viagra professional kaufen Wo kann mann viagra professional kaufen Cheap levitra Levitra How does levitra work Venta de levitra Viagra cialis levitra Levitra dangers Compare cialis levitra viagra Levitra side effects Generic levitra Levitra versus viagra What is better viagra or levitra Levitra attorneys Is levitra better than cialis Comprar levitra generico Levitra lawyers Levitra result Levitra reviews Levitra testimonials Buy levitra Purchasegenericdrugs.com levitra Levitra cheap Cheapest generic levitra Levitra professional Levitra vs cialis Levitra vs viagra Buy levitra vardenafil Compare levitra and viagra Effects of levitra on women How much grapefruit levitra Levitra dosage Levitra for women Levitra online Levitra review Costo levitra How long does levitra last Levitra competitor Levitra for use by women Levitra grapefruit Levitra out of state Levitra users Viagra compare levitra Cialis viagria levitra Difference between levitra and viagra Does levitra enable more orgasms Enhance levitra Grapefruit and levitra Grapefruit juice boost levitra How to make hard on with levitra Husband did not tell me he takes levitra Levitra and high blood pressure Levitra boner Levitra cock cum Levitra dosing Levitra from mexico Natural levitra Price levitra Us pharmacy selling levitra What does levitra look like 20mg generic levitra order online Cheap viagra levitra Cheaper viagra levitra apcalis Cheapest levitra Compare viagara levitra Generic viagra cialis levitra cheap Generic viagra levitra generic cialis pills Levitra 10mg Levitra and alcohol Levitra and grapefruit Levitra dick Levitra hard on Levitra headache Levitra or viagra Levitra sample Levitra women Re viagra, cialis levitra Side effects of levitra Viagra cialis levitra combination Amphetamines with levitra Bayer levitra cheapest price online pharmacy Bayer levitra professional pro Blockers and alpha levitra Bodybuilding with levitra Buy levitra on line Buy levitra on-line Buy levitra viagra Can i buy levitra at walgreens Cheap levitra viagra href foro forum Cheaper viagra levitra cialis Cheaper viagra levitra cyalis Cialis generic levitra viagra Cialis, viagra, levitra samples Compare cialis viagra levitra ratings Compare viagra cialis levitra Discount cialis levitra viagra Does levitra work for women Dosing levitra Drug interactions with levitra Genaric levitra Get free levitra Phentermine Phentermine 37 5mg Phentermine side effects Cheap phentermine Discount phentermine How does phentermine work Phentermine no prescription Side effects of taking phentermine Phentermine without prescription Phentermine and methamphetamine Extra cheap phentermine Strongest phentermine Long term phentermine use Phentermine side effects dangers Buy phentermine Difference between adipex and phentermine Phentermine cheap Phentermine very cheap Phentermine 6 pm order Cheap 37 5 phentermine Better phentermine or adipex Phentermine online Buy phentermine online Site3aromkafegreatnowfecom phentermine Negative side effects of phentermine Wholesale phentermine Where can i purchase phentermine Phentermine 37.5 mg Cheap phentermine without a prescription Cheap phentermine free shipping Phentermine 90 pills free dr. consultation ---------------------------------------------------------------------------Phentermine prescription online Generic phentermine Phentermine at discount prices Phentermine overnight Is phentermine dangerous Phentermine diet pill Phentermine order cheap Online diet clinics that prescribe phentermine Phentermine without a prescription Low cost phentermine Compare prices of phentermine Phentermine quick Is phentermine safe Phentermine 6pm order Phentermine hcl Where can i buy phentermine without a rx Buy phentermine online with paypal Phentermine prescription Phentermine on sale Phentermine online without prescription Adipex versus phentermine Dangers of phentermine Phentermine reviews Where can i buy phentermine without a prescription Buy phentermine cheap medication the prescribing inurl Is phentermine safe to take Buy cheap phentermine Lowest priced phentermine Phentermine in canada Phentermine no rx What is phentermine Free consultation for phentermine Negative side effects from phentermine Phentermine with free shipping Where can i purchase phentermine in florida Can i take phentermine with zoloft Phentermine 35.7 mg Phentermine lowest prices What are the risks of taking phentermine Buying phentermine without a rx How quickly can you lose weight on phentermine Phentermine consultation Phentermine hydrochloride Phentermine overdose Phentermine success stories Will phentermine give a false positive ana blood test Buy phentermine online without a prescription Cheap phentermine without prescription Herbal phentermine Long term side effects of phentermine Phentermine online md Phentermine warnings No prescription phentermine Online phentermine Phentermine ingredients Phentermine studies Does a drug test detect phentermine How long does phentermine stay in your system Phentermine 30mg Phentermine no script What is the generic version of phentermine Buy phentermine without prescription Expected weight loss with phentermine Phentermine 30 mg Phentermine diet Phentermine prozac combination Phentermine tablets Buy phentermine no prescription Cheap phentermine no rx Soma Buy soma Soma online Cheap soma Buy soma online Order soma Online soma Generic soma About soma Soma carisoprodol Propecia Buy propecia Order propecia online Cheap propecia Propecia online Generic propecia Loss propecia Propecia patent Propecia buy Getpharma propecia Xenical Order xenical Buy xenical About xenical What is xenical Cheap xenical Cheap xenical paypal uk Buy xenical online Xenical hgh phentermine quit smoking detox Xenical diet pills Ultram Buy ultram Cheap ultram Generic ultram Ultram er Ultram online pharmacy Tramadol ultram What is ultram Buy ultram online Purchase ultram Tramadol Tramadol online Tramadol hcl Tramadol drug Cheap tramadol Buy tramadol Tramadol hydrochloride Tramadol for dogs Order tramadol online Ingredients in tramadol Tramadol side effects Tramadol withdraw What is tramadol Tramadol cod Tramadol no prescription Is tramadol a narcotic Cheapest tramadol available online Tramadol 50mg Tramadol hci Canine tramadol Side effects tramadol Buy tramadol without a prescription Tramadol more addicting than vicodin Cheap tramadol without prescription Tramadol 100mg Tramadol prescription drug Tramadol 50 mg Buy tramadol cod Low price tramadol Side effects of tramadol Side effects of tramadol hydrochloride Tramadol habit forming Tramadol hydrochloride withdrawal Tramadol overdose What is tramadol used for Buy tramadol online Snorting tramadol Tramadol by cod to california Tramadol scam Tramadol withdraw support group Very cheap tramadol Purchase tramadol Tramadol dosage Tramadol without prescription Buy cheap tramadol Prescription tramadol Buy tramadol at a cheap price online Buy tramadol cheap medication inurl Canine tramadol side effects Cod tramadol Next day tramadol No prescription tramadol Tramadol depression Buy tramadol on line Order tramadol Tramadol contains Tramadol foreign Tramadol high Tramadol on line Tramadol saturday delivery Tramadol withdrawal Can take tramadol with vicodin Cheap tramadol fedex overnight Is tramadol a synthetic opiate Is tramadol addictive Is tramadol an opiate Tramadol cheap Tramadol dogs Tramadol ship to 50 states Will crushing tramadol get it to work faster Buy tramadol by cod pay Buy tramadol online without perscription Cheap tramadol cod delivery Getting high on tramadol Is tramadol narcotic Tramadol addiction Tramadol by cod Tramadol cash on delivery Tramadol dog Tramadol medication Tramadol without a prescription Cheapest tramadol cod Possession tramadol washington Tramadol 180 Tramadol hcl 50 mg Tramadol hcl 50 mg tab Tramadol overnight Tramadol saturday delivery norx Tramadol side effects for dogs Veterinary tramadol Can you snort tramadol Controlled substances tramadol Does tramadol get you high Free overnight tramadol Hair follicle drug sample example report tramadol Info on tramadol aside Tramadol hcl Tramadol euphoria Viagra Buying viagra Buying viagra online Does viagra help you have multiple erections Cheapest uk supplier viagra Viagra suppliers in the uk Viagra equivalent Buy cheap viagra online uk Viagra uk Herbal viagra reviews Purchase viagra online Viagra for sale without a prescription Women does viagra work Problems with viagra Free viagra sample Which is better cialis or viagra Buy viagra online Generic viagra Free viagra Cheap viagra Buy viagra Viagra for women Viagra side effects Watermelon viagra Alternative to viagra Female viagra Herbal viagra Natural viagra Order viagra Viagra online Viagra best What is better viagra or levitra Viagra alterna Levitra versus viagra Compare cialis levitra viagra Viagra uk cheap purchase buy Viagra generic Viagra for sale Venta de viagra Viagra 6 free samples Viagra cialis levitra Discount viagra Viagra energy drink Viagra attorneys Viagra cheap Uk alternative viagra Watermelon and viagra Buy viagra online inu Viagra online uk Best price for generic viagra How does viagra work Canada viagra Websites for generic viagra tablets Online viagra Try viagra for free Cheap viagra line uk Uk viagra sales Viagra inurl Viagra on line Viagra samples Cheapest viagra Cheapest viagra prices Free viagra in the uk Viagra canada Over the counter viagra Viagra dosage Viagra testimonials Viagra without prescription Generic viagra india Guaranteed cheapest viagra Mail order viagra Suppliers of viagra Viagra alternative Viagra discount Viagra no perscription usa Cheapest viagra in uk Gay viagra Online pharmacy viagra Viagra cialis generica Viagra generico impotencia Buy viagra onli Cheapest viagra anywhere Cheapest viagra to buy online in uk Mexico pharmacy generic viagra Viagra commercials Viagra results Viagra super active Order viagra online Viagra alternative new drugs Viagra where to buy in the united kingdom Adverse side effects of viagra Effects of viagra Natural viagra substitutes Non prescription viagra