Why is Wikipedia man Jimbo Wales keynoting a fake news conference?

Who best to drain the swamp? Why, the biggest alligator

Comment The co-founder of the website that has propagated some of the internet's most enduring falsehoods on an industrial scale will address a Westminster conference about "fake news".

Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia will keynote a Westminster Media Forum entitled "Next steps for tackling fake news". Among the topics is "collaboration, trust and fact-checking".

Jimmy Wales, photo via Shutterstock

Happy birthday: Jimbo Wales' sweet 16 Wikipedia fails

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In many ways Wikipedia pioneered the phenomenon, and journalists' lazy reliance on using it as a source helped falsities to propagate on a scale never seen before. For Wikipedia's birthday this year, we highlighted sixteen of Wikipedia's "fake stories" – although it could have been 16,000. Several of the hoaxes we highlighted ran for years without being noticed, and were repeated by thousands of secondary sources.

"Much of the content in the Croatian version of Wikipedia is not only misleading but also clearly falsified," the country's minister of education despaired after the site had been taken over by far-right extremists. In another example, a glowing Wikipedia profile for an Indian accreditation mill ran unchallenged for years, helping to deprive 15,000 students of their money and hopes.

Wales has been a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation, the charitable body that raises funds for Wikipedia, for over a decade. He has been happy to see Wikipedia lend itself to political campaigning, "going dark" to protest SOPA, and the site takes a distinct editorial line on issues such as intellectual property and reputation. (Wales told a reporter "there is no right to be forgotten" in Europe.)

nyt wikipedia as news

When Google introduced Wikipedia as a legitimate news source, it did so at the expense of professional paid news organisations

Google, with its thirst for free content exceeding any concerns for social responsibility, played its part in setting norms and expectations. In 2009, Google began to include Wikipedia in Google News. Years later Facebook's ad model incentivised the creation of dubious click-bait farms: fake news production at scale.

Wales, an accomplished Davos Man, is shaking the Foundation money tree for cash. In January he announced a paid journalism venture, Wikitribune.

We asked Westminster Media Forum why it had chosen Wales to be the keynote speaker. Wasn't this like delegating the job of "draining the swamp" to the biggest alligator? We've yet to hear a reply.

Perhaps it's the fate of people who created the swamp to lecture everyone else on drainage matters. ®

Bootnote

Wales is represented by The Celebrity Group and can be rented – see here for fees.

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