Exploring the Rabbit Hole that is Wikipedia

This blog post explores both how administrators manage Wikipedia and the discrepancies within articles published around a common theme.

Upon entering middle school my teachers adamantly informed students that Wikipedia, while useful as a starting point, is an unreliable resource and should not be cited in research papers. The six million, free to access, articles make the web-based encyclopedia a tempting resource to use for quick information. It is probable to assume that a majority of the articles published in the site relate to some aspect of history. The accessibility of the site differentiates from databases such as ProQuest and JSTOR, which as Roy Rosenzweig affirms in his article “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” require hefty subscription costs.

The open-source model of Wikipedia allows anonymous its “volunteer army” to collaboratively edit the information on the site, and grants individuals the freedom to copy text from Wikipedia and post it on their own personal sites. By doing this, users must acknowledge that the content on their website is under the same limitations and restrictions as Wikipedia.

To understand how Wikipedia works and managed I searched three interrelated topics: the Colorado Labor Wars, Bill Haywood, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. I examined the layout of each page as well as the “Talk” and “View History” tabs located at the top of the pages.

The “Talk” tab informs users how the editors of Wikipedia rate the quality of the information published on the individual page as well as its importance in relation to other articles published around this topic. As you can see in the screenshot below site administrators indicated that when compared to other articles published on organized labor the on the Colorado Labor Wars is rated as mid-importance. In terms of quality, the article is placed in the B-Class which indicates that it is suitable.

The “View History” tab reveals the frequency of the edits and which accounts are making them. By skimming through this tab I learned that the creator and one of the more frequent editors of the article, Richard Myers, is a graphic designer, union activist, and thirty-three-year member of the AFL-CIO. This background information provides context as to why someone created a page on a series of intense labor conflicts erased from historical narratives about the turn of the twentieth century. According to his user page, site administrators deemed Myers a “Veteran Editor,” which acknowledges his contributions his two years of service to the site and eight thousand edits.

A search for Bill Haywood produces an article that features a green plus symbol. This marking indicates that site administrators deemed this a “good article.” Of the little of six million articles published on Wikipedia, editors only granted this title to a little over thirty thousand.

The third search I conducted on notable labor activist, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, revealed the discrepancies within the amount of attention and information afforded to articles highlighting women. Despite the editors deeming this article of high importance, it remains at a C-Class on the quality scale. While the quality of the article on Haywood has gone through reassessments so editors could deem it a “good article” the one published on Flynn, who also made invaluable contributions to organized labor, neither provides the same wealth of information nor maintained to the same standard as articles written about prominent male labor activists.

These discrepancies expose the gender biases embedded within the site.

One Reply to “Exploring the Rabbit Hole that is Wikipedia”

  1. Great article link, Leah! I really appreciated how Rosenzweig also pointed out this bias and discrepancy, but he seemed to attribute it more to the lack of ‘interest’ in gendered topics. It is certainly a downfall of open source materials that rely on a community to contribute to their database.
    I think Rosenzweig refers to popular versus academic history, which made me think of how this can help Public Historians find topics of interest that might not be on our radar. (Either from the ‘wow this is super popular’ perspective or ‘wow there is nothing on this’ perspective.

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