[Air-l] wikipedia and defamation

Dominic Pinto zorro at btinternet.com
Mon Dec 5 22:06:08 PST 2005

--- Bob Rehak <zencat at indiana.edu> wrote:

> Meanwhile, I wonder in the face of the coming
> semester: what's the best way to
> sensitize my 20 and 21-year-old students to the
> alarm that I feel in the face of
> Wikipedia? How do I get them involved? And how do I
> assign credit for it?
> Bob
> ---------------------------------------
> Bob Rehak
> Department of Communication and Culture
> Mottier Hall, 1790 East Tenth St.
> Indiana University
> Bloomington, IN  47405-9700

This, on verifying online sources, is taken from an
initial project proposal worked up some years ago. But
it didn't develop anywhere. Maybe it should now, but I
think some of the suggested approaches worth
Resource Credibility: Teaching Critical Thinking and
On-Line Media Literacy Skills

Cable, radio, satellite and television news
programming costs are in the millions of
pounds/dollars etc. Add to these the costs of
newspapers, magazines and other printed news
publications, and the risks in some countries of libel
or slander prosecutions, most publishers and
journalists carefully check the veracity of the
stories they investigate and write, and their facts,
and will often take legal advice before publishing
high risk stories. Other organisations, such as
academic journals and universities use peer-review
methods to make sure that what is published is

That does not stop dubious, error-ridden, or wholly
false stories being reported, nor government (and
other organisations) propaganda being printed.
Academic journals, despite heavey weight co-authors,
and peer review, are not immune from plagiarism
(although not necessarily false information) and
papers based on falsified data.


How can we verify or be assured that what we see,
hear, and read is accurate and credible, when the
problem is magnified many fold on-line, as anyone can
publish a website, in a few hours, and say anything
they want - often without a credible basis for it. (I
often claim online to be tall, thin, blonde, and
gorgeous. But no one ever said wishful thinking wasn't
allowed online.)


Here are a few things that users should be checking
when they visit a site to read news, review articles
and features, read opinion and editorial columns, or
conduct research:

#	Who's the author or website creator, and what's
their authority, or claimed authority?
Is it written by known journalists (but note that not
even Pulitzer prize winners have always been what they

While many won't tell you that they are unqualified to
make the statements they make at the site, they leave

What are the credentials offered at the site for the
site authors. If the person states that he is a
at Outer Siberia University, you should check for
links to the university. Has the person listed awards?
If so, are there links to the entities that gave the
awards so you can check? Is this person a published
author? If so, does Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or
Borders have his book listed online?

Search for other sites that reference this person. Not
everyone is an award-winning professor and published
author, but most good sources are cited elsewhere

#	What's the bias of the site?

Whose points of view aren't covered? Bias isn't
necessarily bad, as long as it is clear to the site
viewer. Remember that everyone has their bias, but
some are more significant than others. 

Is this a site that performs "unbiased" reviews of
advertisers? If so, have they disclosed that fact to
the readers? Are they a nonprofit entity with a
particular mission or purpose? 

Where was the site created? Is it from an
international group that might have a country or
culture bias?

Is it a U.S. site which might have a U.S. bias?

Often, you can detect bias by reading closely. The
good sites will identify their mission. Think about
who is creating the content, whose points of view are
included, and whose are excluded. Students should try
to achieve balance by including different biases and
points of view when they do their research.

#	How current is this information? 

Does the page, report, or feature have a publication
date - or perhaps a "last updated" date notation?
Archive news materials should be clearly dated for the
point at which they were published, and NOT be
changed. Any changes such as annotations, links, or
addendums subsequent to that date should be clearly

A current news site can expected to be updated
regularly, with new stories or further enhancements
appearing at least daily. It will depend on the nature
of the site. For example, if it is largely a clone of
a printed (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.)
publication it may not change at all between
publication dates. If it claims to be electronic or
special on-line edition, you'd expect to see hourly or
perhaps more frequent changes with 'breaking' news.

If the site doesn't contain a "last updated" date,
look to see if there's a "recent additions" or "what's
new" section of the site, and see how often it is
changed. You want to make sure the content is updated
often, since it tells you two things: that the site
gets regular attention, and that it contains recent

A good news site site is updated regularly. If you
can't tell when a site was last updated, send an
e-mail to the webmaster at "webmaster @[the name of
the site]." Ask how often the site is updated and the
date it was last updated.

#	Are the news stories well-written and, if a feature,
well and consistently argued? Depending on the
explicit or known bias of the organisation or site,
there may well be consistency in the stories carried,
and the general political 'look and feel'.  More
'objective' news organisations may carry articles and
features that are apparently contradictory, and
encourage readers to contribute to a debate - both on
and off line.

Look for the themes of a site and the stories and
articles acrreied. Are they presenting alternate and
opposing views? Are there links to additional
resources, or related stories. Have you compared it to
the same story or topic carried by other news sites?
If, for example during the Iraq War, stories are
pooled (i.e. one report is made by one reporter and
then shared by either news services such as AP,
Reuters, or UPI, or by several newspapers, this should
be clear. If a report appears subject to censorship,
this should also be made clear.

#	What have they linked to? Do the links work? Do they
link to credible sites, and do credible sites link to
them? Are the links correctly described? Are they
current? Who else links to them? Again, is the link
information updated and accurate, or do the links not
work anymore?

There may be real experts in judging the credibility
of resources, but it does not have to be a well
designed or elaborate hoax or con to fool some of the
brightest brains around - cf. the Sunday Times, AJP
Taylor, and the Hitker Diaries. Using your own
critical faculties anjd common sense may be the best
test, using some of these commonsense approaches.

Independent Advisor
36 Bedfordbury Flat 29
Covent Garden
London WC2N 4DQ
e-m: dominic.pinto at ieee.org
M: +44 780 302-8268
Ph: +44 207 379-8341

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