Wikipedia makes this world

Wikipedia’s definition of truth matters, says Technology Review contributing editor Simson Garfinkel, because of the sheer number of people who use the online encyclopedia without a second though about its accuracy.

Whether the Wikipedia’s articles are actually true in any objective sense doesn’t matter as much as users’ opinions — the consensus view, the crowdsourced “wikitruth.” (Garfinkel notes that people must find Wikipedia’s article are “true enough,” otherwise they wouldn’t keep coming back to the site and linking to its content.)

But the epistemological question remains. “So how do the Wikipedians decide what’s true and what’s not? On what is their epistemology based?” For his answers, Garfinkel cites Wikipedia’s own policies, which say that “the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.”

Since anyone can edit the articles, it’s safer for Wikipedia to rely on authority, or at least citations pointing to some third-party, prior-published work that is freely available online, in English if possible. In essence, the site’s volunteer editors cannot take any user at his word; in the interest of accuracy, all contributors are assumed guilty until cited.

So what is Truth? According to Wikipedia’s entry on the subject, “the term has no single definition about which the majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree.” But in practice, Wikipedia’s standard for inclusion has become its de facto standard for truth, and since Wikipedia is the most widely read online reference on the planet, it’s the standard of truth that most people are implicitly using when they type a search term into Google or Yahoo. On Wikipedia, truth is received truth: the consensus view of a subject.


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