When I arrive at UCC one recurring message is ever present, DO NOT CITE WIKIPEDIA ON PAIN OF DEATH…or probably, in reality, not a very good mark. Fast forward to undertaking a Masters…. I recall a conversation, regarding what the MA entailed, with a member of the English department who vaguely mentions a blog. Stupidly I actually think this involves pen and paper! More of that story later.
Rude awakening alert. Suffice to say the rude awakening becomes something of a tsunami with the realisation that we are, for real, required as an assignment, i.e MARKS, to edit Wikipedia!!!! and to live Tweet the process.
I suggest UCC may be, as they say in the vernacular, messing with our heads!
The assignment involves picking a Wikipedia page, preferably one that is connected in someway to our thesis interest, and editing it. We have to assess the quality of information on the page, that is, how well sourced and relevant is it. Can we identify any useful information that can be added, such as sources, links to internal Wikipedia pages or external web pages, images, sections or subsections to expand the existing information.
As you know, Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia, supported by the Wikipedia foundation, https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Board_of_Trustees#Structure. It is based on a model of openly editable content provided by anonymous volunteers. Five pillars underpin Wikipedia’s aims:
1). Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not, for example a soapbox, advertising platform, or a directory.
2). It must be written from a neutral point of view, in an impartial tone, be verifiably accurate, with reliable citations and authoritative sources.
3). It’s content is free, anyone can use, edit or distribute its content. Copyright law must be respected and plagiarism avoided.
4). Editors should treat each other with respect and civility.
5). Wikipedia has no firm rules. It has policies and guidelines that can evolve over time.
Before I undertake the assignment I complete the Wikipedia Adventure which gives a basic outline of the rudimentary requirements of editing Wikipedia content. I find it very helpful and I get more badges then when I was in the brownies! Having said that, there is a lot of detail to remember and I realise, because of my inexperience, it is taking me a long time. Editing, like anything else in life, requires years of practice and learning. I am apprehensive. The page I decide to edit is on the Irish playwright Marina Carr because I am doing my thesis on her work.
The first thing that I encounter is an alert warning that the article has multiple issues. It warns the article, “possibly contains original research and the style and tone may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Carr. My first impression is the lack of sourced information on the page. The page lacks any comprehensive record of Marina’s work or suggestions for further reading. The information is also not written from a neutral point of view and does not contain adequate sources. It could not be clearer why we have been advised not to cite Wikipedia.
As we have only two hours to complete our assignment and the work required on the article is considerable I, therefore, have to decide what areas to focus on. I decide to introduce a section heading on her early life, to edit the existing information and provide sources; this involves a major deletion of the existing information. I also decide to introduce another section providing a detailed, accurate, and chronological record of Marina Carr’s work. I have prepared a detailed further reading list, but do not have time to add this. I decide on these particular items as they will be of most use to someone trying to get an understanding of the scope of her work, her contribution to Irish writing, and her achievements to date. I provide screen shots of the page before and after my editing. Two other colleagues also provide sourced information on two of her well known works, By the Bog of Cats and Woman and Scarecrow. The section titled, ‘Reference to themes and history’ still requires serious editing as it has virtually no sourced information and appears to contain original research. It is a good example of content that is not encyclopedic in tone or style and does not have a neutral point of view.
Regarding the tweeting element, I decide to start practicing early because I truly do not understand Twitter and we are using a hashtag thread. I personally never use Twitter and genuinely do not have a great understanding of how it works, #’s????? I appreciate its value in sending a message/alert/advert/notice, etc, but communicating? One observation, having albeit limited experience, is that people appear to be attempting to ‘communicate’, to conduct ‘a dialogue’ in 140 characters, which I find interesting. I am so engrossed in the editing task, I almost forget about tweeting. Unfortunately my mobile phone’s signal or rather lack of prevents tweeting during the assignment. So I learn I am not great at multitasking.
So what have I learned from this assignment? I have a greater understanding of what Wikipedia is trying to achieve. I fully appreciate why academics continuously warn, with justification, against using Wikipedia as a source. What I have not personally resolved is whether an encyclopedia produced by anonymous volunteers is a good idea, especially in a ‘post truth’, ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’, world. There is evidence of vested interests working actively to control flows of information on the internet. https://www.channel4.com/news/fake-news-google-searches-and-what-they-tell-us. Wikipedia have implemented certain levels of restrictions in relation to editing, for example, on the Irish famine, Liverpool and Manchester United football clubs pages, to name a few, because they continuously attract undesirable content. So there are challenges facing this project. I admire Wikipedia’s aims and altruism but whether it can ever fully realise those aims, without, arguably, a greater intervention by academia, remains an outstanding and interesting question.
Carr, Marina. Plays One. London: Faber & Faber, 1999.
Carr, Marina and Tolstoy, Leo. “Biographies”. Anna Karenina. London: Faber &Faber, 2016.
Carr, Marina. “Theatrical Works”. The Agency. Web. 8 Feb 2017.
Marina Carr. Digital Image. Yahoo. n.d. Web. 10th Feb 2017. https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=A0LEVvKd79ZYIAoA2XUnnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByMjB0aG5zBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw–?p=Marina+Carr+Image&fr=yhs-mozilla-102&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-102#id=2&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fimg3.rnkr-static.com%2Fuser_node_img%2F77%2F1522238%2F870%2Fmari
“Marina Carr Interview”. The Works Presents. RTE. 24 Nov 2016. Television.
Wikipedia. Digital Image. Famouslogos.net. n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017. <https://famouslogos.net/images/wikipedia-logo-jpg.