A source such as Wikipedia has an obligation to supply factual information. However, allowing unauthenticated people to make unbounded and arbitrary changes to the site does not foster accuracy.
Wikipedia suffers from not only criticisms of accuracy, but frequent vandalism as well. Currently, Wikipedia relies on readers to discover vandalism and inaccuracies and to resolve them appropriately. However, as Wikipedia continues to become a central and credible source of information, an echo chamber effect develops where users believe what they have read because they "read it on Wikipedia" even though there are no cited references in the entries they have read.
Soon, other sources of information report what was reported on Wikipedia. Wikipedia may then in turn cite them. In these cases, none of the sources are credible although they appear to be. The result is inaccurate or blatantly false information being reported as factual.
Much of the vandalism reported on Wikipedia comes from unauthenticated, IP-addressed edits, not from users who have logged-in. [Some articles are 90% hack-edits + reverts]. Users that have to log-in are probably less likely to vandalize entries or to contribute biased or inaccurate information.
The current penalty of "Wikipedia will ban the whole network using that IP address" is only a consequence to editors who respect others on the same network. People who contribute inaccurate information or vandalize entries are most likely not respectful of others on their network, thus making the penalty moot. For example, college dorm students on the last day of school probably would not be deterred by such a threat.
The accuracy of Wikipedia could be improved by requiring editors to at least create an account and login before making changes. This process takes less than 5 minutes but will likely result in a higher-quality product, at very minimum because users will feel accountable after having logged-in.
Further, creating a reputation system for users [or a "trusted-user system"] would allow users to identify others that are not contributing accurate and useful content, so that their capacity to contribute such information could be decreased. Users that contribute accurate, undisputed and cited information would have a higher reputation than users that contribute inaccurate information, biased information or information without cited sources, or vandalism.
Also, users with high reputation are to be allowed to edit protected articles, and as their reputation goes up, they can edit more sensitive issues. Moreover, experts should share in the reputation system, with their reputation-points weighing more than those of regular users [such as in making bizarre changes to medical articles].
Many of us have had the following conversation: "I bet you $1 that X is not Y." Upon getting home, you check Wikipedia to discover that X is in fact Y. Disgruntled, you say "you edited Wikipedia to say that, didn't you?" This type of conversation shows that the debtor doubts the accuracy of Wikipedia, and is aware of its inherent flaws. Even though it's in jest, this exchange would not be humorous if it did not contain a kernel of truth. Indeed, this scenario has surely unfolded before, possibly to the detriment of other users who accept Wikipedia as a credible source of information.
Take as an example the node for Operation Repo. The last line of the entry read "BTW, Anyone can edit this, so don't believe everything you read here." I re-read the entry and questioned its assertion that the show is scripted. TruTV's site does not say anything about the show being scripted although TruTV probably would not advertise such. Is it really scripted? I don't know. If that last line hadn't been present, I probably would've just accepted that it was. I (anonymously) removed the line about allowing anyone to edit, but now I'm left wondering and others will blindly accept the information in the entry without any citations.
Some core issues to consider:
- Would editors feel compelled to submit only accurate and cited information if there were a reputation system that tracked their actions?
- Is the accuracy of information contributed by authenticated editors greater than unauthenticated ones?
- What percentage of vandalism comes from unauthenticated editors? [perhaps 95% of all vandalism comes from IP-address edits]
- How many good editors start by doing a couple of IP edits, and whether losing such newbies is a sensible thing to do
Potential costs and benefits
There are some slight costs to consider, but also potential savings or other benefits could be gained.
Requiring an account and logon to make changes to Wikipedia would cost next to nothing. Creating an account is a simple operation, that most contributors have already performed, so it will not create a significant barrier to contribution. Alternatively, with a trusted-user system, IP addresses could be assigned trust-levels depending on how long the IP-address made edits without incident, and some institutions could be granted higher trust-levels for their "hard-wired" IP addresses.
Building a peer reputation-rating system would only incur the expenses of engineering the system itself, as well as maintaining it. There are many precedents for such a system, so it should not require any unusual research or development costs.
Blocking the IP-address hacked edits could reduce revision-counts by 90% in many semi-notorious articles: that could be a wikiserver-storage reduction of about 90% of revisions for those articles. Currently, many highly controversial articles are already protected, to block all IP edits. However, other semi-notorious articles get hacked only every few days, but the accumulated effect is that 90% of the edits are hackings+reverts for those articles.
- Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Create a reputation system and require logging-in to edit.
- Wikipedia:PERRENIAL#Prohibit anonymous users from editing (Wikipedia)
- On English Wikipedia: WP:Vandalism won by 2009.
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