Crowdsourcing will kill Fake News

Once a story goes live, anyone can log in and suggest changes. Unlike on Wikipedia, those changes won’t appear immediately in the story. Either a staff member or a designated community moderator will have to approve. Wales’ goal is to get enough donations to hire 10 full-time reporters, who will report to him as editor in chief. As on Wikipedia, you’ll be able to see who made the changes.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmey Wales is on a mission. A mission which is, some argue, the ultimate democratic (or even socialist) experiment – slowly, surely, crowdsourcing is taking over the world. Now, Wales is launching Wikitribune , which will “harness the expertise of the crowd to effectively edit and update news.” Explicitly subtitled as ‘Evidence based journalism’, it is clear that Wales’ project is a response to the rapidly rising epidemic of ‘Fake News’ on the Internet, which is disturbing to a large amount of people. He is envisioning that crowdsourcing will out the truth. In essence, volunteer expertise fighting misinformation.

Wikipedia’s SEO value (how high it appears on Google search results pages) is testimony to the popularity of a platform which eschews traditional models of encyclopedia for the ‘Wiki’ – a database of knowledge researched, created, edited and approved by the crowd. Although this oversimplifies the model a bit, it is certainly proving more and more effective further afield:

A couple of years ago the Museum of Natural History at the University of Oslo asked, not members of, but ALL of the general public to help them classify specimens, with the following message: “Are you interested in natural history? Help us to capture label information from images of specimens from the Norwegian natural history collections in Oslo.

This is not the first time ‘Citizen Scientists’ have been used to enhance and evolve scientific knowledge – the University of Washington’s Andromeda Project asked the public to map out the heavens, and has a myriad of projects all designed to use crowdsourcing to enhance humanities scientific knowledge. In their own words: “The Zooniverse enables everyone to take part in real cutting edge research in many fields across the sciences, humanities, and more. The Zooniverse creates opportunities for you to unlock answers and contribute to real discoveries.

What Wales is proposing is going a step further. Instead of labeling and disseminating, he is asking people to report on real life; asking them to verify, edit and help identify ‘the facts’. This kind of model is almost completely opposite to the traditional model of journalism, where “You don’t show a source a story before you publish it, and you don’t let a source dictate changes to a story afterword, beyond correcting true factual errors. Otherwise, you’re just doing PR,” says Wired’s Emily Dreyfuss.

It’s true that Wikitribune will be walking a very fine line – one which brings into question the whole journalistic enterprise: are journalists the guardians of the truth? Should they be? Ultimately, news is for the people, so who says it shouldn’t be by the people? Only you (and billions of other potential users of Wikitribune) will decide…

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