The Online Encyclopaedia that knows everything

Kshitij Naik,

Associate Editor,

The Indian Learning.



Many of us must have used Wikipedia to read about something at some point in our life, or we must have at least come across something from Wikipedia on our search results, what is Wikipedia? Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia that edited and written by its users and anyone and every one can edit or create pages on Wikipedia (It's not that easy but well get back to that later) and a lot of time you might have been advised against relying on Wikipedia by Professors and scholars and there is a good reason for that. Wikipedia does have a lot of information about a lot of things and a lot of people but sometimes this information may not be well researched or may not be genuine, because anyone can add any information to the page. Wikipedia is now much more than just an online encyclopaedia and this article will explain how Wikipedia in the past 18 years has become much more than just an online encyclopaedia. 

Wikipedia and verification of identity

Ever wondered how a lot of social media influencers or celebrities have that blue tick on their social media handles and ever wondered how the social media websites verify the identity of a person? It turns out they use publically available sources to do so and what are these publically available sources, most of the times they are Google and Wikipedia. When you search for a celebrity on Google most of the times the first search result that will pop up on the top will be the celebrities Wikipedia page which will also appear as a window on the right side of your screen, there is a reason for this Google's algorithm is designed in such a way that it favours Wikipedia because it is an Open-source and publically edited platform, so do all Social media handles rely on Wikipedia to verify a person's identity? Thankfully not companies like Facebook uses a much more complex way of identifying a person's identity before giving them the verification badge but some social media websites like Tik Tok mostly relies on publically available sources that we talked about before which is in most of the cases 'Wikipedia', however, this could be disastrous as identity theft is a conmen problem on this websites, helping to get verification badges with the help of Wikipedia has turned into a multi-crore business, an illegal business that mostly runs under the name of consultancy or PR firms and these businesses even pay taxes on their income, we will later see how these businesses are defrauding people and how the whole Wikipedia is being controlled by a handful of people in India. Creating pages on Wikipedia is also easy and all you need to do is cite press releases that mention the person's name, which anybody in the industry knows that most of the times are not genuine.

How is the Wikipedia community run? 

To understand how a handful of people control the whole Wikipedia in India we first need to understand how the Wikipedia community runs.

By now we know that Wikipedia is a community-written and edited Encyclopaedia which means anyone and everyone can create and edit pages about topics and people but is it that easy? Turns out it is not becoming an Wikipedia editor is not so easy there is a hierarchy of Editors so if you edit or create a page it will have to be approved by an editor who is senior to him or a mid level editor which will then have to be approved by a top level editor, there are almost 50 top level editors in India who control the whole Wikipedia space, becoming a top level Wikipedia editor is also not so easy to become a top level editor the edits that you make need to stay up and Wikipedia in returns rewards you with badges and recognitions but your edits need to stick and stay up and if they are reversed by editors who are higher up in the food chain then Wikipedia knows that you are not a good editor, these top editors may reverse your edits if they don't like them or simply because they don't like them so in order to become a top level editor you need 'their' blessings so these top 50 editors are the ones that control the whole Wikipedia space and they are all anonyms and no one knows who they are, however if junior editors want to know why their edits were reversed there are talk pages on Wikipedia where editors can communicate with these top editors however often the reasons that they cite are very vague and which show that they just did not like the edit. That is the reason these top editors are often referred to as the Editors Cartel.

Wikipedia and Business 

These black hat editors or the Editors Cartel as they are known to have made a business out of Wikipedia and it is no more a community-written and edited and written encyclopaedia but a source of business for these editors, this is one of the reasons the students are often asked not to rely on Wikipedia for information. The top business of these editors is to pose as Consultancy firms or PR agencies and help businesses and people get verified on social media, which is often done by either creating fake identities and fake press releases like we talked before sometimes also going to the extent of identity theft of a person whose page already exists.

There is a reason why 'they' are referred to as editors Cartels because they have an organised way of defrauding people and businesses, you children join these agencies as Interns and then maybe promoted to mid-level editors, the whole business is controlled by these top 50 editors who are all anonyms like we mentioned before. With the rise of Political campaigns moving online these editors also use their power to turn peoples opinions about a certain politicians life.

While a lot of people are aware of the fact that these businesses are illegal because Wikipedia being a free-for-all website. These businesses are defrauding people and business for creating pages and keeping them up by charging them when it is free but none of the Government organizations or people has come up to say anything against this fraud.

Efforts by Soumyadipta: A Journalist from West Bengal

Soumyadipta a journalist from West Bengal Recently tried to write an instigative article on these Cartels where they tried to expose that Wikipedia in India is corrupt, he and his friend posed as a PR agency of a relatively unknown male actor they paid 10k to an 'agency' to create a Wikipedia page. The total cost of creating and keeping the page for six months was 50K, however, due to personal reasons he could not complete the article but managed to expose this scam in a bunch of Twitter threads.

Not the First time 

This is not the first time Wikipedia has come into the limelight for such an incidence. Wikipedia has often been called out for undisclosed paid advocacy—the practice of accepting or charging money to promote external interests on Wikipedia without revealing their affiliation. In an Investigation by Wikimedia in 2015 hundreds of "black hat" accounts were found to be connected to each other very similar to the 'cartel' of top editors in India they Soumyadipta talks about. Wikipedia during this investigation blocked 381 Wikipedia editor accounts, these investigations started in the first place because certain agencies tried to 'extort' money from businesses and individuals to create pages on the website while creating pages on Wikipedia is free and anyone can do it but if these business and individuals did not go through these 'agencies' their page wouldn't stay up as these Top Editors had all the control. The accounts that were blocked were a part of a network of deceptive accounts that were found to be approaching businesses and individuals and demanding payment to create pages about them and then protect them from being negatively edited. Tackling paid advocacy editing is an ongoing battle for Wikipedia. In 2013 it blocked more than 250 user accounts for taking payment to write articles on the site without disclosing their commercial motivations. There have also been multiple other instances where Wikipedia has been questioned for their content and Identity theft and for spreading misinformation.


The simplest solution that we can think of is to stop completely relying on Wikipedia for any information at all, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger already know that this is the problem with Wikipedia but have done very less to change the way the hierarchy works on Wikipedia and even being brought to Google's attention about its algorithm favouring Wikipedia it has done very less to solve the problem, however, we believe that it is not Google's fault and making better policies for editing and stricter norms for sources Wikipedia can return to the original Encyclopaedia that it was that had well-researched articles and information on it but whether this will happen only time will tell until then the business of hiring secret guns to make people matter online will continue to flourish.

Get a better solution to write back to us and we will include them in this article.


Also, have a look at Soumyadipta's Twitter thread:

https://twitter.com/Soumyadipta/status/1268777956744335361




 

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