A few weeks ago, a member of the Whorunsgov community contributed some valuable information to the profile of Douglas Evans Coe, a leader in “The Fellowship.” This contributor did a great thing by trying to help us all know more about Mr. Coe, and even provided a source. But there was one problem: The source came from Wikipedia. Whorunsgov tries to be a fact-checkable wiki, that’s why we moderate the site. But in fact-checking terms, Wikipedia is a big no-no.
In the contributor’s defense, the person let us know that the information came from Wikipedia and we were happy he/she decided to help. With that said, getting reliable information is a problem we often run into as a moderated wiki. Therefore, I’m going to explain the process of fact-checking that each wiki entry goes through before it’s published on Whorunsgov. It’ll explain the process we go through to assure content on the site is reliable. All wiki’s have some sort of weeding out process; this is ours.
When we first get a submission, we see if the contributor also provided an accompanying source. Information that comes from newspaper articles, a government Web site or an official bio doesn’t need to go through any extra layer of checking. This information is published and on public record. We cite the source and publish the profile change.
Now, if the information does not have a fact-checkable source accompanying it, like maybe the information comes from Wikipedia, then our reporters have to search for a reliable source to back-up the contribution. This means we perform an online search. If the information can’t be found online, then we call the profile subject’s office to get confirmation. If we confirm the information, then we post it online. If we can’t confirm, then the contribution is taken out of the profile.
In the case of the contributor who added Wikipedia information to Coe’s profile, an in-house reporter had to find the information. Luckily, the reporter didn’t have to look far. The Wikipedia entry had links to all sorts of information about the leader of the Fellowship. In this case, that was all that was needed to fact-check the profile. If the original contributor had simply used those sources to begin with, he/she would have provided legitimate, fact-checkable content.
And that’s the thin line between reliable and non-reliable information. The simple extra step of going beyond Wikipedia and checking the original articles was all that the reporter needed to do in order to assure the community had reliable content. Any wiki has the challenge to sift out uninformed or lazy contributions from those contributions that are well researched. But the wiki community often finds a way to separate the worthwhile content from the bogus information.
We have our system, what are some tactics you use?
And don't forget to help highlight this week's "Whorunsgov Official of the Week," Deputy CIO at the DoD David Wennergren!