While sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have been plagued with bogus political stories created by Moldovan teenagers and Pizzagate conspiracy theorists, Wikipedia, the web’s de facto encyclopedia, has remained notably fake news free. As co-founder Jimmy Wales put it in recently in an interview with VICE News, “the phenomenon of fake news has had almost no impact on Wikipedia.”
Wales would be first to tell you why: Wikipedia’s thousands of volunteer editors and the site’s high sourcing standards, he says, are remarkably effective at keeping even contested entries clean.
Now Wales, 50, wants to apply what’s worked at Wikipedia to the actual business of news. It’s called Wikitribune, which like Wikipedia will depend on its “community” of readers for funding and real-time fact checking, alongside a paid staff of journalists who report, write and fact check stories. The project’s tagline: “Evidence-based journalism.”
To raise money for the launch, Wales is running a 29-day fundraising campaign that bears more than a passing resemblance to Wales’ infamous annual pleas for Wikipedia’s funding drives. The site will be supported by monthly contributors, rather than ad revenue.
“The number of people who have been willing to pay for subscriptions… has really skyrocketed,” Wales said in a CNN interview on Tuesday, which leads him to believe “the public is really ready to say we want quality journalism.”
Wales has been thinking about this idea for some time now. In an interview in January, he flicked at a couple of ideas that are now a part of the Wikitribune project. Rather than focus on partnerships with sites like what Facebook is doing with Politifact, which Wales characterized as a “top-down” approach, Wikitribune will allow its readers to verify journalists’ sources in real-time.
Wales gives Facebook a lot of credit for attacking the problem of fake news. “It is great that Facebook is turning to outside third parties” like Politifact and Snopes.com,” Wales said in an email, although he’s skeptical of whether Facebook’s approach will ultimately work.
“I don’t think anybody who is trying to think about being a good citizen online is comfortable with saying, ‘well, Facebook should decide what [news] we’re looking at,’” he said.
Traditional journalism has also been top-down, but Wales said that won’t be the approach at Wikitribune. “And I do not agree that hiring journalists to work side by side as equals with community members is ‘top down,’” he said. “That is old-school thinking that journalists are by default ‘above’ the community.”
He also said that advertising was a “factor” in propagating fake news on social media, and that readers can reasonably “wonder if the New York Times [and other news publications] is being influenced inappropriately by advertisers.”
On Wikipedia, “reliable sources”…