How often does Jimmy Wales use Wikipedia
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Twenty years ago, Jimmy Wales founded one of the cornerstones of the internet: Wikipedia. We asked him how Wikipedia can survive in the era of misinformation - and what he thinks that a German education minister has invested a few million euros in a school license for Brockhaus.
From: Gregor Schmalzried
Zündfunk: You founded Wikipedia in 2001 and are still one of the faces of the Internet to this day. At a time when we increasingly have the feeling that the internet wants to manipulate us via algorithms and data collections and promotes destructive ideologies like QAnon - do you still believe in the good on the internet?
Jimmy Wales: Yeah. I mean, I am a huge fan of the internet. Of course, we've seen some worrying developments over the past few years. But I think we should always keep in mind what positive influence the internet is also having. With the coronavirus and the lockdown alone, I can't imagine how we could function at all without the internet.
You are currently building a new social media platform, WT Social. How did that happen?
For a number of years I have been concerned about the problems caused by bad information on the net. So it came to the news platform Wiki Tribune, and finally to WT Social. We believe the core of the problem is that social media is monetized in a way that encourages outrage, addiction, and bad information - because that's the content that gets people to spend more time on the pages. We have a different business model, no paywall, no advertising. We depend on voluntary support from people who want to contribute to our idea. We want to find out: How can we invent a new form of social media that focuses on the community, that is more fun and, overall, is simply more sincere?
What about Wikipedia? Do you think Wikipedia is doing well in the fake news and information crisis we live in?
I think so. Wikipedia does not depend on advertising, but on donations, especially small donations. Therefore, as an organization, we are not interested in producing clickbait content. We don't have articles titled, "Here are 17 Outrageous Things Donald Trump Did Last Week". It's not our style. Wikipedia can be pretty boring, but in a very interesting way. And that's what people like about it, too. Because while there is more and more badly done press and misinformation, we have continued to improve in terms of quality.
We had a little political controversy in Germany last week when the state of North Rhine-Westphalia invested several million euros for schoolchildren - in a three-year license for the online version of Brockhaus, including a children's and youth dictionary to make them available to schoolchildren. Years ago there were studies that found more errors in Brockhaus than in Wikipedia. What do you think of the story?
Well, that sounds like a bad idea at first. But of course I have to say that. On the other hand ... When I was growing up we had the World Book Encyclopedia - an edition especially for children. And I've always felt that Wikipedia is not a perfect substitute for a children's encyclopedia. I was once on an arranged visit to a school in South Africa and there the children read the Wikipedia entry on “Coal”. They wanted to show me: "Look, the kids are using Wikipedia, isn't that great?" And I took one of the printed out sheets of paper and saw: Even the first sentence of the article contains a very technical term, it was not really accessible to children. So if there is such a thing as a Brockhaus children's edition, that might be interesting. But when it comes to the whole Brockhaus ... I mean, Wikipedia is free.
Wikipedia is not a simple reference work either - you have to click back and forth to deal with the content.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales at DLD Munich 2020.
Yes absolutely. Especially when it comes to the education of young people, I think it's incredibly important that media skills are promoted. And Wikipedia can help with that. If I'm teaching a class of 13-year-olds I can bring a Wikipedia article and say, let's look at this together and see if we can trust the article. And then it says, for example, that a section is missing sources or that the neutrality of the text is controversial, we have a lot of disclaimers of this kind on Wikipedia. So let's deal with: Why is it there? Who wrote that? Just like when an actress tweeted that she didn't believe in vaccinations. What do we think of that? How do we analyze that? In this way we can help to deal better with false information floating around.
The large amount of misinformation on the Internet also means that simple sentences become political statements. Just the first few paragraphs of Donald Trump's English Wikipedia entry contain some facts that he and his fans would deny, for example that he often lied in the election campaign and lost the election to Joe Biden. How do I handle this?
I say Wikipedia should always be neutral. And that means reflecting the best information available. If there is a legitimate disagreement, let us add it. But if you write neutrally about the moon, you shouldn't write: "Some say the moon is made of rock, others say the moon is made of cheese." Because it's not true. But these things are often tricky. It takes good-willed, careful people to evaluate and properly evaluate the evidence. In the Wikipedia entry about the 2020 US election, of course, it says that Joe Biden won the election. But it also says that Donald Trump contradicted this. And if you read this and come to the conclusion that Donald Trump is a liar, then that is also true. This is not a political statement, it just feels like one to some people, unfortunately.
In the last few years in particular, there has been repeated criticism that the authorship on Wikipedia is shaped above average by white men, and that this leads to problems of neutrality. Is there anything that could have been done differently in the past twenty years to prevent this? And how do you look at it today?
When people say that, I like to joke that they have never met the Wikipedia community in Japan or China, because they barely fit into this demographics. But of course that only shows that the problem is not necessarily “white”, but that it is based on a deeper question about participation in Wikipedia. I'm not sure what we could have done differently. But I know what we're working towards in the future. We want to be open and inclusive. In the past, for example, it was very difficult to edit articles from a technical point of view. We made it a lot easier. And we also have to take care of our internal culture: are we really welcoming everyone? We recently adopted new rules of conduct at the instigation of the community to ensure that bad behavior in the community is not tolerated. It's an ongoing process.
The interview was conducted by Hubert Burda Media on the sidelines of the DLD All Stars conference.
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