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Wikipedia pranksters and Google searches

By Scott Tibbs, July 12, 2018

If you follow enough conservatives on Twitter, you're probably seeing calls for Google to "stop the bias" because the search engine results include descriptions of Republicans as Nazis, references to "cocaine Mitch" and other things. This is one of those times when I just facepalm because these conservatives simply do not know what they are talking about.

It is silly to blame Google for this. The entries are not Google entries. They are Wikipedia entries. I went over this way back in 2010, but many people do not understand how Wikipedia works. Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced encyclopedia where anyone can register an account and edit articles. This allows a lot of information to be posted, and there are innumerable Wikis on various subjects all over the internet.You can find information on Wikipedia much more easily than anywhere else because of the large user base. But the reality is that the information is only as reliable as the person doing the editing.

The downside to Wikipedia's model is that it is vulnerable to pranksters and trolls. When Google started including text boxes from Wikipedia in search results, pranksters and trolls knew they could vandalize Wikipedia pages to get negative propaganda on basic Google searches. That is where you get the "Google search results" describing Republicans as Nazis and other things. (Of course, there are pranksters and trolls on the Right as well.) The problem is not Google itself but the structural vulnerability of Wikipedia. The site's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness.

The obvious answer is for Google to stop using Wikipedia for info boxes, due to the vulnerability of Wikipedia's site to vandalism. Either eliminate the info boxes or use a site with stricter editorial controls. Google knows about this problem, so there is no excuse not to fix it.