Managing Misinformation Mayhem on Wikipedia

Search engines are the first destination for information on the internet, but Wikipedia follows as a close second. Although Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, when breaking news happens, people visit Wikipedia for information. Wikipedia's trustworthiness comes from policies such as Reliable Sources. It has become evident with the COVID-19 pandemic that the public depends on Wikipedia for accuracy. So it is worthwhile to visit how Wikipedia controls misinformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on Wikipedia's editorial system, composed of volunteer editors. Strict adherence to Wikipedia principles, such as requiring secondary sources, proves that the self-governing platform is robust for mitigating the propagation of misinformation. The first reports of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) appeared in the US news in January. Visitor traffic to the coronavirus Wikipedia article peaked for two weeks following the news. Volunteer editors in WikiProject Medicine (a group on Wikipedia devoted to Wikipedia articles about medicine and health) took note of the surge in visitor traffic. They then instituted mechanisms to prevent misinformation mayhem on the site.

First, on coronavirus-related Wikipedia articles, anonymous editing is prohibited. Only registered users with at least 30 days tenure and 500 edits are allowed to edit. The practice is common for preventing the spread of misinformation added by inexperienced Wikipedia users and unscrupulous anonymous editors. 11,682 edits occurred on the top four coronavirus-related Wikipedia articles (coronavirus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2,

coronavirus disease 2019 and 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic)

Visitor traffic to the top four coronavirus-related articles from 2/1/20 to 3/15/20

Second, Wikipedians continued to disambiguate the content by separating articles on the virus, the disease, and the pandemic. There are 5,392 mentions of coronavirus on Wikipedia. Of those mentions, there are a few hundred coronavirus-related Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia editors created the COVID-19 article on February 5, 2020. WikiProject Disaster Management outlines the protocols for managing Wikipedia articles about disaster events. Then editors created Wikipedia articles for each country that has known cases of the virus. The Wikipedia article Misinformation related to 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic Wikipedia article was created on March 11, 2020 created by Wikipedia superuser DocJames on March 11, 2020. It was followed by a message by Katherine Maher, Executive Director, Wikipedia Foundation assuring Wikipedia readers about Wikipedia's trustworthiness as a source of information.

Disambiguation helps Wikipedia visitors reach the information most relevant to their interests from a direct search on Google, Bing, or Wikipedia itself. At the time of writing, over 19 million people visited the Wikipedia articles listed above [February 1, 2020 - March 15, 2020].

Third, members of WikiProject Medicine utilize the WikiProject Medicine discussion board to list priorities such as the need for quality secondary sources and correct usage of nomenclature. The discussion board makes it easy to identify priorities for improving the coronavirus-related Wikipedia articles.

Time and time again, Wikipedia proves it is the preeminent knowledgebase on the internet. Since 2001, Wikipedia has expanded in size and scale to over 50 million Wikipedia articles, demonstrating its information is reliable despite protestations that “anyone can edit” the content. In the face of the recent global pandemic, the Wikipedia community rose to the occasion by helping to educate the populace with accuracy and verifiability. When news reporting quality comes into question, the Wikipedia volunteer editors' ability to cite verifiable sources on Wikipedia articles becomes invaluable. Two-thousand one hundred and fifty (2150) volunteer editors on coronavirus-related articles highlight Wikipedia's robustness as a content platform. What we can learn from this is the positive impact of collective good-faith collaboration and volunteerism.

ADDENDUM: The Wikipedia community further disambiguated COVID-19 to include a COVID-19 Portal and COVID-19 Timeline Wikipedia articles. The COVID-19 Portal layout has news, disease progress, socio-economic impact, and related topics as well as how to volunteer on the WikiProject COVID-19 team. There are 89 participants on the COVID-19 team.

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