Despite its encyclopedic pretensions, Wikipedia is an unstable and undependable as a repository of knowledge. Since each entry can be endlessly edited and re-edited by Wikipedia workers and users, none of the information provided on the platform is reliable.
Topics involving intersections of religion and politics seem to be among the most problematic entries on Wikipedia.
The BBC reports that “Researchers from the University of Oxford and three other institutions analysed logs of the changes made to Wikipedia pages to identify those in the throes of an ‘edit war’. Such a conflict involves editors of pages making changes that are almost instantly undone by another editor.”
Wikipedia’s model allows to “editors” (who usually do not have research expertise) to edit each other (and also contributors who are experts). Wikipedia also permits relatively open access to users, who can engage in malicious editing of entries. Meanwhile, corporations, sports teams, and other entities are able to control their own image by policing entries dealing with them.
According to the BBC, “The most controversial topics across all the 10 editions analysed were:
- Adolf Hitler
- The Holocaust
“In addition other religious subjects, such as Jesus, The Prophet Muhammad and Christianity were regularly fought over by editors.”
The study of editing on Wikipedia showed that local and national ‘edit wars’ have developed around politically contested concepts and histories. “Among French editors, the page about French politician Segolene Royal was the one contributors fought over the most.”
All of these factors make Wikipedia dangerously unreliable: use it at your own risk.
BBC reports on Wikipedia.
Undergraduate students in history should be especially cautious in using Wikipedia, as it is usually not an acceptable source for academic papers and projects in history—especially on issues of religious and politics.