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Wikipedia bans Daily Mail as 'unreliable' source for website

The Guardian logo The Guardian 08/02/2017 Jasper Jackson
Wikipedia Foundation office in San Francisco, US. © AP Wikipedia Foundation office in San Francisco, US.

Wikipedia editors have voted to ban the Daily Mail as a source for the website in all but exceptional circumstances after deeming the news group “generally unreliable”.

The move is highly unusual for the online encyclopaedia, which rarely puts in place a blanket ban on publications and which still allows links to sources such as Kremlin backed news organisation Russia Today, and Fox News, both of which have raised concern among editors.

The editors described the arguments for a ban as “centred on the Daily Mail’s reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism and flat-out fabrication”.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia but does not control its editing processes, said in a statement that volunteer editors on English Wikipedia had discussed the reliability of the Mail since at least early 2015.

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It said: “Based on the requests for comments section [on the reliable sources noticeboard], volunteer editors on English Wikipedia have come to a consensus that the Daily Mail is ‘generally unreliable and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist’.

“This means that the Daily Mail will generally not be referenced as a ‘reliable source’ on English Wikipedia, and volunteer editors are encouraged to change existing citations to the Daily Mail to another source deemed reliable by the community. This is consistent with how Wikipedia editors evaluate and use media outlets in general – with common sense and caution.”

The proposal was made by an editor known as Hillbillyholiday early in January, and fellow editors had weighed in with arguments for and against the ban over the past month. Those who opposed the move said the Daily Mail was sometimes reliable, that historically its record may have been better, and that there were other publications that were also unreliable.

Some of those who opposed the ban also pointed to inaccurate stories in other respected publications, and suggested the proposed ban was driven by a dislike of the publication.

Summarising the discussion, a Wikipedia editor wrote: “Consensus has determined that the Daily Mail (including its online version is generally unreliable, and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist. As a result, the Daily Mail should not be used for determining notability, nor should it be used as a source in articles. An edit filter should be put in place, going forward to warn editors attempting to use the Daily Mail as a reference.”

The move is likely to stop short of prohibiting linking to the Daily Mail, as there will be instances, such as when a Wikipedia entry is about the newspaper or one of its writers, when the editors believe a link is necessary. Instead a system for flagging any uses of the newspaper as a source will be introduced, asking editors not to use it and find alternatives.

The editors have also asked for volunteers to review about 12,000 links to the Daily Mail already on Wikipedia and replace them with alternative sources wherever possible. 

The decision by Wikipedia comes amid widespread debate over the rise of fake news, which has widened to include concerns about misleading information in traditional publications. A recent BuzzFeed analysis claimed that there was “little appetite” for completely fabricated “fake news” in the UK because the country already had a highly partisan press.

Wikipedia was set up in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger and has become one of the most popular websites in the world. It allows anyone to make edits, sometimes leading to instances of false entries and vandalism of pages, but is policed by thousands of people who regular weed out deliberate and accidental errors.

The site’s rules on reliable sources state: “Wikipedia articles should be based on reliable, published, sources, making sure that all majority and significant minority views that have appeared in those sources are covered ... If no reliable sources can be found on a topic, Wikipedia should not have an article on it.”

Representatives for the Daily Mail had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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