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Wikipedia's Role as a Gatekeeper

The next ASMC14 speaker is Heather Ford, who shifts our focus to Wikipedia. In its early days, the site was seen as an underdog challenging existing publishing models – this includes news publishers, and Wikipedia was seen as a challenger to the conventional gatekeepers. It was also shown that the quality of its content was not necessarily any worse than that of traditional encyclopaedias, even though it had been collaboratively compiled. Nonetheless, a persistent view of its inaccuracy due to this collaborative model remains.

Wikipedia itself offers a range of self-definitions, which inter alia point out that Wikipedia is not a social network (or even a dating service), so personal profiles should be kept short; not a soap box from which to promote personal views or original research. Wikipedia also defines reliable sources which should be used as evidence for its articles, and in doing so for the most part explicitly rules out self-published media (blogs, etc.) as unreliable.

Wikipedia and Wikipedians are on social media, though – it has a Facebook page, and Facebook is also used to encourage participation in various niche Wikipedias. The reason that Wikipedia has become this kind of information gatekeeper, Heather says, has a lot to do with a deep-set insecurity stemming from the criticism of the early days of the project – as a result, there is a certain kind of scientism which separates science and nature from the social and cultural and which seeks to ignore the fact that Wikipedia editing processes also create a sociocultural narrative of the topics they work on.

Wikipedia, then, is through such processes positioning itself as a new gatekeeper – not quite with the same characteristics of the gatekeepers of old, but imposing its own strictures on the information which can and cannot be included on its pages.