There are many ways in which wiki is the perfect vehicle for a fact-checking site.
- First, the nature of the wiki consensus helps guarantee a fair treatment of issues from multiple perspectives.
- Second, the nature of wiki (when a particular scale is met) is that it is quick to respond to new information — much quicker than more institutional processes.
- Finally, wiki is iterative — which means as new information comes to light, fact-checking articles can be kept up-to-date, even years after the fact.
Unfortunately, there are many ways in which it is not a good fit.
- First, Wikipedia civility often falls down around contentious issues. In fact-checking, EVERY issue is contentious.
- Second, Wikipedia is prone to vandalism. It gets corrected quickly, but maybe not enough for a fact-checking site.
- Third, Wikipedia grew organically over time — culture got set before the stakes were high. Can culture develop when it’s high-stakes from day one?
Do the pros outweigh the cons? I’m not sure. But it seems to me a promising idea worth exploring. We’re trying this idea with student authors across multiple schools at digipo.io. And so far it’s kind of sort of working:
How Wiki for Fact-Checking Is Different than Wikipedia
People will ask (as they always do) “Isn’t Wikipedia a fact-checking site already? What would be the difference?”
The difference is that Wikipedia structures knowledge topically. You can have an article on “Buffalo” or “The Pentagon Papers” or “The 2012 Benghazi Attack”. What you can’t have is a page on a claim, which is how fact-checking sites are structured.
So, for instance, in our student project above, one of the students submitted a claim “Women coders considered better than men, but only if they hide their gender.” That’s a great claim for a fact-checking page, but there is no corollary in Wikipedia.
Our fact-checking wiki has two major parts to every article. The first is the origin of the claim. This claim comes from a headline that references a study that may or may not support that conclusion. But the author does the work of tracking the claim to source.
Here’s an example of what that looks like on another claim about the Fukushima thyroid cancer rate.
Even if we find a study that does support the headline, a good article on the claim would place that result in the context of previous and subsequent work, noting the strengths and limits of the study. Does the study confirm previous work, or buck against it? Is it more rigorous than previous work? Less rigorous? Structured somewhat differently? In our wiki we use the Issues and Analysis section to do this:
There are similarities here to Wikipedia, but the focus of the article is to eventually get to that short summary of the truth at the top, not to cover a topic. In this particular article that summary turns out to be
Summary: The larger claims come from a misreading of statistics. Most experts, looking at the same data, believe that Fukushima has had little to no effect on thyroid cancer prevalence.
The rest of the page leads to the creation of that short snippet that an average reader can understand. It’s not about coverage, it’s about analysis. This is a piece of what people do on Wikipedia as they adjudicate the validity of various statements, but here it is the structuring principle.
Now, should this claim be rated “false”? Or is it better termed “Highly Unlikely”? That’s a great dicussion to have. Wouldn’t it be great to work it out through wiki?
Someone Else Should Build This Instead of Me
We are currently running DigiPo on a Dokuwiki install on Reclaim Hosting. It works for what we are doing. And I think it’s an interesting experiment in the use of wiki in education. I plan to support it as long as I can.
But I’m not a great developer or system admin. I’m an instructional designer and a community builder with a theoretical bent.
What I would love to do eventually is partner with someone on the software side, and just push students there to post. In my dreams, someone wants to spin off a specific sort of wiki site, the way that Jimmy Wales took his Wikipedia background and created Wikia around the culture of fandom. I know a fact-checking community is not as hip as the latest pages on Yuri on Ice, but we could give it a try.
If someone has the site, we have the pedagogy, and an army of teachers and students who would just love to engage with a site like this. We can focus on the pedagogy and community-building.
Is anyone out there with the resources to build and promote a major site like this feeling this? Want to talk?