Will Urban Dictionary Be Next?
By Shannon in Miscellaneous on Feb 3, 2007 7:23PM
Wikipedia has truly grown into the little public encyclopedia that could. After six years of existence, the collaborative site has a myriad number of articles in 250 languages and is one of the top information destinations on the Web. Chicagoist swears by it ourselves, often using it as a research hub for unexplored subjects or to expound on facts and trivia we already knew. But using Wikipedia as cold, hard fact in a legal sense? While we certainly wouldn't do so ourselves, the practice is gaining acceptance.
A New York Times article shows Wikipedia being cited in 100 judicial rulings nationwide, all since 2004. Cases that have consulted the Wiki vary from gleaning the definition of "booty music" to a reference for Homeland Security's threat levels. A Chicago judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Judge Richard A. Posner, calls Wikipedia "a terrific resource," citing it in past cases of his own, but says he wouldn't use it for critical cases. This he says despite a mistake in his own Wikipedia entry, which said that Ann Coulter once worked for him as a clerk. An enterprising friend, U of C law professor Cass Sunstein, found the error and fixed it right away. Sunstein himself, a leading source on the impact of technology on society, is of the opinion that Wikipedia and the judicial world don't mix; he comes out against "opportunistic editing," a way for people to manipulate case outcomes.
We have one word to say about this growing legal phenomenon: Wikiality. While Wikipedia may be a great place to read about Futurama episodes or Roger Federer, we're not so sure we'd rely on it for anything highly controversial or complicated when anyone, anywhere, can edit it. As evidenced by the necessity for sites like Snopes, just because thousands of people believe something is true doesn't mean it is. Fact is fact, and despite Wikipedia's truth wranglers that scour the site looking for falsehoods, there's always bound to be something that slips through the cracks. Mark our words: Soon there will be a court case referencing Wikipedia that says we aren't at war with Eurasia, and it will be all over from there.