While many people turn to Wikipedia for insightful information, many of us wouldn’t regard it as completely reliable. Despite our concerns, it seems that Wikipedia has some influence in the courtrooms and with citations, a group of researchers discovered. If things continue as planned, it may become a source of info that lawyers can use with their cases.
It has long been contended that writers who create content with detailed facts shouldn’t use Wikipedia as a source of information. With the way things are going now, that could change. Imagine if lawyers used the online database to quote previous cases as arguments in court.
MIT’s Computer Science and AI Laboratory department has Neil Thompson as one of the members who decided to perform a study on the matter. Since you hardly read about Ireland court cases on Wikipedia, they decided to target that location. The plan was to see if adding legal information about past cases would set a precedent for citing Wikipedia sources.
With several researchers at the help, the team created about 154 new Wikipedia entries that were curated by the Wikipedia editors. Of course, the latter knew nothing about the project. The research team used detailed facts and information about Irish court cases but only loaded about half of the completed assignments.
Not only did the results appear as number one rankings on search engines, but the use of Wikipedia citations in Ireland court cases went up by 20%. It was mostly in the lower courts, which is probably a reflection of how overwhelmed those judges and lawyers are with work. With simply less time available, Wikipedia was the place to go for information on past cases.
Here’s the best part. Instead of making a ruling that no courtroom uses Wikipedia as a source, they’ve gone in the opposite direction. The research team proposed that Wikimedia, the parent company, employ legal experts to check any articles involving past cases and make corrections where needed. Basically, this condones using Wikipedia in the courtroom simply based on the fact that all the details have been confirmed by experts.
Will that change the frame of mind for content agencies and everyone else who refuses to use Wikipedia as a source? Will it set a precedent for court cases to come? With Wikimedia turning to Meta for help with misinformation, it may just do so.