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    Wikipedia Founder to Fight 'Fake News' Epidemic With New Online Service

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    Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is to launch a community-driven online news service in response to what he alleges is a widespread distribution of deliberately misleading information masquerading as news - a move that may raise eyebrows, given Wikipedia's open-source nature has made the online encyclopaedia a hotbed for disinformation, at times.

    The project, Wikitribune, is to be a hybrid model — paid journalists will work with a broad network of grassroots contributors. Wales wishes to transplant the "fact-based, fact-checking mentality" of Wikipedia to a news service. It will be financed via a crowdfunding campaign.

    Wikipedia, launched in 2001, is as of April 2017 the fifth most visited website in the world, with 17 billion pageviews of its 41 million articles monthly. Wales believes his experience in building the site has imbued his with an understanding of how communities and volunteer networks can cultivate and contribute to projects of mutual interest — and bridge the language divide.

    Just as Wikipedia is home to information in around 300 languages, Wikitribune will launch in a number of languages and add more along the way.

    The Wikipedia logo. (File)
    © AFP 2019 / LIONEL BONAVENTURE
    The "Wikipedia" logo. (File)

    What's more, the site won't be bankrolled via advertising revenue, unlike the majority of mainstream media sources — instead, donations and subscriptions will foot the bill.

    Wales believes media dependence on advertising has created "a race to the bottom" in which outlets focus on "clickbait" in order to generate traffic.

    According to trade association Digital Content Next, 90 percent of growth in digital ad revenue in 2015 went to Facebook and Google, technology companies that constantly stress they aren't media firms, but have nonetheless played a pivotal role in the dissemination of such content. The proposed "community model" removes the needs for returns, and emulates the Wikipedia paradigm.

    What's more, despite Wales' avowed inspiration for the project being the proliferation of so-called "fake news," allegedly the preserve of shadowy Russian state actors, the Wikipedia founder placed blame for the burgeoning phenomenon at the door of the White House.

    Wales' decision to "do something about this" was made when Kellyanne Conway responded to allegations incoming President Donald Trump had lied about the size of his inauguration crowd with the phrase "alternative facts."

    While undoubtedly a noble aspiration, some may be concerned about whether a news organization run along Wikipedia's information gathering model will be a bastion of accuracy.

    Numerous studies have suggested there are issues in the structure that mean the veracity of entries can be simply undermined, whether via outright malice or indirect ignorance. Vandalism of Wikipedia pages is a common phenomenon, and while often quickly corrected, errors and falsehoods can remain for some time before identification.

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    Tags:
    open-source, online media, fake news, fact-checking, crowdfunding, mainstream media, journalism, online, Wikitribune, Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales
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