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Wikipedia Handles Colbert Elephant Prank

Comedian Stephen Colbert instructed the audience of his popular Comedy Central program “The Colbert Report” to challenge Wikipedia’s “truthiness” by pulling a little stunt. It didn’t work.

In an attempt to prove that Wikipedia’s version of truth is flexible, Colbert recently told viewers to alter the Wikipedia page on “elephant” to state that the population of African elephants had tripled in the last decade. This is, of course, untrue. But as Colbert stated, if enough people alter the page on Wikipedia, it’s fact.

[...]

There was just one problem with the prank: Colbert was ultimately proven wrong. Although the servers were tested, soon after Colbert began ranting about wikiality on his show, the encyclopedia had locked down the page on elephants and Colbert’s biography. The pages of the entire site are vigilantly guarded by dozens of self-appointed moderators. And as of this printing, no changes or inaccurate information about the current population of the elephant can be seen.

In the days since the furor began, hundreds of users have contributed nearly 20,000 heated words about how the “elephant” page should read. The debate has ranged from whether “wikiality” should be discussed, to anger over Colbert’s joke, to abstracts of studies examining the population rate of elephants in South Africa.

[...]

More than 100,000 active volunteer contributors governing 1.2 million articles on Wikipedia. The average article is edited about 34 times. Each edit is documented and debated.

While Wikipedia has all manner of theoretical problems, the fact of the matter is that the concept has worked better than any could have reasonably hoped. Recent studies have shown that its accuracy is comparable to that of Encyclopedia Britannica, long touted as the gold standard.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. s most striking about this story is that it’s only the history department.  As the article states, Wikipedia is a good starting point, but shouldn’t be used as a source. All one needs to do is look at how Stephen Colbert almost had the Wikipedia entry for African elephants changed to read that the population had tripled in the last decade.  While Wikipedia ultimately locked down the page to prevent the changes from being made, all it would take is a similar, less publicized attack to completely change a page around. Even Wikipedia notes this on their site:

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  2. s right about some of the results, but really, for the most part, I am satisfied with Google results. On the other hand, this could be a good idea, but as we know with such famous incidents as Stephen Colbert asking his viewers to edit the article on elephants to state that the population of African elephants had tripled in the last decade, since “wikiality” would make it so, user-contributed information can be easily corrupted. In fact, Wales himself has said Wikipedia should

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  3. He’s right about some of the results, but really, for the most part, I am satisfied with Google results. On the other hand, this could be a good idea, but as we know with such famous incidents as Stephen Colbert asking his viewers to edit the article on elephants to state that the population of African elephants had tripled in the last decade, since “wikiality” would make it so, user-contributed information can be easily corrupted. In fact, Wales himself has said Wikipedia should

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