The challenge of finding authentic information in a socially networked world.
Although Giles findings about the accuracy of Wikipedia articles have given Wikipedia increased credibility (2005), Garfinkel (2008) is not alone in his concerns about both the ubiquity and veracity of Wikipedia (Townsend et al, 2013). Any discussion with an educator that touches on referencing inevitably lights on whether or not Wikipedia is a valid source. Garfinkel's assertion that Wikipedia's idea of truth is problematic is not such a problem in disciplines such as History where it can be regarded as just another source (McIntyre, 2010). As pointed out by Rosenzweig the problem is not with students using Wikipedia – rather with them using Wikipedia as a starting point and not moving on from it (Rosenzweig, 2006). The take home message for information professionals and other educators here is to engage with students use of Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 technologies (Wittenberg, 2007) and utilise it to develop skills in information literacy. As information professionals we need to be part of the debate around authenticity and Wikipedia's own transparent processes (Garfinkel, 2008, p85) provide many avenues for discussing the nature of truth, verifiability and the credibility of sources.
Session's (2009) study of the phenomena of “MySpace Angles” highlights the inherent mismatch between online personas and physical realities. Seemingly naturalistic photographs taken at certain angles may be considered as inauthentic and not representing a person's “true” appearance and are “policed” by others on the social networking site MySpace and post comments or use satire to denigrate the practice. Computer mediated communications certainly allow an individual a measure of control over how others may see them (Ellison et al, 2006); but participating in social networking is a “two edged sword”. The choices people make in representing themselves online can have unforeseen consequences. Once an image, video or comment is shared it can't be taken back. As information professionals we need understand the importance of our own personal “brand” as well as that of the organisations we represent. While social networking can be an important way to “sell” our brand we need to ensure we protect its integrity and authenticity. By having a trusted brand we can become an information channel of choice.
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Garfinkel, S. (2008). Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth. Technology Review,111(6), 84-86.
Giles, J. (2005). Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. Nature, 438(7070), 900-901.
McIntyre, A. (2010). The “Truthiness” of Wikipedia: An Examination of the Open Content Encyclopedia as a Valuable Vehicle in Developing Critical Thinking in the Classroom. Access to Knowledge: A Course Journal, 2(1).
Rosenzweig, R. (2006). Can history be open source? Wikipedia and the future of the past. Journal of American History, 93 (1), 117-146. Available http://chnm.gmu.edu/essays-on-history-new-media/essays/?essayid=42
Sessions, L.F. (2009). “You looked better on MySpace”: Deception and authenticity on Web 2.0, First Monday, 14(7), 6 July. Available http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2539/2242
Townsend, S., Osmond, G., & Phillips, M. G. (2013). Wicked Wikipedia? Communities of Practice, the Production of Knowledge and Australian Sport History. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 30(5), 545-559.
Wittenberg, K. (2007). Credibility of content and the future of research, learning, and publishing in the digital environment. The Journal of Electronic Publishing, 10(1). Available http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=jep;cc=jep;rgn=main;view=text;idno=3336451.0010.101