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DISCLAIMER: A major assignment in my Ethics for Public Relations Professionals class was to write a personal code of ethics that will later be used in my Capstone class at the end of my master’s program. I have been writing my personal code for several weeks, and I am very excited about the finished product. I think that I will hold myself more accountable for living my life according to this code if it is public information. I realize that it is a little long, especially for a blog post, but I thought I would share anyways. Enjoy!

Background

My personal values act as a basis for distinguishing between right and wrong and thus, determine my daily actions and emotions. My parents and education have played profound roles in the development of my core personal values: personal integrity, excellence, responsibility, family and ambition. Additionally, these influences have demonstrated certain rule-based, ends-based, and virtue-based approaches to determining what conduct is consistent with these key values.

Through her own actions, my mom has taught me to always put my family first, and to evaluate the morality of my potential actions with an ends-based approach by considering the consequences for the rest of my family (Gower, 2008). My mom is incredibly compassionate, and her main goal in life is to protect her family and help her children grown into happy, healthy adults. When my younger brother was born, my mom chose to stop practicing nursing so that she could raise her children and instill in us many of the values that are outlined in this code. As my brother and I move towards adulthood, my mom urges us to support each other in all of our endeavors and further grow our friendship. The result, she says, will be an unbreakable bond that will sustain us even when our parents have passed.

Siding with deontological philosophers and demonstrating a rule-based approach, my mom taught me that disrespectful, dishonest, and self-centered actions were morally wrong, regardless of their outcomes (Gower, 2008). She also regularly acted upon her strong sense of duty to help others. Even if she was driving carpool, it was not uncommon for her to pull off the road to help a confused-looking elderly lady or a lost pet. Even though this delay often made my friends and me late to our destinations, my mom’s actions were moral based on her motive (Gower, 2008). Her stern belief that “it takes all types to make the world go ‘round” has influenced me to use the rights approachto consider the rights of individuals, to respect human dignity, and to avoid using people as a means to an end (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1996).

My dad’s insistence upon moving beyond his modest background and aspiring to distinction within his in his profession has inspired my commitment to accomplishment and success, knowledge and higher education, hard-work, excellence and wealth. My dad was one of four brothers raised on my grandparent’s rural horse farm outside of Baltimore. Every day, he and his brothers endured teasing by their more affluent private school classmates who thought the boys smelled like horses. My dad and his brothers were not expected to go to college, since no one in their family had done so before. My dad’s brothers were kicked out of private school after private school and eventually gave up on their educations. Instead of following suit, my dad worked tirelessly to become one of the top physicians in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. With regards to his goals and education, he demonstrated egoism – enlightened self-interest and a focus on what would provide the most good for him in the long-run (Gower, 2008).

My dad’s practice of medicine requires him to make ethical decisions on a daily basis, and he often takes a utilitarian approach to determining what is right (Gower, 2008). For example, he would recommend the termination of a pregnancy that neither the mother nor baby could reasonably be expected to survive. While some people view abortion as inherently wrong, my dad would not use a rule-based approach in the aforementioned case; instead, he would focus on the consequences of his actions and try to keep the highest number of patients, fetuses, and babies healthy. However, whenever I have consulted my dad on a personal ethical dilemma, he has rarely focused on the reasons for or the consequences of my possible decisions. More often, he has asked me to apply a virtue-based approach by examining the individual actor rather than the action itself (Gower, 2008). This required me to consider how my possible decisions would reflect on the person I am, and how that person would compare to my best possible self (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1996).

I attended a private preparatory school, Collegiate School in Richmond, VA, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Collegiate’s 1,500 students (grades K-12) abide by a strict honor code and live according to the school’s shared values of honor, love of learning, excellence, respect and community (Collegiate School, n.d.). Students are expected to become heavily involved in the community- they must participate in at least two out of the three sports seasons, among other extracurricular requirements. The Collegiate community instilled in me values that guide my virtue-based approach to personal ethics, and it taught me to consider the common good of the community when making ethical decisions (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, &Meyer, 1996).  

During my undergraduate experience at Washington and Lee University (W&L), I was again part of a tight-knit community that emphasized honor, integrity and civility and abided by a rigorous honor system. The W&L Honor System means that students must never lie, cheat or steal and that they must respect other people, their opinions and their property. It punishes only actions that the current student body sees as violations of the community’s trust. Furthermore, it does not rank these breaches of trust by their severity, and it does not overlook “smaller” violations. The consequence for any violation of the Honor System is dismissal from W&L (Washington and Lee University, n.d.). In this way, W&L uses a rule-based approach to judging ethical behavior (Gower, 2008). W&L’s honor system originated with Robert E. Lee, who said, “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman” (Washington and Lee University, n.d.). Unfortunately, during my time at W&L, I witnessed many students abandoning gentleman-like behavior upon entering gossip-infused fraternity lunch rooms or substance-infused fraternity parties. These occasions resulted in me promising myself to carry my core values with me at all times, no matter the situation.

Ethos Statement

As a result of my background, I place a special emphasis on maintenance of personal integrity, pursuit of excellence, acceptance of responsibility, love of family and achievement of ambitious goals. I have high expectations for myself with regards to my actions; on at least a weekly basis, I take time to reflect on who I am and how that compares to my best possible self. My actions make me who I am, so it is important that I honor the following commitments in all of my actions, both personal and professional (Georgetown University, n.d.):

  • A commitment to doing in my heart what I know is just and right.
  • A commitment to performance that produces exceptional results and quality as a way of life.
  • A commitment to valuing the trust and confidence of my family, friends, co-workers, employers and/or clients and community.
  • A commitment to spending time with my family, supporting them in all of their endeavors and making them proud.
  • A commitment to my personal image of what can be and my belief that it will be; a commitment to setting goals and systematically working towards achieving them.

Code of Conduct

Conduct consistent with my value of personal integrity:

1. I will not change who I am for others, and I will stand up for my beliefs even when they are unpopular.

Explanation: If I’m not confident in myself and respectful of what I believe, then I cannot expect others to exhibit confidence in me and respect my beliefs.  While it may be uncomfortable for me when other people disagree with my actions, and while my unpopular actions may not yield the most positive outcomes for me, my ethical decision making is often rule-based and virtue-based rather than consequence-based. To me, my motives (ex: honoring my commitment to respect individual human dignity) and my virtues (ex: personal integrity) are better determinants of my own morality than are the consequences of my actions (ex: being unpopular with my co-worker or not getting a promotion.)

The nature of the communications field requires its professionals to advocate on behalf of an organization, person or cause (Parsons, 2008). Propagating a message that I don’t personally endorse is the same as lying to the public and failing to stand up for my own beliefs. By professionally disseminating a message that I personally oppose, I would clutter the relevant “marketplace of ideas” (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, p. 4) and weaken the messages in line with my actual point of view. In other words, attempting to persuade the public on a point of view that I myself do not support would compromise my personal integrity. Therefore, I will be extremely selective in choosing the clients on whose behalf I advocate as a communications professional (Parsons, 2008).

Dr. Seuss said it best- “Be who are you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  The people who truly care about my well-being will not try to change me, even if they do not always agree with me. Instead, they will accept me for who I am and acknowledge my right to have different beliefs than them. While I may be disappointed as I come across “those who mind,” Dr. Seuss’s advice will ultimately help me recognize “those who matter.”

2. I will treat people as I want to be treated myself (the Golden Rule).

Explanation: Put simply, I will always be courteous and civil in my day-to-day dealings with people. Just because I am in a bad mood does not give me the right to take my frustrations out on the world. In fact, it is important that I try to brighten other peoples’ days and have a positive impact on everyone with whom I come into contact. For example, rather than sitting silently during cab rides and ignoring my driver, I choose to engage him or her in conversation. Everyone has an interesting life story that they are bursting to tell. By applying reversibility, I know that my day is always better when someone expresses interest in hearing mine.

3. I will value basic human dignity and rights and will not intentionally cause harm to another human being.

Explanation: Human beings have the God-given ability to decide for themselves how they will lead their lives, and they have a basic moral right to have their decisions respected. This freedom to choose gives humans, regardless of their race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, a unique dignity (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1996). As long as an individual respects the human dignity of others, then that individual deserves to have his or her dignity acknowledged by me and to be free from the threat or occurrence of any sort of physical, verbal or emotional abuse. I adopt a rights-based approach to determining the morality of my behavior. In other words, my actions must treat humans as ends in and of themselves (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1996).  

4. I will be transparent in my purpose and act in a manner that is fair and just for all concerned.

Explanation: It is important to promote a spirit of openness in both my personal and professional lives. In some aspects of my personal life, I do claim my right to privacy and/or am willing to tell non-harmful white lies to spare the feelings of others. However, I have most often found that it is the truth that will “set me free.” I am willing to disclose all aspects of my professional life; when making professional decision, I use the “front page of the Post” test to guide my behavior. I refuse to hide information from a party who deserves access to it; however, as my career progresses, I expect to encounter grey areas. To determine whether withholding certain information would be unethical in these situations, I will ultimately examine my motives for omitting information (Parsons, 2008). I will also keep in mind that “if you don’t tell the truth, then your publics, once they are aware of this, have difficulty trusting you” (Parsons, 2008, p. 24). I owe it to my publics to serve as a credible source of accurate information.

Conduct consistent with my value of excellence:

5. I will never be satisfied with anything being less than my best effort.

Explanation: I am committed to trying my hardest in all aspects of life, be it a work assignment or a personal relationship. I grew up as an anxious perfectionist, but luckily, my mom finally ingrained in me her motto: “as long as you give it your best effort, that’s all you can do.” To me, excellence is not about the results I achieve; instead, it is about the means by which I achieve them and my adherence to standards and rules that I have set for myself. In prioritizing where my “best efforts” go, it is important that I maintain a healthy work-life balance. After all, if I dedicate all of my time and effort to my professional life, my personal life will go by the wayside, and I will not achieve excellence (or happiness) in this realm. While the meaning of a healthy work-life balance will change as I continue to evolve, it currently involves excelling at the office and in the classroom while still being a reliable and present family member and best friend and saving time for daily activities that I enjoy, like exercising and reading.

6. I will seek continuous improvement.

Explanation: Personally, it is important that I strive to live a more virtuous life every day. The more that I can live according to my virtues, the more moral my actions will be and the more ethical of a person I will be (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, & Meyer, 1996 ). Professionally, competence is necessary to achieve excellence. I agree with Parsons (2008) when she says “respecting our clients, our communities, and ourselves requires us to exhibit competence in our professional activities” (p. 55). I will maintain a level of competency in my profession through continuing education opportunities and selective client choice. Currently, I am working towards my master’s degree in public relations with a concentration in digital communications at Georgetown University. I also attend internal workshops at my company and stay up-to-date on the latest social media news and trends. I do not take on client work that I know I am not qualified to handle. Instead, I work with a supervisor on the task so that I can be qualified to handle such work in the future. 

Conduct consistent with my value of responsibility:

7. I will keep my promises and honor my commitments.

Explanation: Because I play many roles, my promises and commitments take many forms, including promises to myself, my friends, my family and my profession as well as contracts, agreements, assignments for work and my professional development classes. One especially important professional commitment is confidentiality to my employer and/or client. Unfortunately, there will be times when my responsibilities to myself, my employer or client, my profession and society will come into conflict with each other, and some responsibilities will take priority over the others (Parsons, 2008). In these cases, I will use virtue to juggle my loyalties to these different parties on a case by case basis. My reason for developing a career in communications is to serve the public through the delivery of accurate messaging to inform their decisions and ultimately improve society.  Therefore, my duty to society is ethically greater than my duty to my employer or client, and is the “key to social responsibility” (Parsons 2008, p. 26).

8. I will fulfill the functional and moral obligations of my many roles and accept accountability for my shortcomings, negligence and oversight in fulfilling these obligations.

Explanation: My many roles include daughter, sister, best friend, student, assistant account executive, Christian and housemate. In each of these roles, I fulfill functional obligations as well as related moral obligations (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006). For example, one of the functional obligations for my job is to assist with blogger outreach and track resulting blog hits; a related moral obligation is to ensure that bloggers who write about our client in response to our blogger outreach activities fully disclose their relationship with our client and outreach program.  Since the functional obligations of a role are often accompanied by moral obligations, “responsibility assumes that the actor becomes also a moral agent possessed of a certain level of moral maturity and ability to reason” (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, p. 20).  I will hold myself accountable for an action if I am “functionally and/or morally responsible for an action, some harm occurred due to that action” and) I “had no legitimate excuse for the action” (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, p. 21). To avoid questions of personal accountability, I will strive for relative autonomy in all of my roles, but particularly in my role as a responsible public relations professional. If I am not to have excuses for my actions, and thus accept accountability for them, then I must be “free to make decisions” associated with my job “without outside pressure or influence” from my company, supervisors, coworkers, or clients (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, p. 21). Accepting accountability when I fail to fulfill certain obligations means that I make these unintentional wrongs right regardless of any inconveniences to me.

9. As a communications professional, I will tell the truth for the common good of my publics.

Explanation: Truth is the “singular most important element in the efficient operation of the marketplace of ideas in American society” (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, p. 11). This is because the marketplace of ideas concept “rests on the premise that the truth will emerge from ideas and messages competing in a public form” (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, p. 12). This means that any effort to disseminate false truths or hinder the dissemination of truthful information interferes with my publics’ informed decision making and rights to receive accurate and truthful information (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006). Thus, as a responsible public relations professional, my advocacy for clients must “equalize access to the marketplace,” “contribute to marketplace processes,” make a “meaningful contribution to the marketplace of ideas,” “tell the truth” and disclose “timely, relevant, and complete information” in a forthright way (Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, p. 9-13).

Conduct consistent with my value of family:

10.  I will always make my family my number one priority. I will bring them joy and derive great joy from my relationships with them.

Explanation: No matter what else is going on in my life, my highest obligation will always be to my family. This is my rule, and my ethical decisions will follow it. I do however understand that not everyone lives their lives according to this rule, and I will not view them as immoral for breaking it. It is because my family and I have a very special relationship that I am comfortable making this strong commitment to them. My happiness comes from making my family happy, and I know that they feel the same way about me. I have very strong faith in my family because I know that no matter what happens in my life, they will have my back. Taking actions to support them, visit them, talk on the phone regularly with them and be an overall presence in their lives is more important to me than anything else.

I plan on waiting to start my own family until after I have a well-established a communications career, financial security and several “childless” years with my husband under my belt. When I do have children, they will take priority over my career and recalculate my relationship with my husband. It is important to me that I wait to have children until I can take a true vow of selflessness. 

11.  I will view my life as a gift and be grateful for it and my circumstances each and every day.

Explanation: God has given me the best possible family and life for which I could ever ask. I have been blessed with an extremely comfortable life, and I realize that this is not the norm. For this reason, I am thankful for what I have been given every day, and I try to use my privilege to improve my community through service and donations when possible.

Conduct consistent with my value of ambition:

12.  I will be optimistic and look for a larger purpose behind my actions.

Explanation: Since I am only beginning my career as a communications professional, my work may at times feel tedious and unimportant. Only when I strive to understand where my daily tasks fit in with my team’s larger communications strategy for our client can I realize my importance to my team and my client. More importantly, by looking at the big picture, it becomes clear how important the communication profession is to educating society and making information flow freely. With this optimistic insight, I am certain that I have chosen the best profession for me and satisfied that I have the opportunity to make a difference for society.

Another overarching purpose for my professional work is to achieve a comfortable and nurturing lifestyle for myself and my family. While I refuse to compromise my other values to achieve wealth and am disinterested in the status that comes with wealth, affluence serves as a motivator in my professional life for two reasons.  First, it is a symbol of professional success, and a reward for years of hard work. Second, I dream of one day giving my children everything that my parents gave and continue to give me, including a nice house with a big yard in a safe neighborhood, a vacation home on the water, and a huge investment in my future. While the possible consequences of my work, like promotion and wealth, should not impact my decisions in ethical dilemmas, it is good practice to consider my professional goals and future to stay focused and hungry in my career. 

My Code and the Real World

As a public relations professional, I plan on joining the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC). It was PRSA’s code of ethics that originally sparked my interest in joining this society. After analyzing several professional codes relating to the public relations, communications and marketing industries, I found PRSA’s code to be most consistent with my own code of ethics. The purpose of PRSA’s code is to “anticipate and accommodate, by precedent, ethical challenges that may arise” for its members (PRSA, 2000, p.1). Resolving these ethical challenges is so important to PRSA members because “the level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to operate ethically” (PRSA, 2000, p. 1). This statement of improving society through the delivery of trustworthy communications is directly in line with my motive for pursuing a career in public relations.

 I fully support all six of PRSA’s specifically-defined core values: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness (PRSA, 2000). I am especially impressed by PRSA’s explanations of advocacy, expertise, independence and loyalty because they emphasize key provisions addressed in my own code of ethics. These include providing “a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts and viewpoints to aid informed public debate,” advancing the profession “through continued professional development, research and education,” providing “objective counsel” to our clients, being “accountable for our actions” and “honoring our obligation to serve to public interest” (PRSA, 2000, p. 1-2). In comparison with the other codes that I analyzed, PRSA’s code of ethics is unique for its commitment to enhancing the profession and its discussion of competence (PRSA, 2000). According to my own code of conduct, I will enhance the reputation of this profession through my own commitment to continued improvement, and will hold myself to high standards of competence. My personal code promotes actions that are extremely consistent with PRSA’s code provisions, like contributing to the free flow of information and avoiding situations “that put one’s personal or professional interests in conflict with society’s interests” (PRSA, 2000, p. 3).

Conclusion

My personal code of ethics will guide my resolution of ethical dilemmas. It is consistent with my employer’s code of ethics as well as the code of ethics of a professional organization that I hope to join in the near future. Since my code of conduct is based on values that have been ingrained in me by my parents and educational institutions, it should not be especially hard for me to follow. However, as I continue to grow personally and professionally and as I encounter new ethical dilemmas that cannot be resolved according to my code, I will revise and expand upon this document.

References

Collegiate School. (n.d.) Mission & values. Retrieved July 9, 2010, from http://www.collegiate- va.org/podium/default.aspx?t=22118

Fitzpatrick, K., & Bronstein, C. (Eds.). (2006). Ethics in public relations: Responsible advocacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Georgetown University. (n.d.) Ethos statement. Retrieved July 12, 2010, from    http://studentconduct.georgetown.edu/ethos/

Gower, K. K. (2008). Doing the right thing. In Legal and ethical considerations for public relations (pp. 1-23). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Parsons, P. J. (2008). Ethics in public relations: A guide to best practice (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Limited.

Public Relations Society of America. (2000). PRSA member code of ethics. New York, NY: Author.

Velasquez, M., Andre, C., Shanks, T., & Meyer, M. J. (1996). Thinking ethically: A framework for moral decision making. Issues in Ethics 7(1). Retrieved from http://www.scu.edu/ ethics/practicing/decision/thinking.html

Washington and Lee University. (n.d.) The Honor System. Retrieved July 17, 2010 from http://www.wlu.edu/x34.xml

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Wikipedia has become the “first draft of history.” Just take a look at how the Wikipedia community handled the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. By the end of the first day of the Wikipedia article’s life, it had been edited more than 360 times, by 70 different editors referring to 28 separate sources from news outlets around the web. Wikipedia’s crowdsourcing mentality combined with its easy-to-use, accessible platform to generate an aggregation of event details from multiple sources (such as NY Times, Reuters, and Times of India) in a number of different languages and locations. Wikipedia is especially effective as a breaking news source because articles can be instantaneously created and rapidly updated by anyone (you don’t have to be a reporter in the newsroom!) In fact, the contributors to breaking news articles often interact online as if they are in a virtual newsroom. Also, the list of links at the bottom of the page points readers to more resources regarding specific aspects of the event or different viewpoints taken.  

Let’s face it. When an event is unfolding, people would rather have information that isn’t 100% reliable rather than no information at all. And if an event is important enough, you can be sure that incorrect information will be fixed by the time you refresh your screen. That’s because a crowd of contributors (some of which might band together as a community) quickly assemble during crisis events. As we talked about in class last week, humans are motivated to DO something during a crisis rather than sit around passively absorbing information from other sources. In case you really don’t trust early contributors, Wikipedia released an optional feature last fall (WikiTrust) that color codes every word of the encyclopedia based on the reliability of its author and the length of time it has lasted in the article.

But are the community’s new policies and aggressive management of the site turning off existing members and making it more and more difficult for new members to join? A recent study found that during the first three months of 2009, the English-language version of Wikipedia lost 49,000 editors, compared with a loss of about 4,900 during the same period in 2008. Jimmy Wales says this is not so. Perhaps this is a case of crowd fatigue- thoughts? I’m a little bit surprised that there is not very much information on the West Virginia mining explosion that happened yesterday. While the accident is now mentioned in here and here, it has not been extensively covered by Wikipedia editors as the events unfold. Could it be that the majority of the Wikipedia community lives in large cities and feel more connected to local breaking news?

Last June, Google News began monitoring Wikipedia articles and using them on their site. This was a pivotal change. Finally, the most powerful media company in the world was recognizing Wikipedia’s increasing popularity as a reliable breaking news source. The Huffington Post also recognizes Wikipedia’s importance- it dedicates an entire page to breaking news about Wikipedia. And did you know that there is now a WikiReader? For $99, this gadget allows users to browse all of Wikipedia offline and on-the-go. Why not carry around breaking news in your pocket? Read a review here!

Finally, below is a video that can help you use Wikipedia as a news source by making use of Wikipedia’s watchlist function. This isn’t the most exciting video, but stick with it. It’s a good tutorial if you don’t already have a lot of experience on the editing side of Wikipedia!

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In 1962, Charles Van Doren, who later became a senior editor for Encyclopedia Britannica, said “The ideal encyclopedia should be radical. It should stop being safe.”

Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikimedia Foundation (the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia), explains that Wikipedia indeed began with the following radical idea: “imagine a world in which every person on the planet is giving free access to the sum of human knowledge.”  The goal of the Wikimedia Foundation is to get a free encyclopedia to every person on the planet. Wales wants to empower people everywhere to make good decisions that can fight evils like poverty. So far, Wikipedia is doing a pretty good job reaching out to people across the globe- only 1/3 of the site’s traffic is to its English language version.  Can you believe that a global site used millions of times per day only costs the Wikimedia Foundation a few thousand dollars per month? Can you believe that all of Wikipedia’s system administrators and editors are volunteers? And ultimately, can you believe what you read on Wikipedia?

First of all, let’s consider who is using Wikipedia and why they like it. Since Wikipedia is especially popular amongst the college-aged, well-educated population looking for a convenient place to get information (example: ME), I’m going to draw from my own daily experiences. I mostly use Wikipedia as a quick reference (I glance at the first paragraph and then skim a few sections of the article) or a jumping off point/roadmap for further, more in-depth online research on a topic. Isn’t this the same way that you would use a published encyclopedia? You don’t expect to be an expert after simply reading an encyclopedia article, but you do feel more prepared to continue your research and connect the dots between sources that zero in on particular aspects of your topic. Today, this aerial view is free and at our fingertips (both literally and figuratively.) Sure, Wikipedia is not perfect (with every plausible promise and effective tool comes that acceptable bargain), but in trusting what you read in its articles, you are surely gain more than you lose.

The popularity of Wikipedia proves the power of peer production as an industrial model. Wikipedia champions the idea that amateurs can have as much to contribute as professionals. Who cares if an editor doesn’t have his or her Master’s degree in a relevant field? If someone is passionate enough to contribute to the knowledge surrounding a certain topic, then it is highly likely that that person will strive to be a reliable source. And even when this logic doesn’t hold true, there are enough passionate, reliable experts who can edit misinformation out.

And when all else fails, we have Wales, who realizes that we rely on Wikipedia is as a trusted, convenient source of information. It’s comforting to know that he is willing to curb Wikipedia’s open-door policy to meet our high standards of content quality. “We have really become part of the infrastructure of how people get information. There is a serious responsibility we have,” says Wales. Clearly, Wikipedia’s new flagging system reflects the recognition of that responsibility that comes with Wikipedia’s exceptional influence on information-seekers. From the beginning, Wales has avoided specifying principles for Wikipedia. Instead, he prefers that it’s rules evolve in response to real users’ needs. Overly broad principles, like “blogs are not valid sources,” would take away from knowledge summation and information sharing, since many blogs can provide editors with information worthy of being aggregated into Wikipedia articles. How can Wales separate the articles that are actually encyclopedic from the ones which aren’t (example: obscure celebrities.) The Long Tail tells us that in fact every niche (and article) has its followers.  Unlike published encyclopedias, Wikipedia is not paper. Its editors are not constrained by special limits. It’s okay for them to write about every topic imaginable. Wikipedia is one of those distributive forces that make the Long Tail possible!

Maybe Wikipedia is even becoming wary of untrustworthy sources on its own.  Ed Chi found that the changes made by experienced editors were more likely to stay up on the site, whereas one-time editors had a much higher chance of having their edits reversed. He concluded that there is “growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content, especially when edits come from occasional editors.” I don’t think this is a bad trend. If you are one of those passionate people (mentioned above) who want to contribute to the public’s knowledge, then you will be willing to prove yourself before being accepted. Sure, you don’t need a Master’s degree, but you do need to build some sort of credibility before becoming an influencer.

As further proof of the validity of Wikipedia, check out Nature’s expert-led investigation, which used peer reviews to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science. The study’s results suggest that high-profile, vandalism scandals (like the Seigenthaler situation) are the “exception rather than the rule.” Other users have put Wikipedia’s trustworthiness to their own tests and come up with less positive results. This is not all that surprising. Of course Wikipedia is more susceptible to inaccuracies and bias then traditional published encyclopedias. But just as someone researching the war in Iraq would not want to rely solely on published encyclopedia articles, he or she would not want to assume the validity and the accuracy of every fact in Wikipedia’s 33-page “War in Iraq” article. Look for flags, check the source of your Wikipedia information, and verify facts with other sources! In a day and age when it is possible to surround ourselves with the news that we want, we should never believe everything that we see.

Check out this great article on why Wikipedia should be trusted as a breaking news source as well as an encyclopedia. I totally agree that Wikipedia is too often held to higher standards than traditional media. Like this article says, Wikipedia is an aggregator of all the social media news sources that we check (and believe) on a daily basis.  If we believe one article posted on a friend’s Twitter feed, why wouldn’t we trust an aggregation of articles that take multiple perspectives on a news event?

And finally, an afterthought: Why is it that only 13% of Wikipedia contributors are women? Why are men dominating this landscape so much? In class, we discussed that blogging is also a male-dominated landscape (aside from Mommy Blogs.) Blogging seems more opinion-oriented, while contributing to Wikipedia involves having confidence in your knowledge and its value. Could it be that women don’t think their own opinions and knowledge are worth sharing? The psychology side of me can’t help but ponder the underlying gender issues in these statistics.

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