Facebook, Twitter and Google are all under pressure to crack down on fake news ahead of Election Day. However, another vital website, Wikipedia, is also preparing for a possible battle for false information. The user-generated encyclopedia is a common springboard for people looking for information online, and researchers are touting the site’s amazing reliability. Every month, billions of people use Wikipedia, from getting started on complex topics to solving arguments with friends.
The authority the site has built over the years is an unexpected shift for a site that was once considered a joke. Google uses Wikipedia clips directly in its search results. Google-owned YouTube links to Wikipedia pages in its information panel. Wikipedia’s enormous influence is important on Election Day and the days that follow.
For Election Day, Wikipedia set up a working group on false information. Dozens of members of the foundation’s security, product, legal and communications team have set up protections for the site, mentoring hundreds of unpaid volunteers who edit their pages. For example, the main page of the 2020 U.S. election will be locked and edited only by people with accounts older than 30 days and more than 500 edits. The team has held hours of video conferences in which team members play different false information scenarios and how they handle them. The goal is to defend against coordinated attacks. The Wikipedia team says that if election information is wrong on Wikipedia, it could be wrong anywhere.
WIkipedia’s plan comes as the world’s largest technology companies strengthen their platforms for the general election, their biggest test since the 2016 vote. Silicon Valley companies have been eager to prove that they can avoid the mistakes they made last time, when Russia used Google, Facebook and Twitter to try to influence the outcome of the race. Due to the prevalence of coronavirus and the increase in postal voting, experts expect the results to be delayed. Experts say those who sow mis-information may use the delay to try to create confusion and spread conspiracy theories. Therefore, if necessary, the Wikipedia Task Force intends to maintain its protections until Inauguration Day.
Major technology companies have made some changes to their platforms in the hope of eliminating election mis-information. YouTube will label election videos and search results with a warning that “results may not be final.” Twitter is making similar changes, reminding users in its app that the results could be delayed. Facebook’s Instagram said it would temporarily remove the most recent tags from the tabs to reduce the amount of false information that might occur before and after the election. Google and Facebook will also temporarily ban political ads after the polls closed in an attempt to prevent people from running ads that falsely claim victory. Twitter announced last year that it would ban political ads about candidates. One advantage of Wikipedia is that it doesn’t have ad support, so it doesn’t have targeted algorithms.