Even in the age of alternative facts, Wikipedia is taking a hard line against unreliable sources.
The volunteer editors of the online encyclopedia’s English edition took the unusual step this week of prohibiting most references to a specific news outlet—British tabloid the Daily Mail, better known as the Mail Online around the world. While Wikipedia’s editors regularly have discussions about which sources to use to verify information, this is the first time a particular publication has been “formally deemed unreliable” in this way, as far as its non-profit backer the Wikimedia Foundation is aware.
The Mail publishes a mix of general news and celebrity gossip, some of which is highly questionable or has been outright debunked, such as the widely refuted Feb. 7 exposé on climate change that has recently emboldened climate-change deniers around the world or the rumors that Melania Trump once worked as an escort—over which the US first lady is now suing the publication.
The decision came after user Hillybillyholiday initiated a discussion, which can be done by any user on the platform, about the publication on Jan. 7. Roughly 75 of Wikipedia’s English-language editors weighed in, a spokeswoman for Wikipedia told Quartz. The volunteer editors, dubbed “Wikipedians,” generally set the site’s editorial policy.
“There’s no area of news where it is actually reliable,” said one editor, in an example of the strength of feeling against the Mail. “It can be relied on to accurately report celebrity gossip, but in that case the gossip itself is frequently false and the Mail doesn’t check it. Their coverage of medical, science and political topics is a byword for deliberate inaccuracy. It is pretty close to a fake news source in some areas.”
On Feb 8, after about a month of discussion, Wikipedia’s editors came the consensus that the news outlet is no longer credible enough to be used a source in most cases on the English site, which is the largest version of Wikipedia. An administrator, who summarized the talks, wrote:
The Daily Mail (including its online version, dailymail.co.uk) is generally unreliable, and its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist,” wrote “As a result, the Daily Mail should not be used for determining notability, nor should it be used as a source in articles.
The publication isn’t strictly banned. It could still be used, say, in reference to an article about the Daily Mail itself, or on another language edition of the site. And the site has a policy that allows volunteers to ignore all rules. But the English editors advised that “an edit filter should be put in place going forward to warn editors attempting to use the Daily Mail as a reference.”
And volunteers were also encouraged to review and replace the “multiple thousands” of existing citations to the Mail on Wikipedia.
The Mail did not immediately respond to Quartz’s request for comment. The move comes as sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are similarly taking steps to rid their online platforms of falsehoods and “fake news.”