The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Wikipedia, an online source of information that strives to reach every person in the world. When the free online encyclopedia was started, by Jimmy Wales, his stated goal was: “to give people a free encyclopedia to every person in the world, in their own language. Not just in a ‘free beer’ kind of way, but also in the free speech kind of way.”
At that time, almost no one thought a free encyclopedia would be a success. By now, however, it has grown into one of the major sources of information around the world. Thousands are articles are available in more than sixty languages. The English language version alone contains 6,420,755 articles.
“But why do we need an encyclopedia?” people may ask. “All we need to do is to google a question and find any information we want.” Or even, “But I learn all I need to know on Facebook or Instagram.” But there is a huge difference between just declaring that something is true and stating an opinion that includes the reasons why you believe it is true.
These days some people don’t believe that vaccinations will protect people from Covid-19, others insist that vaccinations are necessary and should be mandatory in many situations. This same kind of prolonged argument went on when scientists first introduced the germ theory. Did germs cause diseases or was bad air or something else responsible for people’s illnesses? To follow the argument, you can take a look at the Wikipedia article on the Germ Theory Denialism
The extra ingredient in the Wikipedia article is the list of sources—those pesky footnotes that crouch at the bottom of encyclopedia articles. Most of us don’t often go to these sources and check out what is said, but if we care deeply about a subject, they are available. (Of course, we usually have to consult a library to track down the original sources.) That list of sources is the difference between providing information and allowing disinformation to spread. Perhaps if social media outlets asked people to give the sources for the beliefs they spout, the world would be saved from a lot of arguments and injuries.
So, three cheers for Wikipedia! One of the rare examples of a useful tool that has been made available to everyone with access to the internet free of charge and free of advertising! The Wikipedia pages offer a gateway to important information that you can verify for yourself, instead of offering, as social media does, a jumbled wall of unverified opinions leading to endless arguments and weird beliefs.
If you agree with me that Wikipedia is an invaluable addition to our shared resources, you can send a donation through www.wikipedia.org.