In 2010, a now infamous Wikipedia project was started on the grounds of improving unfounded content on the free online encyclopedia through a new approach to writing and editing. The team is known as Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) and has since amassed a team of more than 120 volunteer editors from around the world, according to a recent report by Wired.
Initially created by Susan Gerbic, a now retired 55-year-old career photographer, the project began with a staunch commitment to promoting scientific inquiry, providing empirical evidence and being ‘skeptical’ of fringe ideas. Gerbic has individually recruited and trained each editor herself, who are generally responsible for Wikipedia’s most trafficked articles on topics like vaccines, Scientology, and UFOs.
As a collective, the team validates material and citations through the removal of unsourced claims from pseudo-scientific related articles, often adding edits that debunk harmful conspiracy theories that are notoriously difficult to confirm. This work has opened up the conversation about how users find information on the internet.
The evidence of GSoW’s work is everywhere, but perhaps the most well-known came after their editors rewrote an article about Stan Romanek, a UFO enthusiast who had claimed to be contacted by aliens. The page developed new relevancy when a 2013 Netflix documentary called Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story began to reach massive audiences. Traffic to Romanek’s Wikipedia article spiked that month and reached about 45,000 visitors in one day. Given the corrections, readers were able to parse through the edits GSoW provided, which included the fact Romanek had previously admitted to faking evidence.
Wikipedia pages have steadily remained a crucial asset in search results due to the fact that Google often includes information from them in its knowledge panel windows that are displayed as a summary before users click a given link. However, due to the proclivity of vandalizing knowledge panels, information on nuanced topics, like cryptocurrency or the blockchain, may display inaccurate information, which GSoW actively monitors and edits.
As of now, Wikipedia does not have safeguards in place for vandalism, or permissions that allow for administrators to lock pages. A recent announcement from YouTube has raised the stakes even higher due to the fact that the video streaming company will now link to third-party sources, like Wikipedia, in the hopes of providing viewers with more accurate information, as much of the content on YouTube promotes bogus misinformation.
YouTube’s choice to rely on Wikipedia demonstrates that the crowdsourced encyclopedia still represents a valid source of information. While GSoW-monitored pages may experience a heightened amount of traffic due to this merger, Gerbic has stated in an interview with Wired that her team is amply trained for the future uptick.
The team has rewritten more than 630 Wikipedia pages that have amassed more than 28 million page visits.