Proceed With Extreme Caution: Citation to Wikipedia in Light of Contributor Demographics and Content Policies

Jodi L. Wilson · 16 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 857

Abstract

Courts and advocates have shown an increasing willingness to cite to Wikipedia. This trend has piqued the attention of scholars, who have considered the permanency concerns raised by citations to Wikipedia and critiqued how courts and advocates have used Wikipedia. This Article adds to the growing scholarship on the Wikipedia citation trend by examining the contours of the Wikipedia contributor crowd and the principles underlying Wikipedia’s content in order to better inform the evaluation of Wikipedia as a potential authoritative source. Part I provides an overview of the Wikipedia citation trend in cases and federal appellate briefs. Part II describes the ongoing judicial and scholarly debate about citation to Wikipedia. Part III first examines the size and demographics of the Wikipedia contributor crowd by using systems data and published surveys. Part III then examines Wikipedia’s editorial and content policies, which guide the Wikipedia contributor crowd in creating content. Finally, Part IV considers the Wikipedia contributor crowd and the editorial and content policies discussed in Part III in the context of traditional evaluative criteria. This evaluation calls into question some of the assumptions underlying the justifications for relying on Wikipedia. Thus, despite the trend, legal writers should proceed with extreme caution when considering reliance on Wikipedia.