At SXSW last week, YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki, told attendees that YouTube will be using information from Wikipedia to complement videos relating to events. In that way, viewers will be able to determine the veracity of the video and to see alternate points of view for controversial subjects. Given the ease with which misinformation spreads, giving people divergent points of view so they can evaluate events seems like a good idea.
Of course, there was one little catch. YouTube didn’t let the folks at the Wikimedia Foundation know they’d be using their data in this way. While Wikipedia’s data is offered openly and freely, it’s interesting that YouTube, a commercial service, is taking advantage of the free access to a massive public repository of data. In a statement, Wikimedia said “We are always happy to see people, companies and organizations recognize Wikipedia’s value as a repository of free knowledge. In this case, neither Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation are part of a formal partnership with YouTube”.
Such a move poses new risks to Wikipedia. If a conspiracy theorist or extremist post a video on YouTube, it’s possible they will edit Wikipedia entries ahead of time to increase the “truthiness” (to steal a Stephen Colbert-ism) of the video with the expectation that data from Wikipedia could appear along side the YouTube upload. That will add costs and effort to Wikipedia’s operations. And by not warning Wikimedia that they’d be doing this, YouTube has put their new “partner” in the firing line.
To me, that seems a little irresponsible.
It also suggests YouTube is abrogating their responsibility to tag data they believe to be questionable and using the Wikipedia information to outsource the job of deciding whether something is truthful to you.
Hopefully, YouTube’s decision to use Wikipedia in this way will be accompanied by a fat payment and resources to properly research and validate the information they use.