There’s not much room for nuance when it comes to the Daily Mail. You either love it – as its millions of readers, in print and online, do – or hate it, as its many detractors do. Or there’s a bit of both when you just can’t stop yourself scrolling down the sidebar of shame at least once a day.
But its haters have a victory with the news that Wikipedia editors have taken the highly unusual step of voting to ban the Mail as a source for the website in all but exceptional circumstances. They have deemed the news group as “generally unreliable”, quite an achievement when the likes of Russia Today and Fox News are both currently accepted as valid sources.
The move comes with the increasing concern over fake news, which began life on the internet but, with Trump’s use of ‘alternative facts’, has now gone fully mainstream.
Editors have described the arguments for a ban as “centred on the Daily Mail’s reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism and flat-out fabrication” and stemmed from a proposal made by one editor in early January, with the discussion on the Mail’s reliability having been ongoing since at least early 2015.
The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, but does not involve itself in editing, explained “Based on the requests for comments section [on the reliable sources noticeboard], volunteer editors on English Wikipedia have come to a consensus ‘that 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’. This means that the Daily Mail will generally not be referenced as a ‘reliable source’ on English Wikipedia, and volunteer editors are encouraged to change existing citations to the Daily Mail to another source deemed reliable by the community. This is consistent with how Wikipedia editors evaluate and use media outlets in general – with common sense and caution.”
Those who opposed the ban pointed out that other sources could be equally unreliable, adding that its historical record may have been better and that sometimes it could be trusted. But, following discussion amongst editors, a consensus was clearly reached. They have asked for volunteers to review around 12,000 links to the Mail and replace them with more trusted sources, if available.
Wikipedia allows anyone to make edits, but there is a community of thousands who police its pages, correcting errors, whether deliberate or accidental.
A recent Buzzfeed article demonstrated how Britain has been less susceptible than the US to outright fake news – due to the twin facts that our press is already so partisan, it doesn’t really need it, and that the Brits appear to like stories with at least a grain of truth to it, even if that truth is then stretched to fit their agenda. So it is something of a surprise to see a British publication singled out first; however, perhaps again it demonstrates how much the British do value that grain of truth being present.
The move is a serious slap in the face for the Mail’s credibility – it will be interested to see what reaction its infamous editor Paul Dacre will have to the news: expect a virtiolic editorial accusing everyone who uses Wikipedia of being part of the out-of-touch, Remoaner, liberal elite any day now.