Wikipedia is a resource for conducting research and a community of people with similar interests who help shape and guide what is posted under entries online. Wikipedia has a strong set of rules for editing entries.
Wikipedia as Evidence
Wikipedia is a self-described "online open-content collaborative encyclopedia." Wikipedia: General Disclaimer, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:General_disclaimer. This means that, except in certain cases to prevent disruption or vandalism, anyone can write and make changes to Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia: About, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About. Volunteer editors can submit content as registered members or anonymously. Id. Each time an editor modifies content, the editor's identity or IP address and a summary of the modification, including a time stamp, become available on the article's "history" tab. Jason C. Miller & Hannah B. Murray, "Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites Is Appropriate," 84 St. John's L. Rev. 633, 637 (2010). Wikipedia is one of the largest reference websites in the world, with over "70,000 active contributors working on more than 41,000,000 articles in 294 languages." Wikipedia: About, supra.
References to Wikipedia in judicial opinions began in 2004 and have increased each year, although such references are still included in only a small percentage of opinions. Jodi L. Wilson, "Proceed with Extreme Caution: Citation to Wikipedia in Light of Contributor Demographics and Content Policies," 16 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 857, 868 (2014). These cites often relate to nondispositive matters or are included in string citations. But, some courts "have taken judicial notice of Wikipedia content, based their reasoning on Wikipedia entries, and decided dispositive motions on the basis of Wikipedia content." Lee F. Peoples, "The Citation of Wikipedia in Judicial Opinions," 12 Yale J.L. & Tech. 1, 3 (2009–2010). While there has been extensive research on Wikipedia's accuracy, "the results are mixed—some studies show it is just as good as the experts, [while] others show Wikipedia is not accurate at all." Michael Blanding, "Wikipedia or Encyclopædia Britannica: Which Has More Bias?," Forbes (Jan. 20, 2015) (http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2015/01/20/wikipedia-or-encyclopaediabritannica-which-has-more-bias/#5c254ac51ccf).
Any court reliance on Wikipedia may understandably raise concerns because of "the impermanence of Wikipedia content, which can be edited by anyone at any time, and the dubious quality of the information found on Wikipedia." Peoples, supra at 3. Cass Sunstein, legal scholar and professor at Harvard Law School, also warns that judges’ use of Wikipedia "might introduce opportunistic editing." Noam Cohen, "Courts Turn to Wikipedia, but Selectively," N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2007) (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/29/technology/29wikipedia.html). The Fifth Circuit has similarly warned against using Wikipedia in judicial opinions, agreeing "with those courts that have found Wikipedia to be an unreliable source of information" and advising "against any improper reliance on it or similarly unreliable internet sources in the future." Bing Shun Li v. Holder, 400 F. App'x 854, 857 (5th Cir. 2010); accord Badasa v. Mukasey, 540 F.3d 909, 910–11 (8th Cir. 2008).
For others in the legal community, however, Wikipedia is a valuable resource. Judge Richard Posner has said that "Wikipedia is a terrific resource . . . because it [is] so convenient, it often has been updated recently and is very accurate." Cohen, supra. However, Judge Posner also noted that it "wouldn’t be right to use it in a critical issue." Id. Other scholars agree that Wikipedia is most appropriate for "soft facts," when courts want to provide context to help make their opinions more readable. Id. Moreover, because Wikipedia is constantly updated, some argue that it can be "a good source for definitions of new slang terms, for popular culture references, and for jargon and lingo including computer and technology terms." Peoples, supra at 31. They also argue that open-source tools like Wikipedia may be useful when courts are trying to determine public perception or community norms. Id. at 32. This usefulness is lessened, however, by the recognition that Wikipedia contributors do not necessarily represent a cross-section of society, as research has shown that they are overwhelmingly male, under forty years old, and living outside of the United States. Wilson, supra at 885–89.
Given the arguments both for and against reliance on Wikipedia, as well as the variety of ways in which the source may be utilized, a bright-line rule is untenable. Of the many concerns expressed about Wikipedia use, lack of reliability is paramount and may often preclude its use as a source of authority in opinions. At the least, we find it unlikely Wikipedia could suffice as the sole source of authority on an issue of any significance to a case. That said, Wikipedia can often be useful as a starting point for research purposes. See Peoples, supra at 28 ("Selectively using Wikipedia for . . . minor points in an opinion is an economical use of judges' and law clerks' time."). . . .
- "Wikipedia as Evidence": D Magazine Partners v. Rosenthal, 2017 WL 1041234 (Tex. Sup. Ct. Mar. 17, 2017).