Mormonism and Wikipedia
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Mormonism and Wikipedia
[W]e have to remember that Joseph Smith was even more controversial in the 19th Century than he is now...What I think is the real failing of this piece is that it lacks scope. It just picks its way along from one little fact to another little fact, all of them ending up making Joseph Smith an ignoble character of some kind. And it never really assesses Joseph Smith's achievement. What was the significance of this person in history? After all, he was the founder of a church that is remarkable for continuing for a couple of centuries. Yet it doesn't give you any sense of how he did that. There's no explanation of how he acquired all these followers. … The article doesn't say anything about the impact of new revelation on followers or even make much of the fact that Joseph was continually receiving revelation. So it becomes a picky piece that isn't inaccurate, but it sort of lacks depth. It ends up being shallow, I think."
—Richard L. Bushman, describing the Joseph Smith, Jr. Wikipedia article, quoted by Michael De Groote, "Wiki Wars: In battle to define beliefs, Mormons and foes wage battle on Wikipedia," Deseret News, 30 January 2011. off-site
If for one second you believe that I care a whit for what a gang of 'tbm' disciples repeatedly spout here at WP then you are even simpler than I imagined; as far as 'guffaws' go, look in the mirror ... your lds church is more often the subject of ridicule here, by many WP editors.
—Banned Wikipedia editor "Duke53", 15 January 2010
Articles on this subject
- For an overview on this subject, see
- Mormonism and Wikipedia: The Church History That "Anyone Can Edit", Roger Nicholson, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, Vol. 1, 2012. 151-190
- "Wiki Wars: In battle to define beliefs, Mormons and foes wage battle on Wikipedia", Michael De Groote, Deseret News, January 30, 2011.
- "Something Wiki This Way Comes: How collaborative editing is changing the face of online LDS apologetics", R. Scott Lloyd, Church News, August 8, 2011.
- Something Wiki This Way Comes: How Collaborative Editing is Changing the Face of Online LDS Apologetics. A close look at the challenges and history of editing LDS topics in a Wikipedia. This is a 2011 FAIR conference presentation by Roger Nicholson, in PDF format.
FairMormon's Wikipedia Article Reviews
- A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Martin Harris" (Click here for full article)
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- A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Oliver Cowdery" (Click here for full article)
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- A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "First Vision"—
Brief Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/17/2011. This article has undergone moderate improvements in its use of sources since our last review. The article still contains a substantial amount of original research based upon primary sources, with the intent to disprove the vision and highlight perceived discrepancies between vision accounts. Believing scholars are labeled "apologists" in an attempt to diminish their credibility. (Click here for full article)
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- A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Joseph Smith"—
Brief Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/3/2011. This article has undergone substantial improvements in its use of sources since our initial review in 2009. Most of the citations are now accurately represented. (Click here for full article)
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- A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Golden plates"—
Brief Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/21/2011. This article has undergone only minor improvements in its use of sources since our last review. The article contains a large amount of original research on the part of the wiki editors. (Click here for full article)
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- A FairMormon Analysis of Wikipedia article "Three Witnesses"—
Brief Summary: Current review is based upon Wikipedia revision dated 9/28/2011. This article has been constructed in such a way as to discredit the witnesses by emphasizing any perceived contradictions in their various statements regarding their encounter with the gold plates. (Click here for full article)
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FairMormon's approach to Wikipedia articles
FairMormon regularly receives queries about specific LDS-themed Wikipedia articles with requests that we somehow "fix" them. Although some individual members of FAIR may choose to edit Wikipedia articles, FairMormon as an organization does not. Controversial Wikipedia articles require constant maintenance and a significant amount of time. We prefer instead to respond to claims in the FAIR Wiki rather than fight the ongoing battle that LDS Wikipedia articles sometimes invite. From FAIR’s perspective, assertions made in LDS-themed Wikipedia articles are therefore treated just like any other critical (or, if one prefers, "anti-Mormon") work. As those articles are revised and updated, we will periodically update our reviews to match.
Who can edit Wikipedia articles?
Editors who wish to participate in editing LDS-themed Wikipedia articles can access the project page here: Wikipedia:WikiProject Latter Day Saint movement. You are not required to be LDS in order to participate—there are a number of good non-LDS editors who have made valuable contributions to these articles.
Recommendations when editing Wikipedia articles
FAIR does not advocate removing any references from Wikipedia articles. The best approach to editing Wikipedia is to locate solid references to back up your position and add them rather than attempting to remove information. Individuals who intend to edit should be aware that posting information related to the real-world identities of Wikipedia editors will result in their being banned from editing Wikipedia. Attacking editors and attempting to "out" them on Wikipedia is considered very bad form. The best approach is to treat all Wikipedia editors, whether or not you agree or disagree with their approach, with respect and civility. An argumentative approach is not constructive to achieving a positive result, and will simply result in what is called an "edit war." Unfortunately, not all Wikipedia editors exhibit good faith toward other editors (see, for example, the comment above from "Duke53" or comments within these reviews made by John Foxe's sockpuppet "Hi540," both of whom repeatedly mocked LDS beliefs and LDS editors prior to their being banned.)
Do LDS editors control Wikipedia?
Although there exist editors on Wikipedia who openly declare their affiliation with the Church, they do not control Wikipedia. Ironically, some critics of the Church periodically falsely accuse Wikipedia editors of being LDS simply because they do not accept the critics' desired spin on a particular article.
Do "anti-Mormons" control Wikipedia?
Again, the answer is no. The truth is that Wikipedia is generally self-policing. Highly contentious articles do tend to draw the most passionate supporters and critics.
Why do certain LDS articles seem to be so negative?
Although some LDS-related Wikipedia articles may appear to have a negative tone, they are in reality quite a bit more balanced than certain critical works such as One Nation Under Gods. Although many critical editors often accuse LDS-related Wikipedia articles of being "faith promoting" or claim that they are just an extension of the Sunday School manual, this is rarely the case. Few, if any, Latter-day Saints would find Wikipedia articles to be "faith promoting." Generally, the believers think that the articles are too negative and the critics believe that the articles are too positive. LDS Wikipedia articles should be informative without being overtly faith promoting. However, most of the primary sources, including the words of Joseph Smith himself, are "faith promoting." This presents a dilemma for Wikipedia editors who want to remain neutral. The unfortunate consequence is that Joseph's words are rewritten and intermixed with contradictory sources, resulting in boring and confusing prose.
We examine selected Wikipedia articles and examine them on a "claim-by-claim" basis, with links to responses in the FairMormon Answers Wiki. Wikipedia articles are constantly evolving. As a result, the analysis of each article will be updated periodically in order to bring it more into line with the current version of the article. The latest revision date may be viewed at the top of each individual section. The process by which Wikipedia articles are reviewed is the following:
- Update each Wikipedia passage and its associated footnotes.
- Examine the use of sources and determine whether or not the passage accurately represents the source used.
- Provide links to response articles within the FairMormon Answers Wiki.
- If violation of Wikipedia rules is discovered, identify which Wikipedia editor (by pseudonym) made the edit, provide a description of the rule violated and a link to the Wikipedia "diff" showing the actual edit.
- If a violated rule is later corrected in a subsequent revision, the violation is removed and a notation is added that the passage is correct per cited sources. This doesn't mean that FAIR necessarily agrees with the passage—only that it is correct based upon the source used.
The Interpreter Foundation responds to these questions
Roger Nicholson,"Mormonism and Wikipedia: The Church History That “Anyone Can Edit”", Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, 1:151-190 (2012)
The ability to quickly and easily access literature critical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been made significantly easier through the advent of the Internet. One of the primary sites that dominates search engine results is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that “anyone can edit.” Wikipedia contains a large number of articles related to Mormonism that are edited by believers, critics, and neutral parties. The reliability of information regarding the Church and its history is subject to the biases of the editors who choose to modify those articles. Even if a wiki article is thoroughly sourced, editors sometimes employ source material in a manner that supports their bias. This essay explores the dynamics behind the creation of Wikipedia articles about the Church, the role that believers and critics play in that process, and the reliability of the information produced in the resulting wiki articles.