I’ve learned that Wikipedia is a reliable source, not because the people who write the content for specific articles are experts in the field, but because it is a collaboration among many individuals working towards a common goal. Take my article, for example. I was never an expert on Cuban history, race relations in Latin American countries during the last century, or social/political movements etc. I’m not an authority on Cuban topics, I’m just a humble English major looking to fulfill his assignment. Yet, in spite of the fact that I’m not an expert, I managed to create an article that I think vaguely resembles something written by an actual Cuban historian. I accomplished this because of the collaboration with fellow students who gave me suggestions on how to format my page, from comments given to me by Shalor on how to improve my voice and style, from the authors and experts whose essays and scholarly articles I researched and obtained rich information. Previously, I would have thought that a Wikipedia page made by some college student would be inaccurate, weak, and laden with errors. Now that I’ve been in the driver’s seat, so to speak, I see how much of a team effort goes into building a Wikipedia page. If I hadn’t had all of those resources, my page would have definitely suffered.
Working on a Wikipedia page showed me that knowing a great deal about a specific subject/topic is not the most important thing when it comes to online writing for an audience. The critical thing is a willingness to seek out information from many places, to be willing to ask for help, and to make oneself vulnerable to criticism in order to improve one’s writing.
In terms of what I learned about how the internet works, I learned that it is much more bureaucratic and regulated than I thought. Wikipedia has strict rules from how an opening paragraph should be written to what visual media can be authorized. Wikipedia is much more methodical and organized than most teachers would have you think. In high school, I was taught never to use Wikipedia because anyone was capable of editing and changing an article to say whatever they wanted. Having worked on a wiki page myself, I feel like this is misleading and not completely true. While yes, anyone can make changes to a Wikipedia article, you’d still need an account on Wikipedia to do so. Additionally, Wikipedia monitors the content on pages with hawk-like intensity. If someone makes a change to an article, Wikipedia usually has procedures in place to prevent things like this from happening, and Wiki staff will usually have made the proper corrections very quickly.
We’re living in an age in which our online freedoms are in a precarious and endangered position. I think that this assignment gave me a greater appreciation for resources like Wikipedia. I’ve always taken for granted the fact that I have access to an online encyclopedia of the vast collection of all human knowledge compiled into one easy to use platform. After contributing to Wikipedia, I feel a much stronger urge to protect it.
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- Afrocubanismo 2