Jimmy Wales on Wikipedia, Larry Sanger on Jimmy Wales

“Vandalism is a very minor problem,” insists Wales.

In tomorrow's issue of New Statesman (it's good, you should buy it . . . every week) I've written a profile of one of the most influential men around – but a man whose face you may not recognise.

When I met Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales on 13 January, two days before the website marked its tenth anniversary, we spoke about a range of subjects. Here are a few extracts from the piece:

On Wikipedia and the "big society"

Perhaps Wikipedia is an example of what the Prime Minister, David Cameron, calls the "big society". "It is, yeah, of course it is," Wales says. "We shouldn't replace the NHS with a wiki. But thinking about community participation and involvement, a spirit of volunteerism, a spirit of helping out, a spirit of self-reliance, rather than imagining that the government and taxes should solve all things – then fine."

On managing malicious edits

Wales maintains that vandalism – the deliberate insertion of erroneous content – is "a very minor problem". In most cases, for most subjects, malicious edits are rare and are corrected quickly. Only for contentious pages – such as the one on the former US president George W Bush, where it takes just "37 seconds before someone edits it with a curse word" – is it necessary to pre-moderate changes made by the public.

On not voting

"No, I don't vote. I have in the past, but . . ." He pauses again, and then says: "It's a rather odd reason why I don't. In Florida, in order to vote, you have to register with your actual address, and for security reasons, for the safety of my family – because there are many, many lunatics – I can't register to vote with my real address. If I could register to vote with a fake address I could vote, but apparently that's a felony." He concedes that "it sounds slightly paranoid. But," he says, "it's not paranoid."

I also spoke to Larry Sanger, the other man credited with getting Wikipedia off the ground. The conversation confirms the uncomfortable relationship between the two:

Sanger has no doubts about his own contribution to Wikipedia. "It was basically my full-time job," he tells me on the phone from Ohio. "This is going to sound like an exaggeration, given the way Jimmy Wales talks about the history of Wikipedia, [but] I never had much of a relationship with Jimmy Wales while we were working on Wikipedia, because Jimmy Wales didn't work very much on Wikipedia in the first year."

This notwithstanding, does he not miss that excitement of co-operation, the development of a working friendship, even, during those early start-up days? "We were never friends," he says flatly. Are they still in touch? He laughs. "No!"

Read the full piece in the issue, plus there's an edited transcript of the full interview here.

UPDATE: Wikipedia's benevolent dictator is now online.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Quiz: Can you identify fake news?

The furore around "fake" news shows no sign of abating. Can you spot what's real and what's not?

Hillary Clinton has spoken out today to warn about the fake news epidemic sweeping the world. Clinton went as far as to say that "lives are at risk" from fake news, the day after Pope Francis compared reading fake news to eating poop. (Side note: with real news like that, who needs the fake stuff?)

The sweeping distrust in fake news has caused some confusion, however, as many are unsure about how to actually tell the reals and the fakes apart. Short from seeing whether the logo will scratch off and asking the man from the market where he got it from, how can you really identify fake news? Take our test to see whether you have all the answers.

 

 

In all seriousness, many claim that identifying fake news is a simple matter of checking the source and disbelieving anything "too good to be true". Unfortunately, however, fake news outlets post real stories too, and real news outlets often slip up and publish the fakes. Use fact-checking websites like Snopes to really get to the bottom of a story, and always do a quick Google before you share anything. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.