Technology First Look

How Wikipedia’s founder wants to ‘fix the news'

Jimmy Wales is launching a new platform that he says will 'protect the integrity of information' from fake news.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, speaks at Hult International Business School's Executive Speaker Series in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012.
Ryan Anson/Hult International Business School/AP/File
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  • Estelle Shirbon
    Reuters

Jimmy Wales, the founder of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, has launched a website aimed at countering the spread of fake news by bringing together professional journalists and a community of volunteers and supporters to produce news articles.

The new platform, called Wikitribune, will be free to access and carry no advertising, instead relying on its readers to fund it, while the accuracy of news reports will be easily verifiable as source material will be published, Mr. Wales said.

"The news is broken, but we've figured out how to fix it," he said in a promotional video posted on the website's homepage.

The online proliferation of fake news, some of it generated for profit and some for political ends, became a major topic of angst and debate in many developed countries during last year's US presidential election.

Wales argued in his video that because people expected to get news for free on the internet, news sites were reliant on advertising money, which created strong incentives to generate so-called "clickbait," catchy headlines to attract viewers.

"This is a problem because ads are cheap, competition for clicks is fierce and low-quality news sources are everywhere," said Wales.

He also argued that social media networks, where an ever-increasing number of people get their news, were designed to show users what they wanted to see, confirm their biases and keep them clicking at all costs.

Social media giant Facebook was widely criticized last year for not doing enough to prevent fake news reports from spreading on its platform, and has announced new tools to tackle the problem.

Wales said Wikitribune would combine professional, standards-based journalism with what he called "the radical idea from the world of wiki that a community of volunteers can and will reliably protect the integrity of information."

He said articles would be authored, fact-checked and verified by journalists and volunteers working together, while anyone would be able to flag up issues and submit fixes for review.

"As the facts are updated, the news becomes a living, evolving artifact, which is what the Internet was made for," he said.

The Wikitribune homepage said the platform would go live in 29 days. It also indicated that the intention was to hire 10 journalists, but none had been hired so far.