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MIT Technology Review

Wikipedia’s Founder Wants to Fix Fake News

Can a cadre of professional journalists, edited by volunteers and paid via crowdfunding, crack a problem that’s plaguing the Internet?

The cofounder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has a rather unconventional plan to stamp out the current scourge of the Internet, fake news. Taking inspiration from his world-changing online encyclopedia, he wants to reinvent the way that news is made.

Wales imagines a future where a civic-minded community of voluntary workers can help create news in such a way that reporters have nowhere to hide. The resulting product, which will be called Wikitribune, will be a totally free online news service that tirelessly provides links to sources and data, with legions of committed helpers keeping it on the straight and narrow path of accuracy.

To that end, Wales plans to hire a small team of professional journalists who are paid via donations from supporters based on a crowdfunding model. People making donations will have a say in what news gets covered, and the journalists will be made to provide full transcripts or recordings of their interviews in the name of transparency. The final articles will be fact-checked and proofread by a community of volunteers.

Speaking to the Guardian, Wales called it “news by the people and for the people.” Whether it’s news the people will pay for is an open question, as are issues like what topics Wikitribune will cover and whether it be able to gather and engage a big enough team of talented volunteers to work with the journalists on staff.

That said, even if Wikipedia’s halcyon days are over, the website certainly served to demonstrate that plenty of people care enough about facts to spare time getting them right for the greater good. There’s no reason why the same logic couldn’t apply to journalism.

So while some of the details may yet prove problematic for Wikitribune, it is at least taking a proactive approach to fighting fake news. Next to the efforts made by Facebook and Google, which place the onus firmly on the reader to filter out truth from fiction, it can only be a positive step.

(Read more: Wikitribune, The Guardian, “For Facebook and Google, the Best Way to Fight Fake News Is You,” “The Decline of Wikipedia”)