UBC Media Studies
Analysis of the genre of encyclopedias
The truth matters, but finding that truth is getting harder. Comparing an entry in the Encyclopedia with its corresponding entry in Wikipedia, several major differences are noted. With the Encyclopedia it’s easy to see it as a more legitimate source of information based on articles from expert sources. For example, the representations of Susan J. Tyburski’s encyclopedia entry, “Amnesty International” is written as a filtered and ordered encyclopedic text. The author describes the organization as “a global, non-profit, grassroots organization dedicated to the provisions of essential human rights for all persons and advocating for individuals whose rights have been violated” (par. 1). The author gives substantial information on the organization, such as its history, values and global recognition. She defines the organization, calling it “the prisoner’s friend” (par.1). Tyburski briefly mentions Amnesty International’s opponents: moral relativists. She goes on to describe why they oppose the humanitarian organization, thus giving her writing an unbiased air, which adds to her appeal as a reliable and credible scholarly source.
In contrast, Wikipedia’s encyclopedia is unusual in that anyone can add content, and those articles have not been verified. When you look at Wikipedia’s entry on “Amnesty International,” one of the first things you see is that it has entire chunks of text directly taken from AI’s website. Programmer Virgil Griffith, in 2008 exposed the manipulation of information with a Wikipedia search tool that revealed instances of conflict of interest edits. Griffith found that organisations edited topics related to themselves, including Amnesty International. In the wake of this scandal, this lends weight to the concern about trust worthiness, authorship and reliability. Wikipedia has changed our perception of knowledge, whereas now knowledge has become opinionated from the anonymous crowd on the internet. To find the truth we need to learn from the great writers.
Tyburski, Susan J. “Amnesty International.” Encyclopedia of Criminal Justice Ethics. Ed. Bruce A. Arrigo. Vol. 1. Los Angeles: SAGE Reference, 2014. 24-26
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