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The Wikipedia biography controversy, also called the Seigenthaler incident, was a series of events that began in May 2005 with the anonymous posting of a hoax article in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia about John Seigenthaler, a well-known American journalist. The article falsely stated that Seigenthaler had been a suspect in the assassinations of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Then 78-year-old Seigenthaler, who had been a friend and aide to Robert Kennedy, characterized the Wikipedia entry about him as "Internet character assassination".

The hoax was not discovered and corrected until September 2005, after which Seigenthaler wrote about his experience in USA Today. The incident raised questions about the reliability of Wikipedia and other websites with user-generated content that lack the legal accountability of traditional newspapers and published materials. In a December 13 interview, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales expressed his undiminished support for Wikipedia policy allowing articles to be edited by anonymous users and announced plans of a vandalism-control strategy.

Moving the Wikiball in 2007

Wikipedia is a collaboratively edited, multilingual, free Internet encyclopedia that is supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Volunteers worldwide collaboratively write Wikipedia's 30 million articles in 287 languages, including over 4.4 million in the English Wikipedia. Anyone who can access the site can edit almost any of its articles, which on the Internet comprise the largest and most popular general reference work. On 9 February 2014, The New York Times reported that Wikipedia is ranked fifth globally among all websites stating, "With 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors a month, according to the ratings firm comScore, Wikipedia trails just Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and Google, the largest with 1.2 billion unique visitors."

Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched Wikipedia on January 15, 2001, the latter creating its name, a combination of wiki from the Hawaiian word for "quick" and encyclopedia.

Wikipedia's departure from the expert-driven style of encyclopedia-building and the presence of much unacademic content have received extensive attention in print media. Wikipedia has also become known as a news source because of the rapid update of articles related to breaking news.

The open nature of Wikipedia has caused concerns about its writing, the amount of vandalism, and the accuracy of information. Some articles contain unverified or inconsistent information, though a 2005 investigation in Nature showed that the 42 science articles they compared came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopędia Britannica.

On Wikipedia, vandalism is the act of editing the project in a malicious manner that is intentionally disruptive. Vandalism includes the addition, removal, or other modification of the text or other material that is either humorous, nonsensical, a hoax, or that is of an offensive, humiliating, or otherwise degrading nature.

The English Wikipedia is the English-language edition of the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Founded on 15 January 2001 and reaching four million articles by July 2012, it was the first edition of Wikipedia and remains the largest, with almost three times as many articles as the next largest, the Dutch Wikipedia. As of February 2014, nearly 14.4% of articles in all Wikipedias belong to the English-language edition. This share has gradually declined from more than 50% in 2003, due to the growth of Wikipedias in other languages. There are 4,453,965 articles on the site (live count). In December 2012, the combined text of the English Wikipedia's articles totaled approximately 9.7 gigabytes.

The Simple English Wikipedia is a variation, with most of the articles using a simplified level of English vocabulary. There are also two other "English" Wikipedias, the Scots Wikipedia which aims to preserve the vocabulary and grammar of the Scots language in all its forms over the past nine centuries, and the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Wikipedia.

The Arbitration Committee of the English Wikipedia website is a panel of editors that imposes binding rulings with regard to disputes between other editors of the online encyclopedia. The Committee was created by Jimmy Wales on December 4, 2003, as an extension of the decision-making power he had formerly held as owner of the site. Acting as the court of last resort for disputes among editors, the Committee has decided several hundred cases in its history. Because of its activities, the Committee has been examined by academics researching dispute resolution, and also reported in public media in connection with various case decisions and Wikipedia-related controversies.

The Wikipedia community is the community of contributors to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Individual contributors are known as "Wikipedians".

The overwhelming majority of Wikipedians are volunteers. With the increased maturity and visibility of Wikipedia other categories of Wikipedians emerged, such as Wikipedian in Residence and students with assignments related to editing Wikipedia. A significant controversy was stirred with paid contributors to Wikipedia, which even prompted an intervention from the Wikimedia Foundation.

Wikipedia was formally launched on 15 January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, but its technological and conceptual underpinnings predate this. The earliest known proposal for an online encyclopedia was made by Rick Gates in 1993, but the concept of a free-as-in-freedom online encyclopedia (as distinct from mere open source or freemium) was proposed by Richard Stallman in December 2000.

Crucially, Stallman's concept specifically included the idea that no central organization should control editing. This latter "massively multiplayer" characteristic was in stark contrast to contemporary digital encyclopedias such as Microsoft Encarta, Encyclopedia Britannica and even Bomis's Nupedia, which was Wikipedia's direct predecessor. In 2001, the license for Nupedia was changed to GFDL, and Wales and Sanger launched Wikipedia using the concept and technology of a wiki pioneered in 1995 by Ward Cunningham. Initially, Wikipedia was intended to complement Nupedia, an online encyclopedia project edited solely by experts, by providing additional draft articles and ideas for it. In practice, Wikipedia quickly overtook Nupedia, becoming a global project in multiple languages and inspiring a wide range of other online reference projects.

In recent years there have been numerous academic studies about Wikipedia in peer-reviewed publications. This research can be grouped into two categories. The first analyzed the production and reliability of the encyclopedia content, while the second investigated social aspects, such as usage and administration. Such studies are greatly facilitated by the fact that Wikipedia's database can be downloaded without needing to ask for the assistance of the site owner.

The major points of criticism of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, are the claims that the principle of being open for editing by everyone makes Wikipedia unauthoritative and unreliable (see Reliability of Wikipedia), that it exhibits systemic bias, and that its group dynamics hinder its goals. Among many examples, the Seigenthaler and Essjay incidents caused criticism of Wikipedia's reliability and usefulness as a reference.

Most university lecturers discourage students from citing any encyclopedia in academic work, preferring primary sources; some specifically prohibit Wikipedia citations. Wales stresses that encyclopedias of any type are not usually appropriate to use as citeable sources, and should not be relied upon as authoritative. Wales once said he receives about ten emails weekly from students saying they got failing grades on papers because they cited Wikipedia; he told the students they got what they deserved. "For God's sake, you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia", he said.

Wikipedia has been criticized for allowing information of graphic content. Articles depicting arguably objectionable content (such as Child nudity, Feces, Corpses, Human penis, and Vulva) contain graphic pictures and detailed information easily available to anyone with access to the internet, including children.

The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is a non-profit and charitable organization headquartered in San Francisco, California that operates several wikis. The foundation is mostly known for operating Wikipedia. The organization was founded in 2003 by Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, as a way to fund Wikipedia and its sister projects through non-profit means. Besides Wikipedia, the foundation also operates Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikimedia Commons, Wikispecies, Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikidata, Wikivoyage, Wikimedia Incubator, and Meta-Wiki. It also owned the now-defunct Nupedia.

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Last updated: January 2018
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