Monday, November 13, 2017

The Texas Supreme Court Discusses the Perils of Relying on Wikipedia

As I was skimming for cases discussing libel and the TCPA (Texas Citizens Participation Act), I stumbled into D Magazine Partners v. Rosenthal, No.15-0790, 2017 WL 1041234 (Tx. Sup. Ct. March 17, 2017). Some readers may have heard of this case because it concerns D Magazine and their publication of a local interest story. The gist of this story, and the subsequent libel case, revolves around an article published by D Magazine identifying the plaintiff as the “The Park Cities Welfare Queen.” The article contains an investigation of the plaintiff and provides evidence that she may be abusing public benefits while living in a wealthy part of Dallas etc.

Where does Wikipedia tie in? Well, apparently the Court of Appeals relied heavily on Wikipedia for the definition of “welfare queen.” As the Tex. Sup. Court states: “Essentially, the [Court of Appeals] used the Wikipedia definition as the lynchpin of its analysis on a critical issue.” Id. at 6. The Court took issue with this heavy reliance and spent significant space discussing their concerns with relying on Wikipedia for a critical issue. This sums up their concern:

“Of the many concerns expressed about Wikipedia use, lack of reliability is paramount and may often preclude its use as a source of authority in opinions. At the least, we find it unlikely Wikipedia could suffice as the sole source of authority on an issue of any significance to a case.”

Id. at 5. It did not end there. Justice Guzman drafted a separate concurrence “to emphasize the perils of relying on Wikipedia.” Id. at 10 (Guzman, J., concurring). There are a lot of nuggets worth including here, so I will pull out a few and present them next.

Both the majority and Justice Guzman acknowledge the usefulness of Wikipedia throughout, but they caution against reliance: “Wikipedia has many strengths and benefits, but reliance on unverified, crowd-generated information to support judicial rulings is unwise.” Id. at 10 (Guzman, J., concurring).

Justice Guzman even quotes Wikipedia’s warning against citing as a “damning indictment”: “As Wikipedia states more pointedly, “Wikipedia is a wiki, which means that anyone in the world can edit an article, deleting accurate information or adding false information, which the reader may not recognize. Thus, you probably shouldn't be citing Wikipedia.” Id. at 11 (Guzman, J., concurring) (emphasis not added).

Justice Guzman concludes with this, which looks like it could have been written by a librarian: “…in my view, Wikipedia properly serves the judiciary only as a compendium—a source for sources—and not as authority for any disputed, dispositive, or legally consequential matter.” Id. at 13 (Guzman, J., concurring).

It is nice to have the weight of the Texas Supreme Court on your side when you caution against Wiki reliance to your library’s patrons. For additional information about this case, you can read this article at Law 360 by Nicholas Sarokhanian.

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