Wikipedia articles affect decision-making in court – MIT study

Wikipedia is used not only by students when preparing coursework, but also by judges when making decisions. This is proved by an experiment by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led by Neil Thompson. Scientists have created new legal articles on Wikipedia and monitored how they affect legal processes.

Experiment began with the development of 150 articles for Wikipedia on Irish Supreme Court decisions written by law students. Half of these articles were randomly selected and published online where judges, clerks, and lawyers could use them. The other half was kept offline as a control group.

Two indicators were considered for the analysis: whether the case described in the article will be cited as a precedent in similar cases, and whether the argumentation in court will repeat the linguistic content of Wikipedia pages.

It turned out that cases that had Wikipedia articles were cited in court more than 20% more often. The effect was particularly strong for court decisions, where Wikipedia articles supported the judge’s argument. Lower courts used the online encyclopedia the most, where clerks and judges have more work and the convenience of Wikipedia attracted them.

“The fact that we wrote up all these cases, but the only ones that ended up on Wikipedia were those that won the proverbial ‘coin flip,’ allows us to show that Wikipedia is influencing both what judges cite and how they write up their decisions,” says the head of the study.

According to him, the study exposes a big problem in state policy. The most worrying thing is the fact that judges and their assistants can get unreliable information from Wikipedia that will influence their decisions.

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