My friend Marc posted a video on his website yesterday.
It’s interestng — a sort of “Oh. My. God. Social Media is not a fad. It is taking over the world!” manifesto … with waves of what Marc called “facts and figures that are hard to ignore”.

Having watched it, a few things struck me:
The increasing volume & frenzy of the soundtrack communicates a subliminal message of UNEASE — something “spooky” or out of control is happening, it seems to shriek, and its “facts” slides portray a world caught in the grip of something unsettling, even alarming — “Look out, it’s getting away on you!

(I personally find “Hurry, hurry or you’ll MISS OUT!!” sales pitches anathema … as well as unconvincing.)

But one of the “facts” presented in the video…

A bold claim from Erik Qualman

… a statement that “Studies show it’s [Wikipedia] more accurate than Encyclopaedia Britannica” seemed, well, implausible to me. And so it proved.

I met an Encylopaedia Britannica professional at a Digital Publishing E-book conference earlier this year and let me tell you, they are acutely aware of their competition (Wikipedia in particular) — and are focussed on maintaining/improving their perceived ‘competitive advantages’ (only one of which is Encylopaedia Britannica’s accuracy and reliability). Being #1 makes them a target, obviously. The one to whom others are compared — thus, the “fact” in question.

Erik Qualman’s video slideshow directs curious viewers to the website for references. I followed, and digging through the links eventually got me to these remarks for the slide on Wikipedia:

Source: – calculated based on # articles per language category; Colorado State University Wikipedia Accuracy Study; open debate and of course very biased information is also found on this Wikipedia Accuracy page.

OK. I thought, maybe he’s overstated it. The Colorado SU study reference is vague, (see this if you care). At least he acknowledged Wikipedia may be “very biased” in assessing its own ‘accuracy’ … but I actually think they do a good job acknowledging their own accuracy issues in this External Peer Review page.
[As for Erik Q quoting “open debate” as a reference (!?) — as if that proves anything — sheesh!]

Key on that cited Wikipedia Accuracy page, you’ll discover if you follow the link, are these pearls (highlighted):

Because Wikipedia is open to collaborative editing and can be edited anonymously, assessments of its reliability usually include examinations of how quickly false or misleading information is removed. An early study conducted by IBM researchers in 2003 (not long after Wikipedia starteod in 2001, see History of Wikipedia) found that “vandalism is usually repaired extremely quickly–so quickly that most users will never see its effects [1] and concluded that Wikipedia had “surprisingly effective self-healing capabilities.”[ [2]

Studies [which?] suggest that Wikipedia’s reliability has improved in recent years, and it is increasingly used as a tertiary source.

An investigation reported in the journal Nature in 2005 suggested that for scientific articles Wikipedia came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopædia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors.”[3] These claims have been disputed by Encyclopædia Britannica.[4]
[my emphasis]

So, even Wikipedia itself doesn’t cite any “studies” showing its legendary accuracy (the [which?] is a request to back the claim up.)

Also, “reliability has improved in recent years” (!?!?) Oh dear. That sounds like an AA meeting: (HI, my name is Wiki. It’s been three months since my last binge of page vandalism).

So, overall, a lot less ‘certain sounding’ than the bald “Studies show it’s more accurate than Encyclopaedia Britannica” slide, huh? Even the cited “wikipedia accuracy” page contains no reference for a single study showing the claimed “more accurate” statement reproduced in the video slideshow.

Here’s author/video producer Erik Qualman reflecting on his own Wikipedia vs Britannica ‘comparison’:

If I had to do it again I would have made this [slide] say as accurate rather than more – obviously some articles will be more accurate (think of the realtime update of Michael Jackson’s death, but also some will be less accurate.
[emphasis added]

OK, that’s an admission he got it wrong. Thanks, Erik.

Reading on through the comments on his ‘sources’ page, however, I found these credibility-shredding interchanges:

Colin Fast // August 11, 2009 at 6:46 pm |

Cool video, but I have an extremely difficult time believing this stat:

80% of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees.

How can that possibly be true? I’d guess that 80% of companies have never even heard of LinkedIn.

REPLY from equalman // September 4, 2009 at 3:00 am |

Colin: Thanks for the post. This should read 80% use LinkedIn as “a” primary tool not as “their” primary tool. I’m traveling right now, but I also believe they updated the study recently so that it’s higher than 80%, but I’ll have to fact check that when I get out of this “tin box.” However I believe I list the source in below the article. Thanks for the feedback!

and this

Howard Weaver // August 14, 2009 at 3:14 am |

You’ve misstated your data.

I checked the very first fact the video cites — 96% of Gen Y use social media.

The data you reference actually says 96% of Gen Y *who are already online* have tried social media at least once. And they include email as social media.

That’s a far cry from what you claimed. It makes me wonder if the rest of your “research” is equally sloppy and misleading.

REPLY from equalman // August 14, 2009 at 1:51 pm |

Howard – thanks for the interest. Keep the feedback/comments/challenges coming as it will only make version 2 that much stronger. Thanks again for the interest/help! Have a great weekend.

Crikey! How far does this have to go before we call it what it is: hyperbole?

My view:
Of course social media IS a revolution (so is Wikipedia) and it may become/already be a ubiquitous utility/commodity affecting everyone and everything including Hottentots in deepest Africa and Amazon Forest Pygmies … while beating a platinum path to the door of internet marketing businesses and “experts/consultants” of various hues.

But there’s no need to EXAGGERATE. This sort of shabby hyperbole citing so-called “facts” reminds me of the poor scholarship certain politically-oriented people churn out in their slanted polemic. They have a point of view and [it seems to me] compromise their integrity with sloppy references that don’t really back up their point … but most readers won’t catch them out.

I saw Ann Coulter comprehensively caught out in citing a NY Times article to make a point in one of her books — an article which Al Franken showed said nothing like what she led her readers to believe it did. Here’s a video clip of the interchange:

I find this instructive and cautionary. Why lie? Why distort?

But back to Erik Qualman’s Social Media Revolution manifesto … I see this example as a case where an enthusiast with a point of view is merely being sloppy. The very same thing could be seen by a cynic as a scurrilous attempt to whip up hysteria (or business?)

Either way, it does no-one any favours. Urban legends are repeated virally and before we know it, truth becomes lies and lies become truth. To our cost. People tend to believe what they read, especially dressed up as “facts and figures” and delivered with the slick verisimilitude of Mr Qualman’s video slideshow.

When examined and found to be “optimistic”, disproven/false calims can badly undermine even a good argument, even without the histrionics of the soundtrack. (Not to mention that “Misleading and deceptive statements in the course of business” are a crime under Fair Trading legislation.)

And anyway, we owe our readers better. Don’t we owe readers the “real” facts?
Last word to Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion,
but not his own facts.