AI Research Reveals Wikipedia is More Manipulative than We Thought It was!
AI scientists discovered that Wikipedia has a significant influence on the decisions taken by judges
According to new AI research, litigants could use Wikipedia to influence legal decisions. According to Neil Thompson of MIT’s Computer Science and AI Laboratory (CSAIL), judges are more likely to cite legal cases that have a Wikipedia entry. The discovery has raised concerns that untrustworthy information is influencing judicial decisions. The openness of Wikipedia may also allow legal decisions to be manipulated. A well-resourced litigant could encourage his legal team to anonymously integrate their own analysis of a relevant precedent into a Wikipedia article at an early stage of litigation.
The Argument Against Wikipedia
Wikipedia is increasingly being referenced in legal scholarship and court decisions. Busy judges use the site to stay up to date on case law developments but the shortcut is dangerous. Wikipedia admits that not everything on the site is correct, complete, or unbiased. While the website offers a vast amount of free information, research into the site’s accuracy and biases has yielded mixed results. Ad hoc topic coverage and unknown authorship pose additional risks. The worst-case scenario would be for a judge’s reliance on Wikipedia to cause them to rule differently than they would have if they had read either an expert secondary source or the cited precedent itself. Even if the outcome is the same, judges’ reliance on Wikipedia to determine the applicable law undermines the litigant’s expectation that the court’s reasoning is solely the result of expertise.
Precedents in the Law
The study concentrated on Wikipedia’s influence on Irish judges. The country has many similarities with other common law systems, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Notably, lower courts are bound by higher court decisions, and judges rely on previous cases to determine the applicable legal principle. However, unlike in the United States, decisions made in Irish courts are rarely covered in Wikipedia, making it easier to assess the impact of new entries. The researchers added 154 new entries to Wikipedia about Irish Supreme Court cases. The majority were written by law students under the supervision of faculty.
Each author had access to relevant legal materials, but their identities, areas of expertise, and potential biases were unknown. Half of the articles were chosen at random for publication on Wikipedia, where judges, clerks, and lawyers could access them. The other half was kept in the dark. This provided a counterfactual foundation for what happens in cases that do not have an entry on the site. The uploaded entries were highly visible in search engines. Our Wikipedia articles were almost always the first search result on Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo when searched by decision title or just the citation. The researchers then tracked how frequently the articles were cited in court decisions. They also looked to see if the arguments in court decisions were similar to those on Wikipedia.
According to the study, a Wikipedia article boosts a case’s citations in Ireland by more than 20%. This increase was much greater for lower court citations, indicating that the site is used more by judges or clerks with heavier workloads. Surprisingly, it was discovered that the language used in Wikipedia entries influenced the actual arguments used in judicial decisions. Given Wikipedia’s greater coverage of US court cases, the influence of Wikipedia on the use of precedent might be expected to be even greater.
The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, expressed initial reservations about the report. The nonprofit stated that it had limited access to study data, such as the complete list of articles and the number of citations it received. The researchers advocate for additional measures. One approach is to hire legal professionals as supervising editors to ensure page quality. Another option is to supplement the free legal content on more authoritative websites. The Oyez Project, which provides free synopses of recent US Supreme Court and Court of Appeal decisions, is one possible model. In either case, we see professional societies playing a significant role. We hope they will see our results and form expert committees to work with Wikipedia and other information sources to make them more authoritative.