American judges now frequently reference Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopaedia, in their decisions. In fact, over 100 judicial rulings to date have relied on Wikipedia to some extent, including 13 from circuit courts of appeal. The obvious question is whether information found on the multilingual website is actually reliable.
This popular web-based free encyclopedia is written and edited collaboratively by hundreds of volunteers from around the globe. Almost all articles are hyperlinked to associated articles, often with additional information. Volunteers are encouraged to cross-reference, cite and add further information to their articles. The sheer number of people dedicated to writing on the site and the healthly usage statistics lead to a further question: does the popularity of Wikipedia, now one of the largest reference sites on the Internet, confirm, in itself, reliability?
Some professors of law believe public acceptance is critical, expecially for litigants. Once they accept Wikipedia as a reliable source, they believe its use for facts should not be challenged unless a situation arises where the author of an article has made fraudulent submissions a situation which, according to the online news media, recently surfaced when a power contributor of the website stated that he lied about his academic credentials.
On the other hand, some judges feel that Wikipedia should not be referenced for a critical issue, especially since the lack of quality control can lead to opportunistic editing that could influence outcomes in cases. This would undoubtedly undermine the foundation of judicial opinions.
According to comScore Media Metrix, Wikipedia received over 38 million visitors in December 2006 in the U.S. alone, making it a top 20 web destination. Many of these visitors include judicial law clerks who often prepare and write legal memos for their judges. In fact, some in the legal community say the rise of Wikipedia within the judicial ranks is attributed in most part to this exact fact.