Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica

Wikipedia poses a great challenge to traditional encyclopedias, which for centuries have set the standards of society’s knowledge with their printed editions. My research partner Marcia W. DiStaso from Penn State and I, therefore, studied the impact of social media on the standards of our knowledge. In a longitudinal panel study that will be presented at the 2011 AEJMC Conference in St. Louis on August 11, we analyzed the framing of content in encyclopedia entries of Fortune 500 companies in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica between 2006 and 2010.

Content analyses of the length, tonality and topics of 3,985 sentences showed that Wikipedia entries are significantly longer, more positively and negatively framed, and focus more on corporate social responsibilities and legal and ethical issues than entries in the traditional encyclopedia, which are predominantly neutral. The findings stress that the knowledge-generation processes in society appear to be fundamentally shifting because of the use of social media. These changes significantly impact which information becomes available to society and how it is framed.

The presentation of our study “Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica: A Longitudinal Analysis to Identify the Impact of Social Media on the Standards of Knowledge” will be on August 11 from 8:15 to 9:45 a.m. Please check the AEJMC program for details on the location. Please send me an e-mail, if you would like to receive a copy of the study.

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