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Free English Lesson: Wikipedia Vandals

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What's it about?: The pros and cons of Wikipedia
Key areas worked: Expressions with "fall", reading comprehension, listening
Themes: The internet, technology, research
Level: Upper Intermediate
Listening accent: Englishman

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Wikipedia Vandals PDF
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Article text - Wikipedia Vandals
The pros and cons of Wikipedia

What do you do when you need to look something up? Go to the library? Open an encyclopaedia? Click onto the internet? These days, most people go straight to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia. But how reliable is it?

There’s no denying the popularity and usefulness of Wikipedia. It attracts a massive 78 million visitors every month, and the site is available in more than 270 different languages. It’s one of the most comprehensive resources available, and it’s got much more information than an ordinary encyclopaedia. The site is updated on a daily basis by thousands of people around the world. Anyone with an internet connection can log on and edit the contents or add a new page. And you don’t need any formal training.

Of course, there are some controls. Wikipedia has a team of more than 1,500 administrators who check for false information. And prime targets for malicious comments (such as politicians) are off-limits to public editing. But with more than 16 million articles to keep an eye on, it isn’t easy. So, while Wikipedia benefits from being constantly updated with information from all over the world, it’s also open to “vandals”.

Some of the damage is easy to notice. One prankster drew devil horns and a moustache on Microsoft chairman Bill Gate’s photo, while another edited Greek philosopher Plato’s biography to say he was a “Hawaiian weather man who is widely believed to have been a student of ‘Barney the Purple Dinosaur’ and to have been deeply influenced by his dog, Cutie.”

But other things are harder to spot. The most common form of vandalism involves adding tiny items of false information into the biography of a famous person. Incredibly, some of this misinformation has appeared in newspapers, with The Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Independent all having fallen victim to the pranks. For example, in an obituary for British comedian Sir Norman Wisdom, one newspaper claimed that he co-wrote Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime hit “There’ll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover”. He did no such thing. And in another article, it was reported that TV theme tune composer Ronnie Hazlehurst had written the S Club 7 hit “Reach”. Once again, not true.

So, if you’re going to use any information from Wikipedia, make sure you double-check it first.

Language Focus: Expressions with "fall"

Look at this extract from the article on this page, “...all having fallen victim to the pranks...” The writer has used an expression with the verb fall: to fall victim to something. Complete the sentences with your own words.

1. I fell asleep at... last night.
2. I fell out with my best friend because...
3. I fell down while I was...
4. They fell about laughing at...

English Exercise: Reading Comprehension
Read the article again and answer these questions.

1. How many different languages is the site available in?
2. How often is the site updated?
3. How many administrators are there?
4. Why are politicians off-limits to public editing?
5. What did one prankster do to an image of Bill Gates?
6. What was wrong with Norman Wisdom’s obituary?


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