Wikipedia didn't know it was YouTube's conspiracy theory fix

YouTube may be looking to combat fake news and conspiracy theories by embedding Wikipedia information, but the tactic came as a total surprise to the crowdsourced encyclopedia itself. Stung with repeated criticisms that YouTube hosts offensive, misleading, or conspiracy-filled footage and does little to manage that, CEO Susan Wojcicki announced at South by Southwest this week that it would be pushing back by using Wikipedia facts.

Describing the strategy as embedding "information cues," YouTube says that it'll be adding text boxes to controversial videos to give more context. Expected to begin appearing later this month, the focus will initially be on some of the more common topics that have proved to be catnip to the paranoid. That includes chemtrails, the dangers or otherwise of fluoride, and the moon landings.

Whether such a strategy makes sense has already prompted no small amount of controversy in itself, unsurprisingly. Wikipedia is, after all, user-edited. While there are teams of moderators who generally react swiftly to signs that the open encyclopedia's entries might be edited with biased motivations in mind, it's nonetheless questionable whether using one crowdsourced information source to keep another crowdsourced information source honest makes total sense.

Wherever you stand in that discussion, it seems the Wikimedia Foundation – the company behind Wikipedia – are getting about as much notice about YouTube's strategy as the SXSW audience did. "In this case, neither Wikipedia nor the Wikimedia Foundation are part of a formal partnership with YouTube," the Foundation said in a statement today. "We were not given advance notice of this announcement."

Of course, YouTube is under no obligation to give Wikipedia any sort of heads-up that it plans to use the service. That, after all, is the nature of the license for reuse that the encyclopedia is built upon. Still, there's also the not-unreasonable expectation that companies that do make use of its content will return the favor in some way, the most straightforward being some sort of donation.

To that end, "we encourage companies who use Wikimedia's content to give back in the spirit of sustainability," the Foundation hints. Given there's every possibility that highlighting Wikipedia entries on YouTube's more controversial videos could encourage viewers to head over and try to make some edits themselves, the strategy might end up causing more work for the online resource's moderator team. YouTube hasn't said whether it plans to reimburse Wikipedia for basing its conspiracy fix on the site.