"What we're doing is bringing democracy to knowledge. [...] Together we can create a reality we can all agree on — the reality we just agreed on."
- Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, July 31, 2006
Wikiality was coined on July 31, 2006 in The Wørd segment on Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report. It’s a combination of the words Wikipedia: the online user-edited encyclopedia (but you already know what that is), and reality. Wikiality is truth by consensus: the idea that is enough people agree on something, it makes it true.
Colbert demonstrated this by editing the Wikipedia article George Washington to add “In conclusion, George Washington did not own slaves.” as well as editing the article about his show to read “Oregon is Idaho's Portugal” (as opposed to the existing article that explained how he’d referenced Oregon as both "the Canada of California" and "Washington's Mexico"). After tapping at the keys, Colbert declared, "'Oregon is Idaho’s Portugal' is the opinion I've always held, you can look it up."
Surprisingly, Colbert actually did alter these articles. Or, at least, StephenColbert the Wikipedia user did, and at 6:35 p.m. ET: the time of The Colbert Report taping.
But the real drama erupted when Colbert encouraged his viewers (affectionately dubbed “The Colbert Nation”) to edit Wikipedia’s elephant article to say that Africa’s elephant population had tripled in the last six months. “I don’t know if that’s true [The Wørd bullet: It isn’t],” He admitted. “But if it was true, boy, that’d be a real blow to the environmentalists.”
TCR fans instantly followed through and went on a Wikipedia vandalism rampage, editing about 20 Wikipedia articles including the articles on elephants, African elephants, and The Colbert Report. The Colbert Nation was, however, quickly forced to halt when any relevant articles were locked, and the user StephenColbert was blocked from editing any more articles.
The danger of wikiality is a main reason why many teachers, professors, and other reality enthusiasts argue against Wikipedia being a reliable reference source. But the elephant incident that Colbert sparked has also demonstrated Wikipedia’s ability to defend against faulty facts. Although articles may have been incorrect for a few minutes or hours, they were quickly revised. Then again, would these errors have been so easily and speedily corrected if they weren't so highly publicized? It's a lot easier to overlook vandalism when it isn't on TV. And so, the debate continues.
Jim Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, seemed unruffled by the controversy and even offered to unblock StephenColbert (who, as long as he is not confirmed to be the real Stephen Colbert, is violating Wikipedia’s username policies by claiming to be a celebrity) if he’d apologize on air.
“I've met Stephen,” Wales told MTV news. “And I know how he is. He likes to have a joke. The one time we met, he told me that we had to fix the article about him on our site, because it said he was married. I said to him, 'But I thought you were married.' And he replied, 'Well, I am, but it disappoints my female fans.' "
As usual, The Colbert Nation (a sometimes frighteningly-loyal cult of followers) went beyond the call of duty, and wikiality.com (The Truthiness Encyclopedia) is now a real website acting as an encyclopedia of all things Colbert, and was even mentioned on TCR (on October 18, 2006).
Wikiality was named number two of the Top Television Buzzwords of 2006 in The Global Language Monitor, second only to Stephen Colbert’s other coined word: truthiness.