Wikipedia’s quiet dominance over internet knowledge and close ties to authoritarian big tech companies is giving the online encyclopedia site too much unchecked power.
In one recent example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is under federal and state investigation for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic and growing list of scandals, is described on his Wikipedia page in a positive light while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential GOP frontrunner for the 2024 presidential election, is painted as a partisan hack who ignored the science.
this is nuts. check the different wikipedia descriptions on desantis and cuomo pandemic response: pic.twitter.com/nIalfVPBuB
— Logan Hall (@loganclarkhall) June 8, 2021
Anyone who searches for information about both of these governors’ pandemic responses will be given this information that isn’t necessarily true, and Wikipedia doesn’t seem to do anything about it. As a matter of fact, any user who wanted to manipulate a page to fit his agenda could as long as it slipped through Wikipedia’s editing process. That happened seven years ago when a Wikipedia user overlooked The Federalist’s long list of “featured-in” publications and important interviews to try to delete our publication’s entry because, according to the user, it “does not pass the threshold for notability.”
Wikipedia’s move to the left, especially when echoing narratives found in corporate media, is not a sudden one. Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger is just one of the many people who recently called attention to Wikipedia slowly but surely kissing its neutrality goodbye. In an interview in February, Sanger said the 20-year-old website’s shift towards the left is “disheartening” and “troubling.”
“Wikipedia’s ideological and religious bias is real and troubling, particularly in a resource that continues to be treated by many as an unbiased reference work,” Sanger said.
Years before that, Sanger claimed the online encyclopedia was “broken beyond repair” and raised alarms about the informalities associated with the site’s so-called editing process, which he said caters to “mob rule.”
Wikipedia was founded in 2001 to provide peer-reviewed information written by qualified people, but in the last two decades, the online site has morphed into a massive propaganda machine that is boosted and employed by powerful global corporations to censor and suppress dissenters.
Wikipedia currently defines itself as “a free, multilingual online encyclopedia written and maintained by a community of volunteer contributors through a model of open collaboration, using a wiki-based editing system,” but it doesn’t stop at simply offering curious internet-users a place to find answers. In addition to publishing millions of pages of information online for free, Wikipedia also offers various projects including Wikimedia Commons, Multilingual Wikisource, Wikibooks, Wikidata, Wikinews, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikiversity, Wikivoyage, and Wiktionary.
Wikipedia’s policy that “anyone with Internet access can write and make changes to Wikipedia articles” with just some exceptions seems democratic, but even with an editing approval process littered with rules and some protected pages, the online encyclopedia appears to produce biased or even wrong information consistently. High schoolers and students in higher education institutions are warned against using Wikipedia as a source in academic materials for this reason, but anyone can Google anything and often see that Google’s top search engine result directs them to click on Wikipedia.
Hoaxers and Wikipedia “vandals” have always been a problem for the site, but the deliberate spinning of information to fit a certain narrative is a rising concern. While Wikipedia itself doesn’t necessarily determine the narrative that is portrayed in a particular article because it can be authored by anyone with “internet access,” the website also doesn’t appear to have a problem or a process to deal with the excessive bias that it projects all over the internet.
Wikipedia’s control over online knowledge seems monopolistic, but Rachel Bovard, policy director at The Conservative Partnership Institute, says that it doesn’t technically qualify.
“I don’t think Wikipedia qualifies as a monopoly for a couple of reasons, but largely because it’s not necessarily illegal to be large, dominant, or even a monopoly itself,” Bovard told The Federalist.
While Wikipedia may not technically be a monopoly, it is clear that the groupthink-driven website has a vise grip on the dissemination of knowledge.
“That said, of course one of the primary concerns of the internet age is the concentrated control of the world’s information in the hands of two or three dominant players. That is the case for Google, which filters information for 90 percent of America, and arguably a case that could be applied to Wikipedia as well,” Bovard explained. “When one dominant site engages in ideological distortion of information — while presenting that information as objective to the user — this has obvious consequences and downstream effects on how people think, form opinions, and even if they know to seek out alternatives. The more Wikipedia works hand in glove with companies who are known to moderate content along ideological lines (like Apple, Amazon, and Google), the less trust consumers should have that the information being presented is being done so objectively.”
What’s even more concerning about Wikipedia’s control is how it is in cahoots with big tech to keep it that way. In addition to being propelled to the top of search results by Google and employed by Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri to answer users’ questions, the digital encyclopedia company regularly receives money from global tech oligarchs.
In 2019, Google gave Wikipedia $3.1 million, “bringing its total contribution to the free encyclopedia over the past decade to more than $7.5 million.” Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple also have a track record of fawning over Wikipedia by donating big bucks to the website and its projects over the last few years.
Twitter also feeds the Wikipedia-centric world by relying on its entries to determine which users get blue check marks next to their names, a decision that one “active Wikipedian” said “exemplifies the institutionalization of Wikipedia’s definition of a ‘user’ and points to some ideological alignments between Wikipedia and Twitter.”
“Wikipedia factors heavily into the categories for companies, brands, and nonprofits and activists, organizers, and other influential individuals. Companies and brands must satisfy two of the three requirements of “presence in public indices” like “Wikipedia (including multiple references to unaffiliated external sources),” a recurring presence in qualifying news outlets, or follower count in the top 0.1 percent of active accounts located in the same country,” Slate reported at the end of 2020.
These deep relationships between Wikipedia and Silicon Valley Giants, Bovard said, could eventually spur action from policymakers.
“Historically, whenever America has confronted a technology that begins to substantively change the way we live, interact, speak, or transact, they have relied on the common law tradition of common carriage, or some variation thereof. Other options exist as well, from public accommodation statutes to tying existing public law privileges like Section 230 to more accountable and non-discriminatory behavior from platforms,” Bovard said.
If knowledge is power, then Wikipedia’s quiet infiltration of the internet is more than concerning. Wikipedia clearly dominates the information on the internet. With regular financing and promotion from big tech, the online encyclopedia and its shift to the left aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.