“Wikipedia is…broken,” controlled by special interests and bad actors, says co-founder

I’ve done quite a bit of reporting about how Wikipedia is definitely not “the encyclopedia anyone can edit.” It’s become a vehicle for special interests to control information. Agenda editors are able to prevent or revert edits and sourcing on selected issues and people in order to control the narrative.

Watch Sharyl Attkisson’s TedX talk on Wikipedia and other Astroturf tools

My own battle with Wikipedia included being unable to correct provably false facts such as incorrect job history, incorrect birth place and incorrect birth date.

What’s worse is that agenda editors related to pharmaceutical interests and the partisan blog Media Matters control my Wikipedia biographical page, making sure that slanted or false information stays on it. For example, they falsely refer to my reporting as “anti-vaccine,” and imply my reporting on the topic has been discredited. In fact, my vaccine and medical reporting has been recognized by top national journalism awards organizations, and has even been cited as a source in a peer reviewed scientific publication. However, anyone who tries to edit this factual context and footnotes onto my page finds it is quickly removed.

What persists on my page, however, are sources that are supposedly disallowed by Wikipedia’s policies. They include citations by Media Matters, with no disclosure that it’s a partisan blog.

Another entity quoted on my Wikipedia biographical page to disparage my work is the vaccine industry’s Dr. Paul Offit. But there’s no mention of the lawsuits filed against Offit for libel (one prompted him to apologize and correct his book), or the fact that he provided false information about his work and my reporting to the Orange County Register, which later corrected its article. Obviously, these facts would normally make Offit an unreliable source, but for Wikipedia, he’s presented as if an unconflicted expert. In fact, Wikipedia doesn’t even mention that’s Offit is a vaccine industry insider who’s made millions of dollars off of vaccines.

Meantime, turn to Dr. Offit’s own Wikipedia biography and– at last look– it also omitted all mention of his countless controversies. Instead, it’s written like a promotional resume– in violation of Wikipedia’s supposed politics on neutrality.

Watch Sharyl Attkisson’s TedX talk on Fake News

These biographies are just two examples of ones that blatantly violate Wikipedia’s strict rules, yet they are set in stone. The powerful interests that “watch” and control the pages make sure Offit’s background is whitewashed and that mine is subtly tarnished. They will revert or change any edits that attempt to correct the record.

This, in a nutshell, exemplifies Wikipedia’s problems across the platform as described by its cofounder Larry Sanger.

Sanger recently spoke to 150Sec. The following is an excerpt:

Reading a Wikipedia entry about Wikipedia itself seems strange. But where else on the web would an average internet user go for digestible, encyclopedia-style content? 

With its entries almost always topping Google search results, Wikipedia receives around 33 billion page views per month, according to studies carried out by thinktank Pew Research in 2016. In line with statistics from the website itself, it also changes at a rate of 1.8 edits per second and the number of new articles per day averages 578.

Watch “Wikipedia: The Dark Side,” a Full Measure investigation

The multilingual free online encyclopedia was established in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, originally under the name of Nupedia. It is now the fifth most popular website in the world.

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger. Image courtesy of LinkedIn.

150Sec spoke to one of Wikipedia’s original co-founders, Sanger who — despite leaving the project in 2002 — shared his thoughts on online knowledge platforms on today’s internet, ahead of this month’s Pioneers conference in Austria.  

As an open source, Wikipedia can be added to or edited by anyone in the world through knowledge base websites called wikis, which allow users to collaboratively modify content. However, Sanger claims that this has become one of Wikipedia’s biggest downfalls.

In its early days, “Wikipedia itself had special challenges,” he explained. “One was simply to teach everyone who arrived at the wiki, which was basically a blank bulletin board that could have become whatever we wanted it to become, that we intended to build an encyclopedia. A lot of people didn’t seem to know what that meant, or maybe they just didn’t care,” he said.

“Wikipedia itself had special challenges,” Larry Sanger, Wikipedia co-founder.

“Another hurdle was to figure out how to rein in the bad actors so that they did not ruin the project for everyone else. Unfortunately, we never did come up with a good solution for that one,” Sanger added. 

“Wikipedia is a broken system as a result,” he said.

It is this flaw that has earned Wikipedia its reputation as an often untrustworthy source of information, particularly during times of discussion around misinformation and ‘fake news,’ a term which Sanger finds problematic.

Read the rest of the article in 150sec by clicking the link below:


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48 thoughts on ““Wikipedia is…broken,” controlled by special interests and bad actors, says co-founder”

  1. It is a sad day when we can’t trust our neighbors to due lack of honesty and integrity that was what America Great! So if our president wants to make America great so that sites like Wikipedia can work we must return to that original idea put simply God! He is doing his part. Now the rest is on us!

    1. > Muh America.

      This article doesn’t even mention America once. This is the internet, Cleetus. Stop assuming everyone is American.

  2. I naively trusted wikipedia and didn’t notice the bias for quite a while, although in my research I always dug deeper and checked other sources. The first time I discovered blatant bias was when I was doing some research on the low carb/high carb nutrition controversies. The second time was in studying about scientists who don’t believe that amoeba-to-man evolution is true.
    Now I realize that wikipedia is just as biased and unreliable as the mainstream media.
    Thank you, Sharyl Attkisson for your unbiased investigative journalism, which is so rare today.

  3. I have personally encountered this issue on Wikipedia.
    Let me give an account for how and why this happens, mechanically.
    I came across an article about a politically charged website. In the very first line of the Wikipedia article, it says the website “has been described as” and then lists some very inflammatory descriptions. The descriptions are from left-leaning media organizations, who are basically throwing their shaming shade on a website they don’t like.

    Well, that’s all fine and good but why should it be in the very first line of the article? Shouldn’t that kind of stuff be in a controversy section or something? So I opened a discussion in the talk page about it, and gave examples of other articles that are neutral. Adolf Hitler’s article doesn’t immediately start out with him being “described as” something, because that’s more or less irrelevant in the encyclopedic pursuit of “what is the actual thing?”

    The conversation was suddenly closed without warning, by a third party, with a comment suggesting that I was claiming a left-leaning source is invalid. In other words it was an effort to smear me as a conspiracy-theorist. I don’t care if the source is left-leaning, but if we’re adding a reference which is only from a left-leaning source, and that “description” is inflammatory, that just seems like political activism to me.

    So the person removed everything I had done and closed the conversation. When I asked about it on their talk page, they simply replied with “cool story, bro.”

    So here’s why this doesn’t get fixed – I personally don’t care about the page I was looking at; I just happened to notice it was extremely biased. I looked at his edit history and found he had been all over that page for a long time, fighting everyone that comes along to try and fix it. So now I have a choice – become a crazy obsessed person about this article and get sucked into an extremely long and aggravating debate about why something is or isn’t neutral, or just move on with my life.

    And that’s the real issue – I just don’t care as much as he does, so the article will remain extremely biased. There’s no way to fix it because he’s trolling the article and he could possibly gang up on me to punish me (if he wins the debate), or in the best possible case, the article gets one single change done to it, when in fact the entire article is biased as hell. At this rate it would take months to fix. Just not worth it…

  4. Special interests is only an add-on problem.

    Wikipedia was DESIGNED to support official narratives. It was never about truth, only about officialdom: https://thebiggestpicture.net/Wikipedia

    Don’t let Sanger deceive you when he says that “one of Wikipedia’s biggest downfalls” is that “anyone can edit it”. No, the problem is that you can only source (in its own words) “respected mainstream publications”. When he talks about “fake news”, he’s talking about you (and other real journalists like Sharyl), not about CNN or NYT.

  5. Jimmy Wales is the bad actor, he actually quoted Bill Gates favorably saying that anti-vaxxers “kill children.”

    Gates bankrolls Wikipedia.

    A Google search for “Andrew Wakefield” features the Wikipedia hit-piece on him.

    “Google and GSK are one company now” -RFK Jr.

    Gates and Google’s owner are now collaborating to make a universal flu vaccine.

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