Imagine you’re Mary Shelley’s fictional character, Victor Frankenstein – the “modern Prometheus.” You bring to life something that has no antecedent; a brilliant innovation with immense power and possibility. But in your hubris, you fail to game out the many ways your creation can go sideways – or the mayhem that could result. Now imagine you’re Larry Sanger. He’s the creator of Wikipedia. When it began, it held the promise of an open-format, online encyclopedia that would be accessible to all and edited by its users. It’s now the world’s fifth-largest website and attracts 6.1 billion users per month. The claim that it is the most read reference work in history is justified. It is also a brilliant innovation with immense power and possibility. But Sanger failed to see how his creation, which he imagined as an unalloyed force for good, could Frankenstein into what it has become.
And what has Wikipedia become?
Its mission directive was for an online community of volunteers and collaborators to write and monitor the website and engage in a battle of ideas, including dynamic discussion and debate, to achieve some measure of balance in its entries. But Sanger left the behemoth he created in 2007 when he saw these founding principles jettisoned. Even then, he described Wikipedia as “broken beyond repair.” Sanger now asserts that Wikipedia is fundamentally biased, traffics in propaganda in the guise of neutral information provision, and serves one political master: the American left. “You can’t cite the Daily Mail at all,” he said in a recent interview. “You can’t cite Fox News on socio-political issues either. It’s banned. So, what does that mean? It means that if a controversy does not appear in the mainstream center-Left media, then it’s not going to appear on Wikipedia.”
Sanger discusses the authoritarian bent of Wikipedia during COVID, which has resulted in a clampdown on “disinformation” that is, ironically, itself disinformation. He states:
“If you look at the articles that Wikipedia has, you can just see how they are simply mouthing the view of the World Economic Council or World Economic Forum, and the World Health Organisation, the CDC, and various other establishment mouthpieces like Fauci — they take their cues from them…There’s a global enforcement of a certain point of view, which is amazing to me; amazing to a libertarian or a liberty-loving conservative.”
Multiple Emmy-award-winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson gave a TED Talk on the subject back in 2015. She asks the question about “authoritative” websites like Wikipedia:
“What if it’s a carefully constructed narrative by unseen special interests designed to manipulate your opinion – a Truman Show-esque alternate reality all around you? Complacency in the news media combined with incredibly powerful propaganda and publicity forces mean we sometimes get little of the truth. Special interests have unlimited time and money to figure out new ways to spin us while cloaking their role.”
She goes on to say that “surreptitious AstroTurf methods are now more important to these interests than traditional lobbying of Congress.” AstroTurf is a term describing a fake grassroots movement that is designed to fool us into thinking there is real grassroots sentiment for or against an agenda when there isn’t. It is paid for by deep-pocketed special interests in the guise of everyday Americans.
Attkisson describes Wikipedia as “AstroTurf’s dream come true” and says the reality of what it is as opposed to how it positions itself could not be more different. She states: “Anonymous Wikipedia editors control and co-opt pages on behalf of special interests. They forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda. They skew and delete information in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity.”
That this clampdown on dissenting views and the promotion of iron-clad “truths” – according to Wikipedia – would enter the realm of the profoundly farcical is no surprise. Attkisson describes famed American author Philip Roth’s attempts to edit some factually incorrect information on the page dedicated to him. When his every effort was quickly reversed within minutes, Roth tried to get in touch with someone at the website, which was no mean feat in and of itself. When he finally did reach a person at Wikipedia, Roth was told he wasn’t considered a credible source of information – on himself.
Wikipedia’s creator echoes these assertions stating that “there is a big, nasty complex game being played behind the scenes to make the articles say what someone wants them to say.” Sanger further warns:
“We trusted outlets like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube with our data and allowed them to essentially take over the media world. What we trusted them with was our liberty and our privacy; that they weren’t going to shut us down. But they stabbed us in the back.”
Like the song says – the first cut is the deepest. But it’s death by the thousand cuts of censorship, manipulation, and disinformation we confront daily about which we really need to worry. Feel that sharp pain in your back, America?
Read more from Pennel Bird.