Friday, May 25, 2012

How Right-Wingers Took Over Wikipedia


Wikipedia is one of the most useful sites on the Web. It's a fantastic reference source that provides an incredible wealth of data on an endless variety of topics.

A big strength of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit any article. If, for example, an expert on quantum mechanics happens to notice a small factual error in the Wikipedia article on that topic, he or she can easily fix it on the spot. By harnessing the power of the knowledge of millions of people, Wikipedia has grown into the world's biggest reference resource.

However, Wikipedia's strength is also its biggest flaw. The very fact that anyone can edit an article means that errors, spin and bias can easily creep into the Wikipedia database.

If you're looking to read up on millions of disparate topics, from aardvarks to Frank Zappa, Wikipedia can offer you an enormous amount of helpful info that is reasonably free of bias.

But there's one big exception: articles on current political figures and topics.

Here, Wikipedia falls woefully short in its goal of providing a "neutral point of view."

Increasingly over the years, literally thousands of Wikipedia's political articles have gradually and quietly been given a right-wing spin. And thousands of articles on political figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Glenn Beck have been either sanitized, or given a pro-GOP slant.

Normally, the open nature of Wikipedia prevents such mischief. Typically, if someone introduces biased, or incorrect information into an article, it is quickly corrected by other visitors.

But this process has clearly failed on Wikipedia when it comes to thousands of articles on current political topics.

The reason is obvious: the right-wing "contributors" are ferociously tenacious. They will go in and sanitize and slant an article over and over until it reads the way they want it to. These people are well-organized, ruthless and determined and they usually eventually get their way, via sheer blunt force. In this respect, they're much like Fox "News" and right-wing talk radio in that they believe if they simply repeat something over and over, it becomes "fact."

To be sure, from my experience with Wikipedia over the years, I've seen some of this behavior from progressives as well on Wikipedia---but it is nickel-dime, compared to the massive, sweeping efforts made by right-wingers to bend reality to suit their point of view.

I first started noticing Wikipedia's right-wing spin in 2008 when I accessed the main article on George W. Bush. I was looking for some quick info about Valerie Plame. I was surprised to find zero mentions of Plame in the Bush article.

I then tried to raise this issue on the article's "Discussions" page and I found that merely typing in the word "Plame" triggered a text robot that blocked any posts from mentioning Plame on that article. Clearly, a Bush-friendly editor was very determined to sanitize the article of any and all mentions about Plame.

I found this truly astonishing. Whatever one thinks of the Plame affair, it's incredible that Wikipedia main article about Bush would contain zero mentions about this case. It were as though Karl Rove himself had edited the article and had carefully airbrushed out anything that could possibly have a hint of negativity about his boss.

By contrast, the Wikipedia articles on various Democrats could have been written by Rush Limbaugh himself.

For example, at the same time Wikipedia was blocking any mentions of the Plame affair from the Bush article, the main Wikipedia article on Bill Clinton included a massive, seven-part "Controversies" section. This section rounded up every single right-wing nutcase allegation ever made against Clinton (quite an impressive feat when you consider all the crazed conspiracy theories that swirled around Clinton in the 1990s).

By contrast, at the time, no "Controversies" section existed in the Bush article (although there was a modest two-part "Criticism and public perception" section).

Of course, Wikipedia's contest is dynamic and fluid and a lot of what I found in 2008 has now changed. For example, there is now a very brief mention of Plame in the Bush article.

But it's clear that the ongoing right-wing spin process continues to contaminate Wikipedia articles.

A recent example is the Wikipedia article on Glenn Beck.

Do you remember Beck's controversy from May 17, 2005? That was the day Beck made astonishing and chilling remarks about killing Michael Moore. His exact words were: "I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could."

Beck's remarks (understandably) created a firestorm of controversy. Moore even opened his 2011 book, Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life with the Beck quote, as an example of the crazy, violent rhetoric that he has faced over the years from the wingnut crowd.

It's important to note that at no time did Beck ever claim he was joking, or making the comment in jest. And Beck never apologized or faced any consequences for his remark.

No doubt, after a while, Beck just wanted the whole issue to go away. And today, it's clear that he's gotten his wish. In fact, seven years later, it's as though the incident never occurred.

If you read the Wikipedia article on Beck, there is absolutely nothing about Beck's comments about killing Michael Moore. Not one word. In fact, the article is largely sanitized of Beck's long history of making inflammatory, crazy remarks.

For example, do you remember Beck's controversial 2010 Tides Foundation remarks? That episode too, has been completed omitted from the Wikipedia article on Beck. In fact, the article reads like a big, wet sloppy kiss and a Valentine to Beck.

Of course, the article on Beck is hardly the only slanted article on Wikipedia. A casual scan of topics ranging from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton also shows a heavy right-wing spin.

One of the very few exceptions is the Wikipedia article on global warming. After a long, ferocious back-and-forth struggle over the years, Wikipedia's editors finally locked down that article to prevent tampering from the wingnut climate change deniers.

On that article, one currently finds a detailed FAQ on the discussions page that answers all the questions that weary Wikipedia editors have had to answer, over and over, in disputing the Rush Limbaugh crowd. As a result of this policy, the "global warming" article is one of the few major Wikipedia articles that hasn't been subjected to right-wing spin.

The problem is, thousands of other Wikipedia articles are open to editing by anyone---and as a result, virtually every article on a right-wing figure has been carefully sanitized. At the same time, most Wikipedia articles on Democratic figures tend to read like they were edited by Fox News.

The Wikipedia articles on everyone from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama round up every single nutcase right-wing allegation ever made against these people. And if the likes of progressive commentators from Ed Schultz to Michael Moore ever did or said anything in the least bit controversial, you can be sure to read about it in detail on Wikipedia.

One quick example to prove my point: at different times in their careers, both Schultz and Beck have gotten into trouble for using the word "slut." But while the Wikipedia article on Schultz details the controversy his comment created, the Wikipedia article on Beck completely avoids any mention of the time Beck called Cindy Sheehan a "slut." As ever, the double standard on Wikipedia is blatant and sickening.

Of course, since Wikipedia's content is fluid and dynamic, the situation may have changed by the time you read this. But if that's the case, you can be assured that such content won't survive long on Wikipedia before it is eventually deleted or altered by right-wingers.

As I said, the right-wingers are tenacious and determined. They'll do whatever it takes to bend Wikipedia to suit their reality.

Today's right-wingers know exactly what they want. And they'll play hardball to do whatever it takes to win. For example, we saw this in the 2000 elections, when the GOP brownshirt thugs staged riots and intimidated the Florida voter counters, while Al Gore's people just sat around politely waiting for the phone to ring.

The right-wingers may not have the facts on their side. But they do have the determination and will to get what they want by brute force. And as a result, Wikipedia, the world's largest and most popular reference site, now has a right-wing slant on thousands of its articles.


Anonymous said...

I've seen a lot of right-wing slanting on Amazon as well. There, any time a new book title by a right-winger like Glenn Beck or Mark Levin appears, it instantly gets loads of 5-star "reviews" (of the short, one-sentence "I love this book!" variety). I've even seen these wingnut reviews appear before the book in question was even released.
And when a book by a Liberal writer appears, there will often be many short, one-sentence reviews of the "This book sucks!" variety (obviously written by wingnuts who've not bothered to read the book).

Jack Jodell said...

Thank you for pointing this out. I. like anonymous above, have also noticed the same tendency on Amazon. You're right: not only are these people determined and relentless; they are also very jaded, dishonest, revisionist, and extremist. We must shoq zero tolerance for such craziness!

Grung_e_Gene said...

MArc you are absolutely correct it's about will. They've been working overtime for 30 years to create this Alternate Conservative reality. Which becomes an easy playground from which the right-wingers pull their interpretations of events, people, and incidents and bash anyone as a member of the liberal lame stream media if they disagree.

This is of course not new. FDR and the Pearl Harbor lie were in historical books when I was in High School and keep coming up even today.

But, now when Palin or Bachmann say something obscenely incorrect and 100% ridiculous they're supporters work overtime to change the facts.

As to Amazon, here is a snippet of my post, Bruce Fancher Battles the Barbarians of Zuccotti Park (Rightwing Smear Campaign), one of the early efforts to smear the OWS and involving a notorious hacker Fancher.

Seriously, "The Barbarians of Zuccotti Park" is like something out of the Robert E. Howard universe.

A "Hobbyist Photographer" named Bruce Fancher had his story transcribed in the National Review Online.

The "No one saw anything" should be the kicker, that this didn't happen the way old Bruce Fancher (a.k.a. Dead Lord / a.k.a. Timberwolf) described. But, we are living in an age of BS conservative smears and lying rightwing hacks (or in this case hacker). The amazing thing about this story is the absolute full faith the conservatives have that Fancher's version of events is 100% true and accurate.

I also found 3 Amazon reviews by Fancher which read like so much right-wing think tank fantasy.

Anonymous said...

How true. One can only think that these people, so determined, have nothing but time on their hands, be it at work, being retired, or being too young. Not to rule out professional RW cult programmers. We had this in the 60's but the main stream media wasn't entirely owned and ridiculous then.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been aware of that for a very long time, but I have to wonder why it is a surprise. All authoritarian systems seek to suppress, eliminate, and control sources of information, which do not adhere to the party line, whatever that is.

The only thing American Conservatives ™ are interested in conserving are statements not entirely flattering to themselves.

Anonymous said...

I think you give too much credit to Wikipedia's own editors -- Jimmy Wales is a renowned Ayn Rand drooler, and as such the entire ideological basis of Wikipedia deserves scrutiny. More to the point, the Wikipedia notion of objectivity often appears to be that of the cowed mainstream media: present two sides, no matter how disproportionately illogical one side is.

Bob Broughton said...

Here's a couple of examples:
The only thing this woman has done that's noteworthy is appear on Faux News
A liar who was FIRED by Faux News

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I tracked one person who was employed at the American Enterprise Institute. He spent his days editing Wikipedia to put a corporate bias into articles there. (You can track anyone's contributions.)

He did this full-time during business hours (and other hours) so was obviously employed to do this.

Sherlock said...

I've battled with right-wing and corporate editors over materials on Wikipedia, and with fundamentalists over books on Amazon. You can even find this sanitizing and scrubbing on IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base).

If I post any material that even vaguely reflects, say on David H. and Charles de Ganahl Koch, it will quickly disappear. The Kochs have been found to employ "cleaners."

However, I found a mention of Michael Moore on a peripheral page that referenced him in a long list of reporters and someone had anonymously posted an unsourced semi-literate comment that he was a pedophile that had stayed on the site for the better part of a year.

Another feature of the right wingers is that they will team up to delete material that doesn't come from the echo chamber. If there are more than three deletions within a 24-hour period, the original poster or editor can be "blocked" for "edit warring."
I've seen evidence that the wingers will recruit like-minded (or well paid) buddies using Talk pages, to team up on a poster that who has made an edit that they disapprove of as not "politically correct" (ironically, one of the pejorative terms they chronically use against progressives) so that the unwary editor finds himself or herself blocked for a day or longer because the "team" of three editors by Wikipedia's definition constitutes a "consensus." These morons can contend the world is flat and stand a pretty good chance of keeping that contention on the page.

Jan Rogozinski said...

The fundamental problem is precisely that “anyone can edit any article.”
Yes, you are correct. Wikipedia allows a person who knows nothing about the subject to edit an article. But it’s worse. Wikipedia allows folk that known nothing about the subject to write an article in the first place.
If it is unsigned, then there is no way of knowing whether the person writing the artilce knows anything about that subject.

So why does anyone read any anonymous Wiki?

(1) Every American is taught from birth that she was born knowing everything. Public opinion polls prove this. These frequently ask questions that required specialized knowledge few possess. If the respondents answered honestly, 95% to 99% would answer “I don’t know.”

Hence, Americans see nothing wrong with writing articles for Wikipedia even though they know nothing about the subject. If one were to criticize their writing out of ignorance, one would be accused of some species of prejudice.

(2) Americans believe that “everyone has a right to her own opinion.” No decent human being ever expresses an opinion. If she knows the facts, she tells the facts. When she does not know The Truth, she says, “I don’t know.” (See no. 1.)

(3) “Fair and balanced.” 2,500 years ago, Aristotle pointed out the law of non-contradiction. Any statement that purports to be a statement of fact is either absolutely true or absolutely false. There is only black and white; there are no grays. For example, if you live with a cat, then as of May 26, 2012, either your cat is alive, or your cat is dead.
A “hard” science such as history works in the following way. Someone makes an affirmative statement describing the results of an experiment ; other scientists then replicate the experiment to see if it the description of the outcome of the experiment is true or false. (This is why no sane person will read a book unless every statement is footnoted. If one cannot look up the original source, then one cannot replicate the experiment.)

(4) Liberal hatred of science also hass contributed greatly to American toleration of ignorant statements in Wikipedia. The statement “human life begins at conception” is true. Anyone that says it is false is nuts. Everyone that today is 4 days old, 40 days old, or 40 years old is the same person that she was when her life began at conception. (A)That is, she has the same DNA from conception to death; (B) she has the same unique set of fingerprints from conception to death, (C) she has the same number of physical parts from conception to death. (I.e., if someone unfortunately is conceived with one leg shorter than the other, she will limp at the age of 4, 40, and 80. (Or until an operation of some kind is performed that leaves her with two legs of equal length.)

The paragraph preceding contains three scientific hypotheses numbered A, B, and C. All three are The Truth. No one can present evidence that any of the three is false.

So liberals wonder how conservative folk can believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, or the global warming is a lie and a deliberate fraud, or that Sadam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.” Hey! You were the first to say that biological, chemistry, and physics are gabage. You express your total contempt for science every time you deny that human life begins at conception. Why are you surprised that conservatives have copied your total contempt for science? If contempt for The Truth is tolerated by Liberals, then Liberals should not be surprised when conservatives copy their contempt for The Truth

(5) The point is this. There may be facts scattered among all the unsigned opinions on Wikipedia. But there is no way to know which one or two of all those millions or assertions is The Truth and which is not The Truth. So no sane person will consider anything that appears in any Wikipedia article to be true.

Bob Broughton said...

The tobacco industry uses "cleaners", too. The New York law firm Paul Weiss, which does legal work for Philip Morris, has cleaners on the payroll.

Anonymous said...

Articles about healthcare are also extremely biased. Although mainstream medicine is the leading cause of death in the US, Wikipedia totally supports mainstream medicine and trashes holistic alternatives.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Jan, thanks for the comment.
It seems to me that your lengthy comment is really nothing more than a reason to slam abortion.

But to equate the progressives' support for human reproductive rights with Liberals supposed "hatred of science" is absurd and silly.

Liberals (who don't necessarily all support abortion) know full well the science of human reproduction. The difference between many of us and the Conservatives is that we don't see the issue in simplistic black-and-white terms.

Conservatives condemn all abortion and want to do away with it entirely (an impossibility, by the way).

Many of us Progressives actually aren't that enthusiastic about abortion and we do have reservations. But we accept that, out here in the Real World, sometimes the procedure is necessary (such as in cases of rape, incest, and to save the mother's life).

These important questions apparently don't trouble Conservatives at all---they don't appear to give these questions any thought, whatsoever.

In any case, Conservatives seem to be oblivious to the reality that if you outlaw abortion, our society will simply regress to the bad old days, when back-alley abortion providers performed
the procedure with crude, dangerous (and often deadly) methods.

And of course, NONE of this debate ever considers for a moment that any changes in abortion law in the U.S. will ONLY affect the working class. The wealthy have always had "problem" abortions of their own. But any U.S. prohibition won't affect them: they'll simply hop aboard their Gulfstream jets and fly to a discreet clinic in someplace like Switzerland.

As always, Conservatives aren't really dealing with Real World realities.

I'm even unclear as to exactly how an anti-abortion law would be enforced.

Do you imprison the mother? The doctor? How, exactly, does it work?

If a 12-year-old girl is raped by her father and impregnated, then do we force her to bear the child?

Will a woman be imprisoned if she refuses to bear the child of her rapist?

How, exactly, will all this work?

As always, Conservatives don't really concern themselves with these troubling details. They just want to ram their twisted version of "Christianity" down the throats of the rest of us.

Never mind that the No. 1 issue for right-wing "Christians" (abortion) is never even
mentioned in the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Jan, Jan, Jan....

I'm really hoping, for your sake, that you were trying to write a parody. Otherwise, you just gave us a classic example of the what the article describes. You state opinion as fact, and think if you throw in words like "science" and "theory" it will appear to make sense. You use ad hominem phrases like "no sane person" and "no decent person". You even seem to confuse letters and numbers.

Wait, I get it, you graduated from Liberty University!

Seriously, back to the topic that *was* being discussed before Jan was allowed near a keyboard...

I think it's simply a matter of dollars. The right has always been better funded that the left. There are dozens of well-monied conservative organizations that will pay people to debase Wikipedia. After all, they couldn't make Conservapedia (or whatever it was called) work, so the natural GOP instinct is to destroy what they can successfully copy.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia went from being a source of information to becoming Orwell's Bureau of Truth.


opit said...

I am finding Search info that should come up - doesn't. Plus Web of Trust is so compromised that I now am starting to use Red Listing as a sign of useful viewpoint, commentary and intel being suppressed.
But that business of the Deniers not mucking with Anthropogenic Global Warming makes me not know whether to scream or cry. The BBC has been pushing the proposition that co2 is linked with global warming and compromises our future for over 30 years. When did Al Gore go from being snake oil salesman running for the President's spot as VP to scientific revelation ? Propaganda depends on repetition to pound in belief - which is why Grist has a list of Talking Points with which to discredit dissent from the UN mandated revelation that they can foretell the future, with Poisoning the Well false argument that takes the normal process of review and consideration of a multiplicity of possibilities and makes it a discredited political football. Such are the tactics of Post Normal Science : paid tracts presented as news, and edicts from on high going under cover of science rather than religion.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi, Grung_e_Gene, thanks for your comment.

You know, one thing I agree with Palin on: our "Liberal" media really is lame. (But not in the way that that deluded idiot believes).

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Anon,
>>Jimmy Wales is a renowned Ayn
>>Rand drooler

I must admit, I didn't know this. I used to have respect for Wales. Now, not so much.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi, Bob Broughton, thanks for your comment and for stopping by.

Andrew said...

The real question is why Republicans are so much better at organizing efforts like this than Democrats. It's working. They're winning.