Wikipedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger: Site’s Commitment to Neutrality Is ‘Long Gone’

Turkish officials say Wikipedia failed to remove content deemed to be false from its pages that linked Turkey with terror groups
AFP/Lionel Bonaventure

An article about Wikipedia published last Thursday on the Fox News website examined the left-wing bias of the online encyclopedia. Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, stated in an interview for the article: “The days of Wikipedia’s robust commitment to neutrality are long gone.” Fox also interviewed economics professor Bryan Caplan regarding the slanted coverage of communism and socialism on their Wikipedia pages, notably the omission of atrocities carried out by communist governments.

Fox cited other critics of the site and its biased handling of left-wing ideologies. Sanger previously published a blog post criticizing Wikipedia for its left-wing bias, declaring the site’s neutrality policy “dead” due to bias.

In the Fox piece by Maxim Lott, Wikipedia is noted as having received less scrutiny than the other Big Tech firms. However, the piece further notes these tech firms, such as Google, also rely heavily on the site and Wikipedia itself is one of the most popular sites globally. The report follows this by reporting: “critics – including Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger – tell Fox News that many Wikipedia pages have become merely left-wing advocacy essays.”

Sanger is quoted by Fox as stating: “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 also told Fox “the deck is too stacked on Wikipedia for it to ever be salvaged” and he has instead focused on helping facilitate the spread of alternative online encyclopedias through his Encyclosphere project. Those efforts are complicated by Big Tech’s reliance on Wikipedia in their campaign against “fake news” online in keeping with messaging suggested to Wikipedia’s owners by a public relations firm run by the Clinton Foundation’s Head of Communications.

Fox News cites the Wikipedia articles on socialism and communism as examples of leftist bias. While both delve into leftist theory, they also covered each ideology’s history almost completely ignoring the brutality and authoritarianism of many proclaimed socialist or communist regimes. Regarding the Soviet Union, one section states Soviet rule “saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century” with only a brief mention of “the excesses of Stalin’s regime” not mentioning the famines and mass-killings it entailed. On Asia, Mao’s reign in China is essentially unmentioned, while mentioning Indonesia’s Suharto killing hundreds of thousands to suppress leftists.

Wikipedia’s page on communism incredibly even mentions the Moscow Trials in a section on the Soviet Union yet does not mention they were widely seen as show trials and leaves unmentioned how they served as the starting point for Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge, which led to the deaths of as many as a million people targeted by Soviet secret police. As Fox notes, the famines that occurred under Mao and Stalin’s respective reigns in China and the Soviet Union are not mentioned and the word “famine” is not even present in the article on communism.

One editor’s attempt to address the white-washed nature of the communism article following Fox’s coverage by adding an additional paragraph to a short two-paragraph “criticism” section was quickly undone claiming it lended “undue weight” to criticism. In reaction to the white-washed nature of the pages, Caplan declared “omission of large-scale mass murder, slave labor, and man-made famines is negligent and deeply misleading” on Wikipedia’s part. According to Fox News, when asked for comment the Wikimedia Foundation that owns Wikipedia noted content is controlled by volunteer editors and stated the site “is a living, breathing project, and is always evolving just as our shared understanding of a topic does.”

Noting that neither article covers the most repressive and murderous acts of openly socialist or communist governments, Fox does note that an article exists on the topic of “Mass killings under communist regimes.” The “mass killings” article is notorious on Wikipedia as having at one point been under an unprecedented years-long indefinite page lock, which barred anyone without special administrative privileges from editing the page. Imposed back in 2011 to enforce a restriction requiring that all substantive edits receive “consensus” support, the page was eventually unlocked in 2018 with new looser restrictions imposed.

At the time the “mass killings” page was unlocked, the introduction to the page listed various figures for the extent of mass killings in the tens of millions, including the Black Book of Communism’s range of 85 million to 100 million deaths. However, since the page was unlocked, the introduction has been considerably shortened to remove any mention of casualty figures in the millions, instead stating simply that “estimates vary widely” on the subject. A previously small sub-section questioning the inclusion of devastating famines occurring under communist-led governments was also considerably expanded with material mostly disputing the attribution of famines to specifically communist policies.

Previous efforts to address problems on the page about communism were also raised by Fox News, noting editor “Narssarssuaq” had repeatedly added to the communism article a line noting mass-killings have been attributed to communist governments. The line was eventually removed with one editor objecting on the article’s discussion page by claiming Stalin was a Christian and therefore it would be like including his acts under the article on Christianity adding, “Communism didn’t kill these people; Stalin did.”

Narssarssuaq months later posted a notice about leaving Wikipedia claiming “my conscience does not allow me to contribute to this project, not even with attempts to provide balance to biased articles” and that the “era of Wikipedia, if there ever was one, is over.” Among other complaints, the editor stated: “Unfortunately, it now seems that Wikipedia cannot be trusted to convey objective information – the information you get could easily be partisan.” Later returning, Narssarssuaq would leave again after coming into conflict with editors over their suppression of Biden family corruption elections in the weeks before the 2020 Presidential election, one of many instances where editors supported Biden’s campaign.

Bias from administrators in Wikipedia disputes is one factor frustrating attempts to balance site content. Narssarssuaq’s efforts relating to Biden family corruption allegations were ultimately frustrated by an openly biased administrator who called the allegations “Russian disinformation” and threatened sanctions against Narssarssuaq citing numerous erroneous reasons. One editor interviewed by Fox noted another administrator favorably displays an anti-democratic quote from Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. This is apparently “El C” who previously used dubious reasoning to keep ICE detention facilities in a “concentration camps” list, echoing Democrat attacks against President Donald Trump’s Administration. El C also recently expressed support for one editor’s profile page suggesting Trump be hanged for treason.

An analysis in the Critic last year examined the question of administrative bias and found Wikipedia editors favoring right-wing views were six times more likely to be sanctioned by administrators than left-leaning editors. That analysis cited administrator Guy Chapman as another example of left-wing bias, including him joining a Black Lives Matter group on Wikipedia by stating: “You can be one of three things: ally, enemy, or collaborator.” Chapman is among many editors who supported Black Lives Matter and the far-left Antifa group on Wikipedia articles. Late last year he resigned as an administrator after banning an Antifa opponent from the group’s page, though he denied his resignation was related.

In contrast to left-wing editors supporting violence and violent groups, one even having praised an Antifa terrorist attack on an ICE detention facility, editors who favor the right have been treated more harshly. An editor who expressed general support for Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on January 6th was banned indefinitely, one of many banned when opposing left-wing bias on the topic, despite having brought articles on two American Presidents and one Vice President up to “featured” status, the highest standard on the site.

Prior to Fox’s recent report, Sanger had criticized Wikipedia’s left-wing bias himself on his blog. In that post, Sanger analyzed the articles on Trump and former President Barack Obama, describing how the latter was treated much more favorably including by not mentioning any scandals on Obama’s page. He also analyzed other articles, such as the one on Jesus Christ, which he said could be fairly described as a “liberal academic discussion of Jesus” in a criticism later cited by Christian media reports condemning a decision last year banning profile pages expressing support for traditional marriage.

Studies and analyses have previously identified a left-wing bias on Wikipedia, including a Harvard study cited in Fox’s report. However, corporate media have generally praised Wikipedia for its “reliability” in recent years and many have relied on it as a source to the point of copying from it extensively, while conservative media such as Fox News and Breitbart itself have been increasingly purged from the site. Wikipedia has also been found to shape scientific literature and business decisions.

(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with some parties referenced in this article)

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.

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