Wiki-Whacked by Political Bias
With the presidential elections looming, Americans will query the Internet to make a decision on the candidates. Now more than ever, accurate information is key. For almost any query, the chances are that the search engine will turn up a Wikipedia article -- and that's where the problems begin.
In 2001, Bernard Goldberg wrote his groundbreaking book Bias to confirm what we already knew: the media colored the news according to a liberal ideology. Today, Wikipedia, the "world's largest encyclopedia," has the potential of becoming the liberal left's largest propaganda machine.
Volunteer editors scour the Internet for "reliable sources" (RS in Wiki-speak) and the typical Wikipedia article is better sourced than most subscription-based encyclopedias, according to several studies. But it's the choice of how to source an article that really shades the news. Drawing from a mostly liberal media, a controversial figure like Senator Obama's "spiritual guide," the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, becomes almost a scholarly man presaging the woes of our time.
Most editors take their work very seriously, and are meticulous in following the Wikipedia rule book. But many editors pursue childish agendas with a perverted glee. Control, influence, and prestige -- which escape many Wikipedia editors in the mundane brick and mortar world -- are what some Wiki-addicts can establish in the virtual realm, except here they mostly remain anonymous and irresponsible.
Editors Gone Wild
"Every year a couple of editors go crazy and deface the Wikipedia main page," says Lise Broer, a Wikipedian with over two years of experience in the Wikipedia project.
"Wikipedia has redundant systems for eliminating much of the vandalism, but the more subtle stuff can get through," said Lise in a phone interview. "That's where I come in." Broer has adopted the screen name Durova, the first female Russian officer.
An historic female military figure is a fitting name because Lise Broer has involved herself with the toughest and most contentious articles on Wikipedia. Ms. Broer/Durova worked to ban an editor who claimed to be the descendant of Joan of Arc and was intent on inscribing his shoddily sourced lineage on the saint's Wikipedia page. "Wiki-drama" is as subtle as using "sock puppets" to pretend you're more than one editor, to outright stalking. Through hours of incessant emails, text messages, and chats, Broer has dealt with these headaches with great professionalism -- and she does it all for free.
Conservative figures are subject to both outright vandalism and the subtle hostility of activist editors with an enormous ideological agenda and no scruples. If several editors collaborate to block or stonewall an article, they can stall well-sourced information or just entirely skew the presentation. For some reason conservatives are an especially appealing target.
"Is he best known as a (political) 'commentator' or as a 'TV presenter' or a 'lying sack of sh*t?'" asks one irate editor of the Wikipedia Bill O'Reilly article.
Conservative radio personality and activist Melanie Morgan has had her Wikipedia article defaced for several years by editors who have lobbied to have false information included in her Wikipedia article, including changing her name.
Michelle Malkin's article is typically peppered with racial epithets.
Ann Coulter's article is on a permanent lockdown status, where only the most trustworthy editors preside over the smallest of changes that have to reach some type of peer consensus. I can't even reproduce much of the comments and criticisms on the Coulter article.
My article, Matt Sanchez, is one of the most hotly contested articles on Wikipedia and has been shielded from editing for the better part of a year.
There are hundreds of thousands of blogs and articles on the Internet, so what makes Wikipedia any different from much of the dubious information one can find on the World Wide Web?
"Take the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Fox News. Put them together and the traffic going to Wikipedia is easily 10 times that amount and growing," Durova said. If you do a search, any search, there's bound to be a Wikipedia article among the top three results. The culture wars have found a new battlefield; it's named Wikipedia.org.
Matt Sanchez is an international journalist and war correspondent. After a year of cooperating with Wiki-editors he is currently banned from contributing to an article based on him at Wikipedia, due to protests of bias.