"Wikipedia is more one-sided than ever”: Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger

“Wikipedia is more one-sided than ever,” Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger said.

“It is not too far to say that Wikipedia, like many other deeply biased institutions of our brave new digital world, has made itself into a kind of thought police that has de facto shackled conservative viewpoints with which they disagree.”

“Democracy cannot thrive under such conditions. I maintain that Wikipedia has become an opponent of vigorous democracy.”

If true, this is very sad. Thoughts from Dopers?

Does he give any clarification or examples of what he means?

He’s been critical of the site for some time.

I am not a major fan of Wikipedia.

However, its vehement attackers are fond of casting general slurs in its direction rather than explaining why they think its articles and sources are “biased”.

It’s an M.O. common to popular figures in the world of woo and quackery who are incensed that their reputations (and road to profits) are purportedly damaged by less-than-flattering Wikipedia profiles.

Example of a “controversial” figure in science complaining that he has been done wrong by Wikipedia:

Excerpts from his site, https://larrysanger.org/2021/06/wikipedia-is-more-one-sided-than-ever/

"Wikipedia NPOV, neutral point of view – neutrality is the second of the “Five Pillars” policies that define Wikipedia’s approach to the craft of encyclopedia-writing.

"Neutrality is not the same as objectivity. Neutrality … (means) you will find competing sides represented carefully and respectfully, even if one side is “objectively” wrong. From a truly neutral article, you would learn why, on a whole variety of issues, conservatives believe one thing, while progressives believe another thing. And then you would be able to make up your own mind.

“In U.S. politics, four of the biggest political issues would include:
• Trump’s impeachments
• Biden’s scandals
• The Antifa and BLM riots
• Alleged election irregularities”

End quotes.

Sanger says you mainly get leftist information about these topics but not the rightist information.

Well, Wikipedia used to be “one-sided” in that they refused to give equal space to the theory that the moon landings were faked or that 9/11 was a US government conspiracy. And their climate change articles were consistently biased by things like “science” and “facts”.

But now they’ve gotten really bad – they won’t even acknowledge the obvious fact that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and that COVID vaccines are a worldwide mind-control plot by Bill Gates.

It’s getting harder and harder to be a fact-free Republican these days.

Why? Can you expand a little?

I use Wikipedia a lot, but not for controversial topics such as politicians. I use it for quickly looking up city populations, airline routes, celebrity ages and spouses, movie casts, etc. Sure there is sometimes vandalism but then it’s quickly fixed. Those aren’t topics that draw a lot of heated discussion.

I don’t get this. Is it the role of an encyclopedia to give “equal air-time” to Flat Earthers vs people who are aware that the Earth is approximately spherical ? How is that supposed to work ?

Well, doing a little digging I found this (eta: I see you did as well)

While the Republican viewpoint of these events may be important to understand and deserve to be heard; should a forum that purports to trade in facts be required to report on what is essentially opinion?

What I find more troubling is this little fact that Sanger throws in; that there are companies that hire paid writers and editors to go in and change articles.

Maybe there’s some way to make such a system work, but not if the players who are involved and who are being paid, are not identified by name — they actually are supposed to be identified by name and say ‘we represent this firm’ if they are officially registered with some sort of Wikipedia editing firm,”
“But they don’t have to do that because there is no requirement of real names. As I say it is a very complex sort of game … there are all sorts of tricks that people can play to win it.”

There should be more transparency on who is editing pages and what agenda they might have.
I find it very reminiscent of googling a product and finding a bunch of websites that have done “investigations” if the product but it’s really just some PR firm inventing these sites.

Please refer to the site. I only took excerpts. I could try and paraphrase but that may not suffice.

I’m pretty sure this has been addressed in the past when the paid shills have been identified.

Remember that Sanger thinks that Wikipedia “lacks credibility due to a lack of respect for expertise and authority” (from his Wikipedia biography). Citizendium, which is what he founded after Wikipedia, required people to use their real names, and Nupedia, which predated Wikipedia, required subject matter expertise.

I think the crowd-sourced solution of Wikipedia, which requires no subject matter expertise, has proven itself.

Sanger’s got a few different objections going.

The first, strangely, is that he really doesn’t like the crowd-source model for Wikipedia. He is a traditional academic and appears to be very reluctant to move away from the peer-reviewed model. He’s tried several times since he left Wikipedia to develop a voluntary, peer-reviewed competitor to Wikipedia, and they’ve all failed - in my opinion, because people are willing to do Wikipedia as a hobby, but aren’t willing to volunteer their time to a peer-review process that doesn’t have the same academic chops as a regular journal. If I’m going to do a rigorous peer-reviewed article, I want it published in a journal. (I don’t want that to sound like I think Sanger has sour grapes; just that he has a different version of an internet encyclopedia in mind, and it ain’t Wikipedia, but he’s not been able to hit on a workable alternative.)

The second thing that rang an alarm bell for me is that in some blogs he has given explanations for what he means by “not neutral”, and they’ve been things like Behghazi and Hillary’s e-mails. He seems upset that the Republican view of those things doesn’t get equal time - a form of “both-sides-ism” as a measure of neturality. But if you have people checking out sources and comparing them, “neutral” doesn’t mean “equal time for both sides of the story” - if one side of the story doesn’t have reliable sources to back it up, it will get downplayed. And there are detailed Wiki articles on both those issues.

He’s also upset that some traditional right-wing media aren’t considered reliable sources - like the Daily Mail from London. Personally, I do think it’s a reliable source - for all the latest info about which male star is bopping two or three different female stars, or which female star got a boob job or wore a revealing dress to Cannes. But aside from first cut news (eg I think they were the first on-line source for the Grenfell Tower fire), I personally don’t think of the Daily Mail as a reliable source - because of obvious bias, coupled with not-very-good journalism. And, that list of “not reliable sources” is one of the most heavily debated bits of Wikipedia, for just the reason that Sanger cites - you want to be very careful not to be censoring. But, that doesn’t mean that any website is automatically a “reliable source” . Having that list of “not reliable” is actually meant to work to the Neutral Point of View pillar - because neutrality means that you have to be careful of any source that appears biased or has a poor factual track record. Significantly, the Wall Street Journal is not on that list. They may be right-wing in their editorials, but they are really good journalists.

Another point is that when there are have been checks of the Wikipedia articles against more traditional sources, like articles in medical journals or the Britannica, Wikipedia articles tend to match up well. One researcher who was being interviewed about his research on this point said that he was surprised by the result; he had thought going in that the more traditional sources would do better. (Can’t find that article on-line; it was some years ago now.)

Here are two links that you might find interesting. One is from about 15 years ago, where some poli-sci types ran a computer analysis of wikipedia articles that dealt with US political issues. Their research indicated that when Wikipedia started up back around 2002, the earliest articles did in fact tend to show a bias in their language towards the Democrats, but that the tendency gradually disappeared over time. They speculate that is was because the early adapters tended to be Dems, but I think a more persuasive reason is that as Wikipedia matured, and the NPOV principle got recognised as a core pillar of Wikipedia, the editors self-policed to ensure neutrality:

And here’s a more recent article about the fights that have gone on in relation to the Donald J. Trump web-page - where editors have fought to the death over words and even punctuation. Here’s the conclusion from one of the editors who is admittedly Trump-friendly:

Yes, paid editing is a problem on Wikipedia, but it is one that the Wikipedia community is reacting to. There is a conflict of interest policy, and failure to disclose paid editing is on the bannation list. Jimbo Wales wants it to be a policy that there can’t be paid editing at all, if I remember correctly. The difficulty, of course, is that the crowd-source model makes it difficult to police against undisclosed paid editing, just like with socks. This seems to me to get back to Sanger’s fundamental objection: he really does not think anonymous crowd-sourcing is any way to run a railway. However, he’s been losing that argument for 20 years now.

One other point is that Wikipedia takes the position that it is not itself a reliable source. It is an aggregator, but should not be quoted in a student’s paper. Students should approach it as a potential source for books and articles that can be used in their research, and as introductory surveys to help them get an initial handle on the matter they’re studying, but Wikipedia is not itself a reliable source.

Finally, full disclosure: I’m on the list of the 5,000 most active Wikipedians by edits; and also on the list of the 5,000 most active Wikipedians by articles created.

I’ve seen related articles over days or weeks in the “Did you know …” section and on investigating, sometimes found they were the product of a Wikimedian in Residence at a university, museum or so forth. I don’t know if that’s considered “paid editing” but the articles have been interesting.

I don’t want an encyclopedic website that presents both sides as though they have an equal claim to veracity. If Sanger wants that, maybe he should make a new site. I want a site that tries to get at the truth as much as possible. That will necessarily mean that counterfactual views are treated as counterfactual.

As long as it’s disclosed, consistent with the policies, it is okay. The Wikimedia Foundation (the non-profit that oversees all the Wikis) strongly encourages outreach to universities and schools. If someone properly discloses that they are being paid by University X to research matters of interest and post them on wikipedia, for a salary, that is consistent with the goals of the Wikipedia project. Academics have to get paid somehow; they aren’t going to be fed by the ravens.

The real problem with paid editing is (a) undisclosed and (b) for marketing/political purposes. If you’re holding yourself out as someone who can secretly work on the article for Corporation ABC, or for Jones, MP, to improve their “web presence”, that is completely contrary to the goals of Wikipedia.

ETA: this post is in response to Alfred E. Neumann. (Sorry, that’s how I think of you. :stuck_out_tongue: )

It’s very much the same debate that has played out here over the past few years: just because there’s a blog about flat-eartherism, or how Dubya and Cheney personally planted the explosive charges in WTO 7, doesn’t mean that the media should give them as much time as more rigorously sourced items which debunk those allegations.

Thank you for your inputs @Northern_Piper.