After NBC News published a hit piece on news outlet the Epoch Times and its association with the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement persecuted by China’s government, the Wikipedia page for the outlet was vandalized and filled with attacks sourced to the piece. One editor involved has a history of attacking Falun Gong and defending Chinese communist figures such as Mao Zedong.
The editor also contacted an Antifa-supporting socialist editor with a similar history, which included downplaying the oppression of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province. Other Wikipedia articles associated with Falun Gong have also been subject to smears from Antifa-supporting editors.
NBC published a report last Tuesday regarding the Epoch Times and its surge of success due largely to its hard-hitting coverage on alleged improprieties in the discredited Russiagate investigation. In their report, NBC smeared this coverage as pushing a “Spygate” conspiracy theory, even though reporters for Epoch Times obtained early access to testimony before the House Intelligence Committee for which they were noted in the New York Times. The report also smeared the outlet for its association with the spiritual movement Falun Gong, perpetuating narratives used to justify China’s decades-long repression of the movement.
Following the NBC report, the Epoch Times Wikipedia page was updated with various attacks from the piece, including those smearing its Spygate coverage as conspiracy theories. Also included were claims the outlet promoted the “QAnon” conspiracy theories. Responding to NBC’s piece, Epoch Times U.S. editor Jasper Fakkert noted those claims appear to conflate the outlet with a program focused on conspiracy theories that is produced by an affiliated company.
In addition to the edits incorporating details from NBC’s report, the page was repeatedly vandalized by users referencing the negative characterizations from the NBC story. This included calling the site “pro-Trump propaganda”, claiming it was “run by an end-of-the-world cult”, and accusing it of “anti-democratic actions” despite the outlet’s primary focus being to highlight the authoritarian actions of the Chinese government.
The first editor to add the claims from the NBC report to the Epoch Times page was Pat Cheng, an editor from Australia. Cheng’s prior history includes pushing negative information about a book extremely critical of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Having been inactive since 2006, he returned to editing in June to report an editor for “soap-boxing” in discussions about Falun Gong. In fact, the editor was mainly criticizing various attempts to add poorly-sourced negative information about the spiritual movement to related articles such as edits citing Chinese state media. Cheng’s report got the editor a warning.
One incident cited by Cheng in that report involved the editor criticizing the socialist Antifa-supporting editor “Tsumikiria” for restoring material to the article on Shen Yun, a dance show put on by Falun Gong members, which made claims about the movement unrelated to the show. The material cited a letter to the editor in a small Florida paper. While NBC’s recent coverage appears to have prompted some improvements to the Shen Yun article, the section discussing critical reception has a significantly negative slant focused on the show’s Falun Gong-related messaging.
Cheng also contacted editor “Simonm223” about NBC’s coverage. Like Cheng, Simon has a history of editing favorable to China. On the Xinjiang conflict article, Simon repeatedly removed material describing allegations of torture and brainwashing of Uyghurs and other Muslims occurring at Chinese re-education camps in the province. He claimed Western media sources weren’t reliable enough to treat the allegations as fact, even though the material only identified them as allegations. While the article on the camps themselves are much more critical, only sparse reference is made of them in the article on the actual conflict due to Simon’s resistance. Breitbart News has been a leader in reporting on the Chinese concentration camps.
Simon and Tsumikiria are both self-identified socialists active on articles related to Antifa where they helped censor the group’s actions such as the assault on Andy Ngo and the terrorist attack on an ICE detention center. Both also mocked victims such as Ngo and, in Simon’s case, praised the attack on ICE. On Twitter, Simon acknowledged China’s actions were an “authoritarian over-reaction” but contrasted it with actions in the United States where there is no violent insurgency. This is apparently a reference to ICE detention centers being labeled “concentration camps” as done recently on Wikipedia, echoing Democratic rhetoric.
Editors attacking Epoch Times over its criticism of the Russiagate investigation is consistent with early efforts to spin the outcome of Mueller’s probe into the allegations, which discredited the more outrageous accusations against President Trump. Wikipedia’s left-wing bias has mainly received attention in connection with its coverage of issues in American politics such as branding Trump an advocate of “Neo-nazi conspiracy theories” or defending the anti-white bigotry of New York Times editor Sarah Jeong. However, the involvement of the same editors in disputes related to China suggests that bias affects articles of broader interest as well.
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.