Who Is Big Tech’s ‘Arbiter of Truth’? More than Ever, It’s a Corrupt, Orwellian Wikipedia

wales
Jemal Countess/Getty

Even as the criticism of Wikipedia’s left-wing political bias intensifies, including from the site’s co-founder Larry Sanger, the major tech platforms continue to use the online encyclopedia in their services and rely on it as a model for addressing “fake news” concerns. Rather than improving their services, the integration of Wikipedia into Big Tech platforms has, instead, made them disseminate false or biased information.

Big Tech has deepened its effort to integrate Wikipedia into its services at every opportunity. As the tech overlords of Silicon Valley such as Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey claim they are not the “arbiters of truth,” they are increasingly using Wikipedia to fill that role despite its extreme left-wing bias.

As the focus remains on the bias at the Silicon Valley Masters of the Universe themselves, and their ability to control and influence everyday political conversations, the role of Wikipedia in informing these conversations has largely been portrayed positively by left-wing media outlets. Criticism from conservative commentators and media outlets has been dismissed by its community. This has included recent criticism from Sanger, who co-founded the site with Jimmy Wales, despite him having listed numerous examples of how articles on several political topics exhibited a left-wing bias. Such problems have often had a similarly negative effect on major tech sites adopting Wikipedia as part of their services.

Internet giants have built Wikipedia into their system in different ways:

Google

Like most search engines, Google gives a significant advantage to Wikipedia and has even adjusted its algorithms to the detriment of Wikipedia alternatives. The primary way its search engine utilizes Wikipedia is its Knowledge Panel accompanying most search results. Used to display basic information on the subject of the search, it commonly pulls that information from the online encyclopedia. This once caused Google to label the California Republican Party’s ideology as “Nazism” due to Wikipedia vandalism. It also propagates political bias such as branding conservative outlet Gateway Pundit a “fake news site” for months until the label was removed from the outlet’s Wikipedia intro. More recent editing now places a similar claim in the Knowledge Panel.

Another point of exposure for Google is its Home virtual assistants. When people ask questions of Home devices, the artificial intelligence service often relays an answer taken from Wikipedia. The potential vulnerabilities of this system were made starkly clear after fast food chain Burger King created an ad where the person in the ad asks “Google” about the company’s Whopper Burger. Vandals subsequently altered the entry on the burger, causing it to claim the chain’s iconic product contained “medium-sized child” and other disgusting or even lethal ingredients.

YouTube

Google-owned video platform YouTube is one of several Big Tech sites to make use of Wikipedia through its efforts against “fake news” and “misinformation” online. Since 2018, YouTube has been using the site to display information on “conspiracy theories” under relevant videos. The list of conspiracy theories used by YouTube to determine when to display the information is reportedly itself taken from Wikipedia.

Facebook

Under pressure from left-wing media to deal with “fake news” online, Facebook began using Wikipedia as a resource to provide “information” on links people post to the social media site in 2018. This meant conservative news outlets’ posts would often be accompanied by the smears left-wing editors added to their Wikipedia pages. Included among these outlets is Breitbart News itself, which Wikipedia has for years characterized as publishing “misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist content” along with “falsehoods, conspiracy theories, and intentionally misleading stories.”

Amazon and Apple

Just as Google Home devices utilize Wikipedia to answer questions from users, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri also rely on the online encyclopedia to provide information. In addition, virtual assistants increasingly rely on Wikidata, a sister project of Wikipedia particularly suited to the machine language of virtual assistants. Even worse than the online encyclopedia, Wikidata has been found to leave up vandalism for weeks, months, and even years, in extreme cases. This has included content about people as notable as Aquaman star Jason Momoa and even First Lady Melania Trump, who was labeled a “sex worker” on Wikidata for over a week.

In the case of Siri, Apple’s reliance on Wikidata has previously been found to have caused the program to, in one case, relay false information about the death of Marvel comics legend Stan Lee long before his actual death. Though virtual assistants usually note their information is from Wikipedia, Amazon Alexa was previously found by Wikipedia criticism site Wikipediocracy to use information from the site uncredited, a violation of Wikipedia’s license as it only allows free use of its content when given proper attribution.

Twitter

While not yet taking the same steps to integrate Wikipedia into its services as other Big Tech companies, Twitter has reportedly touted a Wikipedia model for use in its fact-checking procedures to also deal with the “fake news” menace. This community-supported fact-checking process was reported earlier this year, though the exact details are not yet clear. Recent “fact-checking” of President Trump by Twitter relied on CNN and other establishment media sources, but in the future this feature could include a Wikipedia-style process, using the same crowd-sourcing that got Trump listed as an advocate of a “Neo-nazi conspiracy theory” alongside other prominent conservatives.

Wikipedia’s wider influence

Big Tech’s use of Wikipedia in its services is merely one way in which the online encyclopedia impacts the global information environment. Scientific studies have found that Wikipedia has often shaped scientific papers and influenced economic patterns. A previous Breitbart investigation also uncovered that dozens of media outlets and several academic textbooks copied, sometimes in large portions, material from Wikipedia’s heavily-slanted page on the GamerGate anti-corruption movement in gaming without crediting the online encyclopedia.

Previously such widespread influence of Wikipedia was seen by the media as dangerous to advancing truthful information online. Comedian and left-wing nighttime host Stephen Colbert once lampooned the site’s reliability and coined the term “Wikiality” to describe a world where society’s perception of reality was determined by what anonymous Wikipedia users decided was true and false. However, following Trump’s election and hysteria over “fake news” and “Russian bots” the left-wing media and Big Tech have increasingly treated that world as their last hope with the welcome reception of the site’s Foundation, which has received substantial donations from those same Big Tech companies.

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.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.