Analysis: New York Times, BBC, Guardian the Most-Cited News Sources on Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales
Jemal Countess/Getty

A late 2018 analysis by a Wikipedia editor, banned from the site at the time due to criticism of political bias, showed left-wing British outlet the Guardian was the third most-cited news source on the online encyclopedia after the New York Times and the BBC, in many cases to make negative claims about President  Donald Trump and other conservatives. Most of the top-cited news sources on Wikipedia are establishment left-leaning news outlets. Conservative outlets are disfavored by Wikipedia editors who cite the site’s standards for “reliable sources” with some outlets, including Breitbart, formally banned.

Wikipedia’s significant influence over media and academia has been shown through scientific studies and Breitbart’s own reporting, proving the political bias of Wikipedia can taint other information sources. This regularly evident bias on Wikipedia is increasingly encouraged through its Foundation owners promoting “diversity” efforts and distancing their messaging from “neutrality” itself.

Despite claiming to block use of conservative outlets such as Breitbart, the Daily Mail, and others, because of extreme bias and factual inaccuracy, Wikipedia editors strongly favor major left-wing outlets with their own history of errors. The editors citing these sources claim such outlets are more “reliable” than conservative ones and use them regularly to present harshly critical attacks on conservatives as facts, while the omission of conservative sources through bans declaring them “unreliable” protect left-wing figures from similar criticism. Such a pattern supports the site’s own co-founder finding a left-wing bias in Wikipedia’s content and community.

The analysis of Wikipedia sources helps illustrate how dependent Wikipedia has become on biased left-wing outlets. It was posted on Wikipedia criticism site Wikipediocracy in August 2018 and authored by “SashiRolls”, a dissident left-wing editor who was banned from the site for over a year due to his repeated criticism of an editor pushing an anti-Trump political bias. A month after publishing the analysis, the biased editor Sashi criticized was confirmed to be an alternate account of a former Wikipedia administrator who was banned from editing articles about political figures and used the alternate account to evade the ban.

Sashi’s analysis relied on Wikipedia’s internal search results. By using a specific command that searches through the source code of Wikipedia pages, inserting the home page url of a site in quotation marks, and limiting searches to article pages, Sashi was able to return a number of results representing an approximate number of articles using the site as a reference. He then used these results, in conjunction with other search queries, to rank sources based on how much they are used on Wikipedia.

One flaw in the methodology is that the search can return results where a site is not being used as a source. Particularly, official social media sites of individuals and organizations will often be linked in the infobox summarizing important details or in an “external links” section of the page and come up in these results. However, adjusting for certain key bits of code associated with Wikipedia citations can refine the data. This is less of an issue with news sites and refining the data does not change the ranking of the top news sources.

By far the most used news source was The New York Times as it appeared in over 200,000 Wikipedia articles. It also came in third overall among sites used on the online encyclopedia behind only Google and the Internet Archive, which are both cited for sources they host. Right after the Times was the BBC, being cited in slightly less than 200,000 articles. The eighth most-cited source overall and third most-cited news outlet was the highly-partisan left-wing outlet Guardian.

The first conservative news source to come up in the ranking was the Daily Telegraph, which came in fifth behind the Los Angeles Times. Most of the remaining top ten are typical left-leaning establishment outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post. After The Telegraph, the highest-ranked outlet with a conservative editorial slant is the Wall Street Journal, which comes in just below the Huffington Post.

Conservative sources overall fare poorly compared to their left-wing counterparts. Fox News, while generally disfavored by editors, was linked in over 13,000 articles yet still far behind outlets such as NPR and Rolling Stone, which both are linked in over 20,000 articles. Over 1,000 more articles linked to Salon and Al-Jazeera than the Washington Times. The Weekly Standard, which has since closed down due to declining readership, had just about a thousand articles linking to it putting it several places below leftist blogging platform Daily Kos.

Breitbart News itself had under 800 articles linking to it prior to being declared an unusable source in a discussion initiated and heavily dominated by left-wing editors. Nearly all links have since been removed from Wikipedia articles. Daily Caller is another outlet since banned under the same process and was just slightly higher with about 900 articles including links. Wikipedia has banned numerous other conservative outlets since, including the Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit, which were both banned for their accurate, yet critical, reporting on Russiagate. The Federalist saw slightly more than 100 articles linking to it and is one of the few conservative sites not banned, while humor site Cracked was linked more than two and a half times as often in Wikipedia articles.

Such results are consistent with the history of bias exhibited by Wikipedia’s community of volunteer contributors on articles subjects ranging from Antifa and ICE to the Trump-Ukraine impeachment controversy. Particularly significant is the elevated status of the openly biased Guardian. The ties between Wikipedia and the Guardian aren’t limited to preferential sourcing either as Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales served a year on the company’s board before departing to start his WikiTribune outlet, an outlet that has suffered its own problems with bias.

Wikipedia’s owners tout its dependence on “reliable sources” as making the site useful in combating “fake news” yet the site favoring the Guardian so strongly would appear inconsistent with this stated commitment. The left-wing publication has numerous times had to retract stories for falsehoods, including on vital topics such as Brexit and WikiLeaks. The publication was also caught in controversy over its dubious Russiagate reporting after claiming Trump’s former campaign chairman visited Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy, a claim both parties denied and which was not even referenced in Special Counsel Mueller’s report exonerating President Trump on collusion.

Particularly of concern to Wikipedia editors should be the Guardian’s past misreporting on Wikipedia itself. Most notably, the outlet had to make significant corrections after its report on Wikipedia’s GamerGate dispute falsely claimed feminists were being “purged” from the site, which quickly went viral and led to some editors trolling Wikipedia by creating an article about the fabricated controversy.

Some editors have directly colluded with Guardian reporters as when the outlet was informed of the Daily Mail’s ban from Wikipedia by the editor who proposed that ban. This pattern of collusion also embarrassed Wikipedia’s community in the case of British MP Grant Shapps, who the Guardian accused of editing the pages of political opponents after speaking to a site administrator who banned the accused editor. Said ban was subsequently overturned after further review found insufficient evidence to support the accusation and the administrator was stripped of his privileges, partly for linking the account to Shapps.

Another concern regarding Wikipedia’s heavy reliance on the Guardian is that it was also one of many outlets found by Breitbart to be apparently copying content from Wikipedia’s GamerGate page without credit. BBC News, the second most-cited outlet on Wikipedia, had also appeared to copy a large portion of one article from Wikipedia’s GamerGate page. Such copying extended to academic textbooks, often considered among the most reliable sources on Wikipedia, which copied whole paragraphs. This ability of Wikipedia to influence professional content has been verified through studies showing Wikipedia is able to shape scientific literature. It is also the main information source relied on by Big Tech in their efforts against “fake news” online.

The context of articles citing the Guardian is important to understanding the implications of its widespread usage. In Wikipedia’s page on Donald Trump, over a dozen citations to the Guardian appear, generally for negative or unflattering claims about him such as branding him racist or attacking his trade policies. On the 2016 Presidential Election page, the outlet is used for claims about violence at Trump rallies and “Russiagate” allegations. Even when claims themselves appear neutral, partisan sourcing can still guide the conclusions of readers who take the seemingly savvy approach of checking the article’s sources.

In addition to the left-wing bias exhibited in Wikipedia’s content and sourcing, such bias is increasingly espoused by the Wikimedia Foundation itself, the group that owns Wikipedia. Earlier this month the Foundation endorsed the BlackLivesMatter movement in the wake of protests and riots over the police-involved death of George Floyd stating there is “no neutral stance” on “racial justice” issues. Wikipedia articles on the Floyd protests demonstrate a lack of neutrality matching the Foundation’s rhetoric. The Foundation also committed to establishing a “code of conduct” potentially enforced by its staff, in contrast to the normally self-regulating nature of Wikipedia, to create a “safe space” that was “inclusive” to all. Such moves likely mean the online encyclopedia’s left-wing bias will only worsen in the future.

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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