Conservative black activist Candace Owens has been subject to a prolonged smear campaign on Wikipedia since expressing her support for President Donald Trump. Many of the edits made to her page have selectively quoted or misrepresented Owens to portray her negatively. This included recent comments she made criticizing attempts to minimize the criminal past of George Floyd in the wake of his death in police custody.
An earlier addition to the Wikipedia article on Owens, which referenced an old deleted blog post, has been repeated by media outlets to attack her credibility. Editors have also sought to smear Owens by linking her to the Christchurch shooting last year.
In response to Floyd’s death and the resulting protests, Owens put out a video criticizing efforts to present Floyd as a saint or martyr (some murals even depict him with angelic wings). She noted Floyd’s past criminal conviction for armed robbery in which prosecutors stated he invaded a woman’s home with a group of associates and pointed a gun at the woman’s stomach. Although Owens also criticized the now-fired police officer Derek Chauvin who was responsible for Floyd’s death and supported the prosecution of Chauvin, she came under attack from the left online, with a GoFundMe page she set up for a conservative business owner attacked after making similar comments being shut down.
Owens also came under attack on Wikipedia. Editor “Snooganssnoogans”, who has previously been sanctioned for anti-conservative bias, added to the Wikipedia article for Owens material cherry-picking her comments stating “more fringe BS” in a description of his edit. The material cited extremely brief mentions of her comments and made no mention of Owens supporting the prosecution of Chauvin or her statement that Floyd’s criminal past didn’t justify killing him, despite such details being available in several sources considered dependable on Wikipedia. Her own video is not cited.
Also added was material stating Owens “falsely” accused left-wing billionaire George Soros of paying people to engage in Floyd protests, relying on fact-checkers who stated that, while Soros has funded organizations associated with Black Lives Matter, there was no evidence he directly paid protestors or the specific organizations behind protests. While an editor tried to note some other reporting to corroborate her position, these edits were repeatedly rejected as citing unreliable sources or sources not mentioning Owens or the Floyd protests. Editors also rejected the removal of the characterization of Owens’ accusations about Soros as false, with one claiming the accusations were “obviously false” in response.
Changes made previously by Snooganssnoogans regarding Owens’ views on race issues also focused on presenting only her most inflammatory criticism. In one example, Snooganssnoogans added material about Owens calling Black Lives Matter supporters “whiny toddlers” citing a Washington Post article. Right before that quote the Post also mentions Owens criticizing them for “embracing victimhood” by dwelling on racial injustices of the distant past such as slavery.
Dedicated efforts to smear Owens on her page began shortly after she received praise from rapper Kanye West and President Trump. Most edits initially were updates about the praise she received or expansions with some instances of vandalism. The most significant dispute focused on a description of the controversy over West’s supportive tweet. Editors fought over the mention of West’s tweet being controversial and over mentioning support from the right. It was eventually kept and made more negative describing West’s support being met with “derision” from some fans.
A BuzzFeed report about content Owens previously published and wrote on her defunct site Degree180 intensified the dispute. Having had a very public shift in her political outlook from left to right, content on the older site tended to favor left-wing positions and BuzzFeed portrayed this shift cynically. Snooganssnoogans made substantial additions to the Owens article based on the piece, which insinuated Owens was hired by Turning Point USA for urban outreach in response to claims of racism at the organization. These changes included a section on “media and conservative activism” using similar innuendo to BuzzFeed. Stating she began criticizing “the kind of content that her website previously trafficked in” the section then detailed anti-conservative content from Degree180.
Not noted from the BuzzFeed report was the fact Degree180 published conservatives as well. Roughly one day later another editor reversed the changes and fought with Snooganssnoogans over the addition. Following a day-and-a-half of discussion where the editor removing the changes questioned mentioning anti-Trump content not authored by Owens on her page, Snooganssnoogans re-added the material and the fight resumed.
Mention of the Degree180 content on Wikipedia was originally added by an editor apparently sympathetic to the right, who noted Owens called the Tea Party movement “bat-shit crazy” in a 2015 Degree180 post and cited an Internet Archive link. The line was removed several times with one editor stating it should be independently reported first. Eventually, the line stuck and the quote subsequently appeared in a couple of news outlets. One report used the same archive link as on Wikipedia and was later cited to support the material, an apparent case of circular reporting where Wikipedia mentions details not present in reliable sources and later cites reliable sources that copied off Wikipedia. Snooganssnoogans has been involved in several similar cases such as ones affecting Gateway Pundit and libertarian philosopher Stefan Molyneux.
Once Snooganssnoogans succeeded in keeping the new Degree180 material in the article, he embarked on a flurry of edits over several hours aimed at presenting Owens unfavorably. An edit with the description “cyberbullying” concerned a feud Owens had on Twitter with liberal comedian Sarah Silverman. When Owens posted a mocking tweet of Silverman and she responded in a patronizing manner, Owens criticized the comedian’s attacks on Trump’s MS-13 remarks and defense of Gaza border protests where many involved were Hamas members. Snooganssnoogans framed this as “accusing Silverman of supporting terrorists and crime gangs” (without presenting the context) after Silverman “responded with kindness” to the remark by Owens.
In some cases, while Snooganssnoogans did not cherry-pick or misrepresent the sources, he relied on sources that misrepresented Owens. A line he added stating Owens “has defended neo-Nazis” was supported by the Guardian and Daily Beast, both considered “reliable” sources on Wikipedia with the Guardian being the third-most cited news outlet on the site. However, both outlets were referring to an interview with TMZ where Owens, in reference to the Unite the Right rally, stated that while she strongly disagrees with their views neo-Nazis and the KKK had a right to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.
During the subsequent year, efforts were made by Snooganssnoogans and other left-wing editors to add more and more negative content to the page for Owens and aggressively undoing any attempts to remove the content. However, the most significant attempt at smearing Owens was an effort to connect her to the mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Because the shooter claimed her as “inspiration” in his manifesto, well-noted as littered with comments to troll and incite controversy, editors sought to emphasize this reference as heavily as possible, specifically linking comments she has made opposing mass-immigration to the shooter’s claimed ideology.
Attempts to note the shooter’s likely insincere support were initially rejected and editors fought hard against mentioning this and ultimately included suggestions the support may have been genuine regardless. Editor “Volunteer Marek” went further by attempting to add the link to the intro of her page with a quote from the shooter claiming she was his biggest influence. Following various attempts to restore it when editors removed the material from the intro, it was eventually agreed to leave mention of the incident in the body of the article.
Not all efforts to smear Owens have been as successful. An editor intervened to remove the claim she “defended neo-Nazis” and moderated some material about the Silverman exchange. The editor also added a two-paragraph section providing a more nuanced and less inflammatory portrayal of Owens’ ideology, though much of it was subsequently removed by Snooganssnoogans for not having secondary sourcing. Various additions Snooganssnoogans made chronicling comments Owens has made that might be deemed offensive were removed by administrator Michel Aaij, known as “Drmies” on Wikipedia, who expressed annoyance at this editing approach. Repeated efforts by editors to have Owens labeled “far-right” or a “conspiracy theorist” in the intro of her page were also rejected, though similar content added to the body of the article has remained.
Editors involved in smearing Owens have typically frequented other articles about conservative figures where they advance left-wing smears. Despite the long history of bias and smear campaigns, most have faced little impediment from administrators meant to rein in such conduct, enjoying considerable success in maligning their targets as on the Owens article. Such activity is one of the reasons why the site’s “neutrality” policy has recently been declared “dead” by Wikipedia’s own co-founder.
(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with several of the parties mentioned in the article)
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.