Since the death of George Floyd in police custody in late May, Wikipedia has been subject to a wide-ranging campaign by left-wing editors favorable to the Black Lives Matter movement with encouragement from the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns the site. Articles have been regularly stripped of material detrimental to the movement and the site’s front page used as a platform for messages favorable to their cause and harmful to President Donald Trump.
While the left-wing slant of many Wikipedia editors meant a bias on the topic of Black Lives Matter was inevitable, a group specifically dedicated to the movement was also set up on the site. One administrator, Guy Chapman, stated upon joining the group: “You can be one of three things: ally, enemy, or collaborator.” Such sentiment has been reflected in the various ways Wikipedia has handled the topic.
Downplaying riots and violence
One of the earliest ways editors on Wikipedia pushed a bias towards the Black Lives Matter movement in response to Floyd’s death was to omit or diminish as much discussion of violence from protestors and rioters as possible. Editors instead sought to emphasize violence from police responding to the protests and riots, including by only devoting a single sentence to an attack by protestors on CNN’s headquarters, while extensively documenting the case of a CNN crew being arrested at a protest. Sections noting reactions to the protest events tended to focus on those condemning police action or criticizing President Trump, even uncritically quoting authoritarian foreign governments such as China and Iran.
In some cases, content initially presented on the main page for the protests was moved to other articles with little change. For instance, content about violence during the protests was split off into its own article, but remains focused on police violence over protestor violence. Incidents such as the death of two teenagers in Seattle’s now-defunct CHAZ currently receive less coverage on the page combined than the case of a man shoved by police in Buffalo, New York. Editors have also created a separate article specifically for listing cases of police violence. No such article exists for violence by protestors.
Censoring Antifa involvement
The involvement of Antifa in the violence and rioting during the Floyd protests was another area where editors worked to diminish negative associations for the movement. On a section for “extremist activities” editors focused twice as much on claims, no matter how dubious, about alleged far-right and white supremacist involvement. Current content about violence in a page split off from the main article on the protests now gives several more times the information about alleged far-right involvement. Efforts to minimize the role of Antifa eventually included outright censorship of Antifa involvement in rioting.
At the page for Antifa, editors removed mention of police in Texas announcing that members of an Antifa group were arrested for looting. One statement from Attorney General William Barr about there being clear evidence of organized Antifa involvement was also removed. Past incidents of Antifa violence were also censored, such as the attack on journalist Andy Ngo, previously targeted by Antifa supporters on the site. Administrator Chapman, a member of the Black Lives Matter group on Wikipedia, became involved in the Antifa page as well to remove the “militant” label from the intro after another editor posted a request for assistance on Facebook, apparently violating policy.
Front page agenda-pushing
Part of the agenda-pushing efforts by Wikipedia’s Black Lives Matter group was a June “edit-a-thon” in which editors create or expand articles concerning racism and policing. This included getting articles on Wikipedia’s front page in its “Did You Know” section. Several front page nominations on these topics were either submitted, reviewed , or both submitted and reviewed, by members of the Black Lives Matter group during the month. In addition to an article on a book advancing “white guilt” and on a parental talk black parents give kids about police interactions, an article on the phrase “When the looting starts the shooting starts” used by Trump during early rioting was also featured.
A few front page nominations from the edit-a-thon have been approved since it ended, including one on bail funds that was nominated by a member of the Black Lives Matter group and then approved by another member who ruled the page was “neutral” despite being slanted in favor of the group’s agenda on bail and mainly citing advocacy organizations. Similar edit-a-thons have been set up in July, including one associated with a group focused on Wikipedia’s alleged gender gap.
Unrelated to the edit-a-thon was an effort to get an article about Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church on the front page where it appeared on July 4th. Both articles about Trump that made front page appearances were slanted against him. The front page appearance about his St. John’s visit specifically included negative spin against Trump and labeled the visit a “photo op” with the characterization treated as fact. Other front page appearances unrelated to the edit-a-thon include the article on a historic college basketball game and the page on George Washington’s history with slavery, which appeared on the front page for Juneteenth.
Removing criticism of subjects
Editors also sought to conceal negative information about people relevant to the movement’s cause. In the Atlanta shooting case of Rayshard Brooks, details about his violent criminal history were censored with only a vague mention of him having been to prison remaining. Criticism of the District Attorney on the case was also censored. The DA had charged the officer who shot Brooks with felony murder, despite Brooks having allegedly violently resisted arrest and fired at the officers with a taser he grabbed from one of them. Officials accused the DA of using the case to improve his position in a contentious re-election campaign at a time when he is also facing his second ethics investigation, but editors have fought to keep these criticisms out of the article on the shooting, though they have since kept some criticism.
Such attempts to downplay the criminal histories of figures who died in police custody extended to Floyd. Both on his article and the article on his death, no specific information is provided on the armed robbery in which he invaded a woman’s home along with some associates and pointed a gun at the woman’s stomach. Twice as much information is dedicated to his work with his local church than to his entire criminal history. When conservative black activist Candace Owens criticized the efforts by protests to portray Floyd in a saintly fashion, with some murals even depicting him as an angel, editors on Wikipedia smeared her on her page by misrepresenting her comments and not including her statements criticizing the police officer responsible for Floyd’s death and supporting his prosecution.
Site owners rejecting neutrality
Wikipedia’s owners, the Wikimedia Foundation, not only failed to discourage bias from editors advancing a Black Lives Matter agenda, but encouraged it by endorsing the movement and declaring there is “no neutral stance” on matters of racial justice. Much like articles relevant to Black Lives Matter’s cause, the Foundation’s endorsement completely overlooked violence from protestors in favor of condemning police. In announcing its position the Foundation also discussed steps to improve the “diversity” and “inclusivity” of Wikipedia to make it a “safe space” for editors. This included a code of conduct the Foundation plans to impose on Wikipedia by the end of this year.
Evidence of deepening political bias
For several years, Wikipedia has moved even further to the left as conservative news outlets such as The Daily Mail and Breitbart are banned as sources at the same time left-wing outlets such as the Guardian are among the most-cited news sources on the site. Political bias on Wikipedia has recently been harshly criticized by the site’s co-founder Larry Sanger who stated its neutrality policy is “dead” due to the site’s increasingly leftward slant. Heavy agenda-pushing for Black Lives Matter and other “social justice” causes will only worsen the site’s bias.
For many familiar with Wikipedia’s problems, the online encyclopedia’s lack of reliability is treated as obvious. However, despite its well-documented issues there are numerous major media outlets, scientific papers, and Big Tech companies, used widely by the public that have no qualms about using Wikipedia or even copying off it without crediting the site. Given this reliance on Wikipedia as a force against “fake news” it is all the more important people be aware of anything that might conceivably originate from the “encyclopedia anyone can edit.”
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.