Multiple academic studies and critical analyses of Wikipedia have pointed towards the site’s left-wing bias. The findings include its content being more left-leaning than Encyclopedia Britannica and left-leaning editors being more active and partisan than right-leaning editors. Left-wing outlets have been found to be the top-cited sources and represent most citations on articles about American politicians, and right-leaning editors have at the same time been found to be six times more likely to face sanctions.
Such studies and analyses validate criticism from the site’s co-founder, Larry Sanger, who earlier this year declared Wikipedia’s neutrality policy “dead” due to left-wing bias on the site. Following are five studies and analyses demonstrating Wikipedia bias:
More biased than Encyclopedia Britannica
One study from Harvard Business School academics Shane Greenstein and Feng Zhu analyzed the content of Wikipedia to determine whether it showed a political bias. In the study, Greenstein and Zhu examined articles covering U.S. politics on Wikipedia and compared them to similar articles in Encyclopedia Britannica, the oldest English-language encyclopedia whose articles are written by vetted experts unlike the volunteer amateurs often editing Wikipedia pages. Using an academic method to examine bias, the researchers looked at word choices more consistent with left-wing and right-wing views respectively.
The study found that articles on Wikipedia tended to show greater left-wing bias based on this method than comparable articles in Encyclopedia Britannica. In the case of both, the study found the encyclopedias exhibited a left-wing bias. Greenstein and Zhu concluded one reason for this bias was the length of Wikipedia articles relative to Britannica. On a per-word basis, they found Wikipedia was slightly-less biased, though still found it showed a left-wing bias. They further found that bias declined the more edits an article received, with the most-biased tending to be the least edited.
Left-wing editors more active and partisan
Greenstein and Zhu published a subsequent paper with Grace Gu using these same methods to examine individual editors and their biases. Corroborating the previous study, the researchers found editors showing a left-wing bias tended to be more active and more partisan than their right-wing counterparts. However, the researchers also concluded many editors moderate their bias in editing the more they edit and thus over many years left-wing editors moved towards a more neutral stance somewhat more quickly. One flaw in the study is it excludes editors who made over 950 edits in a year, which excludes many of the site’s most active partisans.
Top-cited news outlets mainly left-wing
Wikipedia sourcing has been the subject of critical analysis as well with one instance being looking at the top-cited outlets on the site. The 2018 analysis by editor “SashiRolls” published at Wikipedia criticism site Wikipediocracy used Wikipedia’s internal search engine to identify how many articles cited specific sources. What the resulting data showed is that establishment left-leaning outlets such as the New York Times and BBC News, each cited in around 200,000 articles, were often the most-cited news sources. The left-wing Guardian was the third most-cited outlet with almost 100,000 articles citing the outlet. Among the top ten outlets cited in Wikipedia articles, only one was right-leaning.
Pages on American politicians mostly cite left-wing outlets
Narrowing the review of Wikipedia sourcing, one user on Wikipediocracy specifically examined the extent to which sources were used on articles about American politicians as of July of this year. The analysis looked at all articles included in the category for 21st Century American Politicians and used a public tool to pull the sources cited in those articles. Each source was then categorized based on bias determinations by both AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC), sites that publish bias ratings for news media.
What the analysis found is that articles on American politicians tended to rely on left-wing media. Based on AllSides ratings, 33,000 sources used were left-wing with 44,000 being left-wing based on MBFC ratings. Right-wing sources were shown to be more rarely used with such sources being cited less than 10,000 times according to either rating site. Centrist sources were used more often and closer to the number of times left-wing sources were used. Neither ratings site has rated all of the outlets cited on Wikipedia, while some ratings differ between the two sites.
Right-leaning editors six times more likely to be sanctioned
Connecting sourcing bias and editorial bias, two American academics analyzed bias in Wikipedia’s policy enforcement on political articles in a piece for British magazine the Critic. The academics looked at “arbitration enforcement” cases where administrators with special privileges on the site can impose restrictions on editors under sanction regimes applied by the Arbitration Committee, often likened to a Supreme Court. Often applied by topic area, the analysis looked specifically at how sanctions were handed out in areas such as U.S. presidential politics, abortion, gun control, and race and intelligence.
The analysis showed that, in every area, those editors whose contributions favored the right-leaning perspective were more likely to be sanctioned. In some cases, the samples were not large enough, but in the area of U.S. politics cases concerning President Donald Trump, the analysis found editors favoring a pro-Trump perspective were about six times more likely to be sanctioned based on 114 cases. Examining all areas together similarly found editors favoring a right-leaning perspective were six times more likely to be sanctioned than those favoring the left-leaning perspective. The academics suggested administrative bias could explain right-leaning sources being disfavored on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia becomes widely-praised and influential
Site co-founder Larry Sanger this year examined bias in several articles when declaring Wikipedia had abandoned neutrality. He noted President Barack Obama’s article mentioned none of his Administration’s scandals, but scandals on President Trump’s page were extensively documented. The sourcing bias identified in several analyses contributes to such content bias as with articles on Antifa and Black Lives Matter. One reason for Wikipedia’s sourcing bias is right-wing media being subject to a years-long purge invoking policies on “verifiability” and “reliable” sourcing. Many editors cite combating “fake news” to justify the purge, a narrative pushed by the site’s owners following advice from a Clinton-tied public relations firm.
In a communications audit by the firm Minassian Media, they noted Wikipedia was usually covered favorably, except when the site’s reliability was the subject of the story. Pushing the site as a challenge to “opinionated news” citing the 2016 election was how the firm recommended improving Wikipedia’s reputation. The effort has been an apparent success with many corporate media outlets praising the site, even on its handling of political articles where edits favored left-wing views. Companies in Big Tech and organizations such as the World Health Organization have also seized on claims of Wikipedia’s reliability to incorporate the site into their efforts against “misinformation” online.
Demonstrated left-wing bias indicates how harmful Wikipedia’s influence can become. Previous studies have already shown Wikipedia can shape scientific literature and economic behaviors with some studies raising whether it can influence elections. In the case of the 2020 Presidential election, articles about Hunter Biden and both former Vice President Joe Biden and current President Trump saw tens of thousands of views on Election Day, hundreds of thousands in the preceding weeks. However, articles about the Bidens were slanted in their favor due partly to widespread censorship of alleged Biden family corruption aided by restrictions against citing the right-wing outlets covering the allegations, while Trump-related articles have seen multiple smear campaigns.
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.