Last week the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns Wikipedia, responded to a defamation complaint submitted by conservative documentary filmmaker Lauren Southern. Her complaint noted numerous misrepresentations, omissions, and falsehoods, on the site’s page about her. In its response, the Foundation legal team stated that it was investigating her complaints and would conclude that investigation in early January.
Editors on Wikipedia have responded to the allegations in the complaint by making some changes to partly address concerns, though other issues remain and some editors have sought to further smear Southern in response. Attempts to mention Breitbart News’ coverage of the complaint have been suppressed.
Southern’s complaint was a response to a long-running smear campaign against her by Wikipedia’s left-wing editors. Among the issues identified in the complaint were editors omitting key context regarding her ban from entering the U.K. and removing favorable material regarding a speaking event in New Zealand that was subject to cancellation following harassment and threats against the venue. One claim regarding an event in Australia misrepresented Southern joking about Melbourne being able to avoid divine punishment, citing a story from the Bible, as her calling for the city to be bombed. In a statement to Breitbart about her complaint, Southern stated: “I don’t even recognize the individual they call ‘Lauren Southern’ on Wikipedia.”
According to Southern, the smears nearly cost her an interview subject for her documentary about Black Lives Matter released last Wednesday, Crossfire, and made it difficult for her to obtain legal representation in other matters. She later tried and failed to get some of the issues resolved in discussions with editors on her page. Due to the failure of Wikipedia editors to address the problems, Southern sent a complaint about defamation on her page to the Foundation and warned if action was not taken, her lawyers would pursue action against them and editors involved in the smears.
In a reply acknowledging receipt of the complaint, the Foundation legal team told Southern: “regarding the English Wikipedia article about you. We are looking into the matter. The Foundation’s offices are closed for the holidays between December 24 and January 3, but we hope to conclude our investigation when we return in early January.” Prior to the legal team’s response, Wikipedia’s Volunteer Response Team had responded to Southern’s complaint by suggesting she pursue her concerns on the discussion page of her article, despite having already failed in her efforts under that approach.
Wikipedia legal team are now investigating my page and policy violations after my concerns notice.
Let’s see how this goes. 👍🏻
— ✨🎉Lauren Southern🎉✨ (@Lauren_Southern) December 23, 2020
While the Foundation legal team has pledged to investigate the issues with Southern’s page, editors have already responded to the complaint and Breitbart’s coverage of it by addressing some problems. Editor “Phillip Cross” made over a hundred edits to Southern’s page the day after Breitbart News reported on Southern’s complaint. These edits removed unsupported claims that Southern “popularized” the “Great Replacement conspiracy theory” and removed from the intro the misleading mention of her ban from the U.K. He also added some context to incidents mention in the body of the article, such as Southern’s U.K. ban and her statements objecting to “rape culture” claims at a feminist protest.
Cross, however, did not address some unsourced material nor address misrepresented statements such as the false characterization of Southern’s comments about Melbourne during her Australia speaking tour. He also added additional negative material to Southern’s page, citing an opinionated film review for an inflammatory quote and labeling her an advocate of a “white genocide conspiracy theory” in the introduction citing a brief mention in one article and an opinion piece that does not even support the allegation. Those claims concern Southern’s documentary about farm attacks in South Africa and their alleged racial motivations, which was cited to have her added to a list of “advocates” of the theory on another Wikipedia article.
Other editors responded by adding smears to Southern’s article. “CozyandDozy” previously added smears to Southern’s page portraying her as defending a “neo-Nazi” by assigning the label to alt-right leader Richard Spencer, despite no sources cited on Southern’s page using the label and the label even being contentious on Spencer’s page. This smear was aggravated by CozyandDozy adding a completely unsourced claim that Spencer “advocated violence against nonwhites on various occasions.” Previously, CozyandDozy added the same unsourced claim to the introduction of Spencer’s page. Not even a “Right Wing Watch” article cited near the line makes the allegation, with the far-left Right Wing Watch generally discouraged as a source on Wikipedia unless explicitly attributed.
Similar smears occurred with material in the introduction about Southern protesting refugee “rescue” operations she criticized as facilitating illegal immigration. CozyandDozy changed the description of the “Defend Europe” group she worked with from “identitarian” to “militant white nationalist” despite no sources using that description and uncritically repeated crowd-funding platform Patreon’s claim that her protesting the “rescue” operations was “likely to cause” deaths when removing her from their service, though deaths at sea later declined when Italy restricted migration. Molly White, an administrator with special privileges who edits as “GorillaWarfare” on Wikipedia and herself accused Southern of “white supremacy” without citing any source, did request sanctions against CozyandDozy, but for edits she deemed favorable to Southern.
Mention of Southern’s position on the “rescue” operations was later included, but self-identified socialist editor “Bacondrum” removed it. Bacondrum also removed mention in the introduction to Southern’s page that she denies being a “white nationalist” despite having added her denial following Southern’s defamation complaint. Self-identifying as “anti-fascist” on his profile page as well, Bacondrum has also repeatedly smeared Antifa critic Andy Ngo, a frequent target of Wikipedia smears by Antifa supporters on the site. Other than Bacondrum and CozyandDozy, another editor repeatedly added to the introduction for Southern’s page that she is a “white supremacist” without citing any source for the claim, but this was removed each time.
Though Breitbart’s coverage apparently influenced some editing on the page, attempts to mention that coverage directly were repeatedly reversed by others with Cross claiming “the few valid issues raised about sourcing properly matching text have been fixed” and citing the fact Breitbart has been banned from use as a source, even added to a spam list blocking links, one of many conservative outlets banned in an ongoing purge. Having attempted to mention Breitbart’s coverage of Wikipedia bias at several other articles, the editor responsible initiated a discussion about mentioning Breitbart coverage.
In the discussion, several editors characterized mentions of Breitbart’s Wikipedia coverage as “harassment” with an administrator threatening to ban editors referencing the coverage. One editor claimed Breitbart’s coverage “included personal attacks, false claims, and bad-faith accusations” yet only cited one claim, out of context, from one article mentioning an editor smearing conservative outlet Gateway Pundit. Editor Paul Lee, the primary author of the biased Steele Dossier page who currently edits as “Valjean” on the site, claimed the pieces “endanger the lives of editors” on Wikipedia. Another editor claimed the articles were “actionable” as defamation. White claimed the articles were “riddled with falsehoods” without citing any examples.
Editor “Bilorv” was open to mentioning Breitbart coverage, but Bilorv’s profile page still labeled the outlet a “hate group” and also suggested criticizing a Wikipedia article on the bail process as being negatively slanted against the process was evidence of a “white supremacist point of view” on the subject. The latter was a response to an article noting Bilorv approved the page as “neutral” as part of a Black Lives Matter activist campaign to get articles advancing the movement’s agenda on Wikipedia’s front page.
Bias against Southern and rejection of conservative media criticism is representative of broader bias on Wikipedia. Though the site’s main community newsletter published a piece trying to deflect such criticism and even claiming dubiously that the site was “center-right” instead, citing a study that itself copied content from Wikipedia uncredited, numerous studies and analyses have identified the site as exhibiting a left-wing bias and this criticism has been echoed by site co-founder Larry Sanger. For conservatives smeared on the site such as Southern, working with the site’s editors is often a lost cause as a result.
(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with some parties referenced in this 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.