Wikipedia Editors Downplay Controversies Surrounding Harvard President Claudine Gay

Claudine Gay named 30th president of Harvard University, will be schools first Black leade
Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Wikipedia editors have been actively trying to minimize mention of plagiarism allegations raised against embattled Harvard President Claudine Gay. This has included removing mention of the allegations from the intro of her article and removing detailed descriptions of the alleged plagiarism. Some editors have also tried to minimize mention of Gay’s handling of campus antisemitism in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks against Israel.

Wikipedia editors have also removed all mention of the campus antisemitism controversy from the online encyclopedia’s article on Harvard University itself.

In Congressional testimony last week about a rise in antisemitism on college campuses following the Hamas terror attacks against Israel and the subsequent military response by the Jewish state, Harvard President Claudine Gay failed to unequivocally state that calls for genocide against Jews would violate Harvard conduct policies. Gay had previously issued a statement shortly after the Hamas invasion where she expressed “heartbreak” over the resulting death and destruction, but failed to condemn Hamas or even the terrorism committed against Israeli citizens.

Harvard Prez Claudine Gay holds her face in her hands

Harvard Prez Claudine Gay holds her face in her hands (Boston Globe /Getty)

Gay’s initial statement and criticism of it from prior Harvard President Larry Summers was mentioned several days later on her Wikipedia page and information about her Congressional testimony added more recently. Details about her testimony were promptly removed claiming “due weight” followed by the rest of the paragraph with editor “Innisfree987” claiming the cited sources did not back the material. The latter claim was subsequently proven wrong and the material restored. At the same time, Innisfree removed further material in the article unfavorable to Gay claiming “due weight” as the reason.

The flurry of coverage about Gay’s comments eventually allowed some mention of them to remain. While expansion on the controversy over Gay’s comments about campus antisemitism concerns continued on Gay’s page, Christopher Rufo’s allegations of Gay plagiarizing sources in her dissertation and other writings began getting attention. Attempts to mention the plagiarism allegations in her article’s intro were repeatedly rejected based on the sources being unreliable. The cited sources included the Post Millennial, which was banned on Wikipedia in an ongoing purge of conservative media, including Breitbart News and Fox News.

When an editor added detailed mention of the allegations further down under the material about criticism of Gay’s Congressional testimony, Innisfree repeatedly trimmed the contents down to a single paragraph avoiding details of the plagiarism or any sourced material affirming it as plagiarism claiming “due weight” again as the reason. Editors continued trying to expand on the plagiarism allegations, noting the specific details and mentioning those agreeing that plagiarism occurred. However, editor Innisfree continued trimming down these additions citing “due weight” leaving only the Harvard board’s more reserved acknowledgment of “inadequate citations” in Gay’s work. Innisfree reiterated the “due weight” claims on the article’s discussion page.

On the article for Harvard itself, an attempt to mention the controversy over Gay’s evasive Congressional testimony on anti-Semitism was rejected by editor Samuel Klein, who previously served on the board of the Wikimedia Foundation, which owns Wikipedia. Klein implicitly argued the content was undue, but suggested an alternate version that largely avoided anything critical of Gay at all. In addition to his time on the Foundation board, Klein was a director for One Laptop Per Child and edited Wikipedia articles about the project to downplay criticism.

Due weight is often an argument invoked when editors oppose content that has backing from sources deemed reliable on Wikipedia. Under the site’s “verifiability” policy, sources are deemed reliable based off community “consensus” and this has led to many conservative outlets being precluded, which means claims unfavorable to the left are often excluded. However, in cases where media deemed reliable cover the same information, editors who want to minimize it will often claim the added material gives “undue weight” to the subject. At times this can lead to completely excluding claims or simply reducing how much is mentioned.

Similar “due weight” arguments have been invoked by Innisfree and other left-wing editors before to minimize and remove material about then-New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong’s bigoted anti-white comments. In discussion of the matter Innisfree consistently voted in favor of material about the controversy defending her attacks on white people as responses to harassment and invoking the GamerGate anti-corruption movement in gaming, which left-wing media and editors on Wikipedia have smeared as a harassment campaign. Despite frequently arguing giving attention to Jeong’s anti-white comments would be undue, Innisfree favored and added a paragraph mentioning Jeong allegedly facing harassment in 2016 from Bernie Sanders supporters.

Editors have used this reasoning to exclude material exonerating Donald Trump during the Ukraine impeachment, gut an article on CNN controversies, remove content critical of various Russiagate allegations, and excluded content unfavorable to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Articles related to GamerGate have seen a particularly aggressive use of this tactic over the years with the article on feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian notably excluding all criticism of her work despite numerous sources considered reliable on Wikipedia extensively covering such criticism.

Wikipedia has been criticized for its left-wing bias on many topics, which has been identified as an issue in numerous studies. The online encyclopedia has been plagued by issues with its accuracy, including spreading hoaxes that end up in major media outlets and academic publications, who generally praise the site and rely on its contents to the point of outright copying. Site co-founder Larry Sanger and Elon Musk, owner of X, have frequently criticized the bias and dysfunction of Wikipedia.

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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