Wikipedia is one of the most well-known staples of the internet. Millions have used it as a starting point to get basic information on basically every topic (political or not) in the world. However, there have been accusations that there is an unacceptable case of leftist bias on Wikipedia. The claims come from both John Stossel, a renowned libertarian journalist, and Larry Sanger, one of the co-founders of the website.
Wikipedia, founded during the first era of the internet, has survived for years without being sold to any of the titans of the digital industry. The way Wikipedia works is unique in the digital world; the website does not charge a subscription for accessing its content; and allows everyone with a good internet connection to edit and write articles, subjected to the evaluation of other users in order to ensure the content is somewhat accurate.
As one of the most known and enduring features of the internet, Wikipedia has earned a reputation as a good starting point for getting to know any issue in any field. However, one of the old pillars of the internet has now been accused of engaging in systematic ideological bias in favor of the political left and against the right.
The Site’s Co-founder Says Conservatives Are Often Kicked Out from Wikipedia
Larry Sanger, one of the two co-founders of the online encyclopedia, has been raising his voice against what he sees as systemic bias against the right on the website. In a 2021 interview with Unherd’s Lockdown TV, Sanger said that any conservatives who want to collaborate on Wikipedia will be “sternly warned if not kicked out” if they try to bring a different perspective to the website.
Sanger, who has been a critic of Wikipedia for many years, added that the only type of content that is allowed to be on the website is that within the “mainstream center-left media” and that any scandal or content that is not covered by that type of outlets, will not appear on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia co-founder also noted that conservative outlets like Fox News cannot be used on the website, and cited the article on Joe Biden has very few references to the corruption allegations against Hunter Biden.
Wikipedia Appears to Shield Biden from Hunter’s Controversies
Wikipedia’s article on Joe Biden, like Sanger alleged, only has a couple of paragraphs referring to the scandals surrounding the President’s son. Even then it did not elaborate on the Hunter laptop controversy, argued that there was “no evidence produced of any wrongdoings by the Biden’s”, and said that a Senate Report clears the president and confirms that Hunter’s role in Burisma did not influence US policy.
The article, however, leaves out a controversial quote from the same Senate Report which concludes that “What the chairmen discovered during the course of this investigation is that the Obama administration knew that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine.”
The section on Joe Biden’s reputation is also interestingly filled with only positive remarks towards Biden, saying the President is viewed by commentators as someone who “is not an academic (…) he comes from a long line of working people in Scranton”, or as a politician who “is the kind of fundamental happy person who can be as generous towards others as he is to himself”, highlighting how Biden has been “noted for his empathetic nature and ability to communicate about grief” since the death of his son Beau, and quoting how some journalists have described Biden as “loquacious.”
Curiously, this section of the article makes no mention of the view that Biden is too old and not mentally or physically fit to hold the office of the Presidency, an opinion that polls have shown is widely shared by a substantial majority of the American public. In fact, the only negative comment Wikipedia has on the President’s reputation is just one single sentence describing that the President’s gaffes are sometimes viewed as “racially insensitive.”
MSNBC, CNN Are Listed as ‘Reliable Sources’ for Wikipedia; Often Compared with Reuters
Wikipedia’s apparent bias against the right is not only found in the way it portrays the current Democratic President of the United States but also on the website’s list of “reliable sources” it uses cable networks like MSNBC and CNN.
Astonishingly, Wikipedia lists Jacobin—a far-left magazine that once published an article whitewashing Lenin and painting him as committed to democracy—as a reliable source, although accepting that it is a biased publication and that editors should be careful when quoting it. However, Wikipedia does not give the same treatment to right-wing opinion publications like Fox News (the newsroom section, not the talk shows), and the National Review. It is interesting that Wikipedia does accept far-left biased outlets as reliable sources, but goes out of its way to avoid doing the same with right-wing publications.
This is not to say that Wikipedia does not list left-leaning sources as not reliable or as contested, it does list the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed as outlets where there is no consensus on their reliability. However, the amount of left-leaning (and even far-left) outlets, even many like Mother Jones or Slate which clearly have a partisan bias, that are considered to be reliable is far more than those on the right. Conservative journalist John Stossel asked co-founder Jimmy Wales about this issue, and Wales defended the website’s policy saying there is no bias.
Even more curious is that Wikipedia does not think that the Encyclopedia Britannica, a pioneer in the encyclopedia genre which has existed since the 17th century, is a reliable source. Considering the Jacobin, a clearly ideological magazine, as reliable but doubt the accuracy of the Encyclopedia Britannica is an extremely odd editorial choice.
This list is crucially important, as the website’s policy on reliability states that “If no reliable sources can be found on a topic, Wikipedia should not have an article on it.” Hence, according to Wikipedia’s standards, if only the Encyclopedia Britannica publishes an article on a particular issue then there will be no articles on the website, but if the Jacobin does it, then Wikipedia will write a new entry.
Wikipedia whitewashes communist atrocities
It is then not that surprising that Wikipedia’s article on communism is riddled with rather interesting editorial decisions, especially surrounding the mass killings that were widespread in communist regimes like Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.
The section regarding massive deaths in communist states is titled “excess deaths under communist states”, a rather clinical and dehumanizing term to refer to the human suffering under regimes like Stalin’s or Mao’s. In fact, a majority of the article is spent trying to defend the views of some left-wing ideas arguing that “victims of civil wars, the Holodomor, and other famines (…) should not be included” in the total estimates of deaths caused by communism.
Furthermore, the article classifies the idea that there has been a massive human toll caused by communist regimes as the “victims of communism narrative” or “concept.” In fact, the article extensively cites authors who argue that the equivalence between communism and Nazism (which is held as accurate by many Eastern Europeans and is observed to some extent by the EU as well) is a “long-discredited perspective.”
The decision to refer to communism’s atrocities as “excess deaths”, which is a term that is more used in epidemiology than in describing the failures and consequences of political systems, is extremely odd. Especially as Wikipedia refers to Pinochet’s mass killings and atrocities as “human rights violations” and not as excess deaths.
The double standard is also evident when comparing the Wikipedia entries of Pinochet and Castro. While both politicians lead authoritarian, repressive, and bloody regimes, only Pinochet is called (in the first paragraph) a “dictator” as a matter of fact. Castro, despite leading Cuba as the sole leader for more than 40 years, is referred to as a “Cuban revolutionary and politician” in the first paragraph and it only says that “critics call him a dictator” well buried in the fourth paragraph of the article.
Much has been discussed about the accuracy and reliability of today’s media climate. Cable news outlets like CNN or Fox News have been under the ire of both left and right over the way they cover stories. It appears Wikipedia must now be added to the list.