Wikipedia editors have had Breitbart News formally listed as an unreliable source, meaning it can not be cited for factual claims. Editors have responded by purging citations to Breitbart News throughout the online encyclopedia, a move no doubt designed in part to hurt Breitbart’s search engine results ranking. Discussion of the blacklisting saw overwhelming numbers of left-wing politically-motivated editors supporting the ban, citing the example of a similar ban on the Daily Mail imposed early last year.
Similar calls for blacklisting Breitbart News on Wikipedia have been made in the past year in response to Breitbart’s critical reporting about the online encyclopedia’s rampant left-wing bias. Breitbart’s reporting on Wikipedia’s many failings have aroused consternation among its editors with left-wing Israeli outlet Haaretz once claiming Breitbart had “declared war” on the site after its report lambasting Facebook for using Wikipedia’s shoddy article on Breitbart News. Following a Breitbart News report last year on editors downplaying violence by Antifa, an administrator and then-member of the site’s powerful Arbitration Committee, the site’s “supreme court,” removed links to the report from a place on the article’s discussion page used to note press coverage, claiming Breitbart News is not part of the press.
Breitbart editor-in-chief Alex Marlow slammed Wikipedia for its decision, stating “Wikipedia has been and always will be fake news, and they know it. They believe facts are subject to a democratic process, and the only people with a vote are the bubbled leftists who edit Wikipedia. There is no mob rule when it comes to “true or false.” Even academia knows this, which is why Wikipedia is not considered valid in most classrooms.”
The consequences go far beyond Wikipedia itself, as Wikipedia is now being relied upon by Big Tech as a supposed arbiter of what is fact.
Faced with pressure from left-wing media and members of Congress over “fake news” concerns, Big Tech has been turning to Wikipedia as a supposed fact-checker. For example, Google-owned YouTube uses Wikipedia to fact-check “conspiracy theories.” Google itself uses Wikipedia for its “knowledge panels” next to search results, something that got them in trouble after a rogue Wikipedia edit led to Google search describing the California Republican Party as a “Nazi” party.
And earlier this year, Facebook even began linking to the heavily-slanted and factually inaccurate Wikipedia article about Breitbart News on all Breitbart Facebook posts. For example, that Wikipedia article says, among other things: “Its journalists are widely considered to be ideologically driven, and some of its content has been called misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist by liberals and many traditional conservatives alike. The site has published a number of falsehoods, conspiracy theories, and intentionally misleading stories.” One look at Breitbart’s Wikipedia page as opposed to say, CNN’s, and there is but one conclusion: Wikipedia’s treatment of Breitbart News is in many cases demonstrably false and very often, to put it mildly, and to borrow their accusation about Breitbart News, “ideologically driven.”
Wikipedia also plays an important role in search engine optimization (SEO), the art of improving the search engine results ranking for websites. In a nutshell, the better the SEO, the higher a page is listed in the results for a Google search. According to SEO service provider watchdog seoWorks, “The anecdotal evidence consistently reports that SEO rank improves with links from Wikipedia. We’ve found that links in Wikipedia do enhance SERP [Search Engine Results Pages] position.” SEO service providers have posted guides specifically on how to place links on Wikipedia to benefit search engine traffic. Wikipedia editors are actively removing links to Breitbart News — in fact, they have already removed nearly all links to Breitbart across the entire site — which could hurt Breitbart’s SEO based on the importance Google and others place on Wikipedia’s information.
Defenders of Wikipedia cite its crowd-sourced model as key to its supposed reliability as volunteer editors can discuss content and sourcing, often in a voting-style format, to ostensibly arrive at the most accurate and neutral conclusion, usually as determined by a site administrator based off the “consensus” of the discussion. However, many of these editors and administrators work in anonymity — using non-personally identifying “user names” such that there is no way to research their backgrounds. Moreover, there are no assurances that these editors and administrators have any training whatsoever (some editors have misrepresented themselves as experts in the past), much less that they are objective, or that they are representative. They could be political operatives for all anyone knows. What is clear is that the community’s undeniably long-standing left-wing bias means this process often lacks neutrality. Remember for example a report on President Trump being added to a Wikipedia list of “white genocide conspiracy theory” advocates.
Portions of the conclusory discussion about Breitbart can be seen in the following two screenshots:
Wikipedia’s move to blacklist Breitbart News is not entirely surprising considering that early last year, another conservative news outlet was under fire from Wikipedia’s community. A community discussion formally declared the British newspaper the Daily Mail an “unreliable source,” meaning it could not be cited for factual claims and would be removed anywhere it was cited. Moreover, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Foundation head Katherine Maher, who have both openly expressed hostility to Trump’s administration, touted the decision as demonstrating Wikipedia’s reliability. The ban on the Daily Mail, one of Britain’s oldest and most widely-read newspapers was cited as precedent for the discussion started earlier this month on banning Breitbart as a reliable source.
The Breitbart ban discussion was opened by Wikipedia administrator Guy Chapman, who stated without statistical evidence and in a conclusory fashion that fact-checkers “find large numbers of Breitbart stories to be misleading, false or both.” An administrator with more site powers than typical editors for over twelve years, Chapman openly displays hostility towards supporters of President Trump on his user page claiming anyone believing Trump is a good President probably doesn’t have the competence required to edit Wikipedia.
After a piece in June about Wikipedia editors adding ICE detention facilities to a list of concentration camps, administrator and former Arbitration Committee member, Robert Fernandez (known as Gamaliel on Wikipedia) called for Breitbart to be banned claiming it was an “anti-semitic” website, despite the fact that Breitbart News was founded by a Jew, run and partly owned by a Jew, and is the staunchest supporter of Israel in the media. Fernandez reiterated this stance at the ban discussion and incredibly called for banning anyone trying to cite Breitbart News as a source.
A public Wikipedia Facebook group shared my piece on ICE facilities being put in Wikipedia’s concentration camps list. One administrator and former member of the site’s Arbitration Committee posted this response (one like is from a Haaretz journalist who writes about Wikipedia) pic.twitter.com/oCoqhVfMdP
— T. D. Adler (@tdadler) June 30, 2018
Wikipedia is coming after conservative media. Efforts were made earlier this year to ban Fox News as a source. Though unsuccessful, those supporting a ban indicated they would eventually try again. One comment supporting the Breitbart News ban reiterated this intent stating, “Breitbart is a fringe propaganda organization which lets its extreme partisan bias get in the way of how it reports things, and whether it does so, just at Fox News does. It too should be deprecated, but let’s start with Breitbart (and Infowars).”
(Disclosure: The author has been involved in disputes with several of the parties mentioned in the 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.