Facebook, NBC, and Axios all reportedly paid for flattering Wikipedia pages — managing to get negative sections removed, and positive sections added in. Google currently prioritizes information from Wikipedia at the top of search results.
According to HuffPost, Facebook, NBC, and Axios paid former Fast Company and Inc.com Head of Digital Ed Sussman, who boasts a 100 percent success rate, to “do damage control” for their Wikipedia pages.
“Most of Sussman’s changes” to Axios reporter Jonathan Swan’s Wikipedia page were reportedly approved, including changes which sought to downplay Swan’s previous mistakes, while “Facebook’s PR agency paid Sussman to tweak Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s page.”
NBC also reportedly hired Sussman to make the company look better on Wikipedia following sexual misconduct allegations against NBC host Matt Lauer, and news that the company decided not to publish Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein story.
“The vast majority of the people who propose and make changes to Wikipedia are volunteers. A few people, however, have figured out how to manipulate Wikipedia’s supposedly neutral system to turn a profit,” HuffPost reported. “That’s Sussman’s business. And in just the past few years, companies including Axios, NBC, Nextdoor and Facebook’s PR firm have all paid him to manipulate public perception using a tool most people would never think to check.”
NBC and Axios confirmed to HuffPost that they had paid Sussman to edit their Wikipedia pages, with an Axios spokesman declaring, “Axios hired him to correct factual inaccuracies. Pretty sure lots of people do this.”
HuffPost also reported that “Sussman proposed that [Wikipedia] editors remove a portion of [NBC employee] Chuck Todd’s page that mentioned a potentially embarrassing 2016 Daily Caller report about an invitation found in the leaked emails of former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.”
“According to the invite, Todd and his wife had hosted a dinner for Hillary Clinton’s then-communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, and her husband. Sussman asked that editors remove any mention of the report from Todd’s page because Wikipedia had previously (and correctly) determined the Daily Caller to be an unreliable source and, according to Sussman, ‘it is not sourced elsewhere,’” HuffPost explained. “This, however, is untrue. The invitation was reported in both the Observer and The Florida Times-Union, in addition to the invitation’s appearance on WikiLeaks itself.”
Despite this, the fact was removed.
Google currently uses Wikipedia as a credible source of information, often republishing info from the website in Google search results.
In May 2018, Google listed “Nazism” as an official ideology of the Californian Republican Party, based on information from Wikipedia, before apologizing and blaming the mistake on Wikipedia’s unreliable information.
Wikipedia has also featured Ron Paul and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) on a list of “American White Supremacists,” next to cult leader Charles Manson and convicted mass murderer Dylann Roof, and featured President Trump on a list of advocates for a “neo-Nazi[…] conspiracy theory.”
Despite this, Google continues to prioritize information from Wikipedia in search results — displaying it in its own special info box at the top of results.
In January, it was even reported that Google would donate over $3 million to Wikipedia parent company Wikimedia.
Google’s promotion of Wikipedia info has prompted criticism from Congress, including from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
“In the case of Wikipedia, currently, Google is using Wikipedia… scraping the information, and essentially using it almost as its own content, meaning you’re providing not a link to this site, but you’re in fact putting their information out as your information,” Issa noted during a hearing on social media censorship last year. “Since Wikipedia is an external, fairly broad in many cases, list of people, sometimes with political biases that will deliberately distort or do bad things to a site… how are we to hold you accountable, when instead of being a search source you are in fact scraping the information?”
“When you absorb the content, aren’t you absorbing the responsibility? And in the case of Wikipedia, clearly, you are not scrubbing the content,” he continued. “Shouldn’t we hold you responsible at least to the level of care that newspapers — ever so poorly — are held to?”
Other Wikipedia controversies have included burying controversies surrounding CNN, downplaying Antifa violence, removing the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting from a list of ‘Islamist Terrorist Attacks,’ removing references to New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong’s racism, and labeling ICE detention centers as “concentration camps.”
Breitbart News is blacklisted as a media source on Wikipedia.
Charlie Nash is a reporter for Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter, or like his page at Facebook.