Below is an email I sent last night to John Thornhill about his article in the 11 October 2016 Financial Times titled “Wikipedia is a savior in the post-truth world.” (FT online is behind a subscription paywall, but here’s a PDF of the article. The online version has a different headline.)
Heartland has some experience with Wikipedia’s policy of allowing opponents of organizations such as ours to fill the entries with lies and not allow others to correct them with the truth. You can read more about what Heartland is trying to do about that here. Meanwhile, below is my correspondence.
I read with interest your column titled “Wikipedia is a savior in the post-truth world” in the 11 October issue of the Financial Times. Your article is only slightly more critical of Wikipedia than this foolish title, which I hope you did not choose.
You say “Wikipedia does, though, possess some glaring flaws,” among them that most of its contributors are men (I’m not sure why that’s a flaw, but I guess I’m gender privileged and just don’t see it) and sometimes its editors war over an entry, with the result that “Truth on Wikipedia is always a malleable commodity.” Thank you for pointing that out.
What I take exception to is your claim that “its volunteer contributors stick to a neutral point of view and agree among themselves what constitute reliable sources” and then your assertion, by references to entries on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that even entries on controversial subjects are “studiously neutral.” No, far from it.
Wikipedia may have started out neutral, but it has tilted farther and farther left over time. In 2008, Canadian journalist Lawrence Solomon wrote, “there is no doubt where Wikipedia stands: firmly on the Left. Try out Wikipedia’s entries on say, Roe v. Wade or Intelligent Design, and you will see that Wikipedia is the people’s encyclopedia only if those people are not conservatives.”
That bias is clearly on display on the issue of climate change, or “global warming,” where a single editor, William M. Connolley, was allowed to hack 5,000 Wikipedia pages and make hundreds of thousands of changes, even removing some entries altogether, to defame and distort any individuals or organizations that deviated from his alarmist perspective on the issue.
The profile of my 32-year-old nonprofit organization, The Heartland Institute, on Wikipedia was completely taken over and rewritten by left-wing environmental zealots, resulting in libelous attacks on our credibility. Most of the 147 sources cited on our site are left-wing publications and advocates. Virtually all our attempts to remove the lies have been reversed and refused by Wikipedia’s editors. My description of the situation (now a few months old) is here.
It’s hurtful to have friends and even family members say they read about me or my organization on Wikipedia and “didn’t know” or were “surprised to learn” that The Heartland Institute is a ‘front group” for the tobacco or oil industries or that I’m a serial liar for hire.
Wikipedia isn’t the “Free Encyclopedia,” as its slogan reads. It’s the “Fake Encyclopedia.” There are thousands, probably millions, of victims of Wikipedia’s bias and lies. Please think about them the next time you write about it.
One of these days, someone with deep enough pockets to overcome Wikipedia’s army of lawyers will win a class action suit against it, and if justice is served, Wikipedia will join Gawker Media in well-deserved extinction. Until then, please don’t bestow unearned praise on these Wikibullies.
Thornhill, to his credit, responded. We will see if he follows through.
Dear Mr Bast,
Many thanks for your thoughtful email. I’m sorry to hear about your experiences.
I shall certainly read your link with great interest and contact you next time I write about Wikipedia.
All the best,