‘Whackapedia’ and Its Error Fest
October 30, 2017
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published October 29, 2017 by The Washington Times.
As a Wikipedia editor, I’ve made many edits and updates over the years to the American Civil Rights Union’s Wikipedia page without interference.
So, imagine my shock when I was alerted this past Monday that someone had made the page revert to a very old version with content deleted and outright errors inserted. I went online and corrected a couple of things, but my corrections were instantly undone. Then, it got worse.
On Wednesday, another editor removed a lion’s share of the content describing the ACRU’s activities and issues. Gone were entire sections on election law, environmental regulation, gun laws and religious freedom.
Some of the worst damage was done to the personnel section. Judge Robert Bork, who died in December 2012, was updated as a current ACRU Policy Board member. So was James Q. Wilson, the celebrated political scientist who died in March 2012.
On Friday, another editor restored the severely outdated issue sections but left the personnel errors. Earlier, an editor “nominated” the entire ACRU page for “deletion.”
What might seem at first like a trivial nuisance is indicative of the power those hostile to liberty have over those who defend it. To a new generation, Wikipedia is Britannica — but without factual safeguards.
Virtually all of the updates I added over several years were deleted. According to the site history, the revisions by several “editors” began this past April, and continued right up through this week.
When I contacted a Wiki administrator who was listed as one of the revisers, I was told that because of my ties to the group (I am an ACRU senior fellow) I have a conflict of interest and could not fix anything myself. Instead, I should review a complicated procedure for suggesting edits — which may or may not be made. My request to restore my previous edits in order to correct the many errors was flatly denied.
This is very serious business. It amounts to sabotage. When people want to learn about an organization or person, they often go straight to Wikipedia. While it’s bad form to cite Wikipedia as a sole source, it’s an excellent starting point for research on any topic. Millions of people access it daily, making it one of the top six websites in the world.
If viewers see an absurdly outdated, sloppy page, it could deeply affect an organization’s ability to get out its message. Frustrated by the intransigence, I looked up Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy, which is murky and geared toward preventing hostile edits that are defamatory or false, or self-serving inaccuracies, not edits of an entirely factual nature, such as listing current personnel or programs.
One of Wikipedia’s cardinal rules is: “If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it.” In the essay, “Wikipedia: Ignoring all rules — a beginner’s guide,” it states, “Perhaps the spirit of the rule could be said in an even better way: Use your common sense over anything else.”
Common sense tells me that fixing blatant errors is something that Wikipedia should appreciate.
There is no guarantee that certain administrators will even make suggested edits if they have an ideological ax to grind, as indicated by many of the changes and deletions to the ACRU page even before the big purge.
The editing history reveals these: “Environmental and property-rights litigation: rename to ‘Environmental regulation’” “Second Amendment and gun litigation: rename to ‘Gun control.’”
What’s wrong with the previous entries? Ah, one mentions property rights, and the other cites the Second Amendment. The progressive left prefers they not be mentioned, or even known to younger Americans.
The question is: After years of being left alone, why did the ACRU page suddenly come under such attack? And, have Wikipedia editors subjected other pages of nonprofit groups to this kind of micromanagement? This is beginning to smack of the Obama IRS’s targeting of the tea parties.
Could this have something to do with the fact that the ACRU has been fighting vote fraud by forcing counties to clean up their inaccurate voter rolls and has a case pending in federal district court against high-profile Broward County, Florida?
The malicious trashing of the ACRU’s Wikipedia page is not unlike the damage done to Christian charities by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s false designation of them as “hate groups,” which the charity index GuideStar affixed to these groups’ entries. One of them, D. James Kennedy Ministries, is suing the SPLC for defamation. Good for them.
In May 2016, a report by the website Gizmodo accused Facebook editors of intentionally suppressing articles with conservative content, a practice long suspected by many conservative activists.
Last Monday, PragerU, a nonprofit educational website run by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager, filed a lawsuit accusing Google and its subsidiary YouTube of censoring more than 30 of its videos as “inappropriate.”
As fewer and fewer companies control the flow of information, we must be increasingly vigilant for attempts to silence conservative voices.
Wikipedia is supposed to be “self-correcting.” Let it be so.