Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2021-07-25/In the media

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Larry is at it again: Bias, propaganda and more murderous mistakes!
External video
Larry Sanger cropped.jpg
video icon Larry Sanger on Wikipedia's bias, LockdownTV, 31:50
video icon Jimmy Wales on safe spaces, TED Radio Hour on NPR, 19:48

In some months all the stories in the media about Wikipedia seem to be related to one bigger story. This month the bigger story is that Larry Sanger has yet again accused Wikipedia of bias. It is not the case that this is a new story. The real news is that right-wing news outlets keep repeating it at every chance. Stephen Harrison's July 1 article on Wikipedians deprecating the Daily Mail as a reliable source appears new again. A rehash of Jimmy Wales's 2005 TED talk on NPR gains relevance as a counter argument to Sanger. Even events in Hong Kong take on a new light. This is not the news anymore, it's not really about how Wikipedia covers the news. It's about how right-wing media covers how Wikipedia deals with the right-wing news coverage. Larry, was "propaganda" the right word to use? "Disinformation" is the more popular word now. Could we apply that term to your interviews? S

Larry Sanger on bias in Wikipedia – with opinion orthodoxy, truth becomes more elusive

Co-founder of Wikipedia Larry Sanger has a history of speaking out about its shortcomings. A flurry of press coverage followed his comments on LockdownTV concerning bias and nefarious information shaping by powerful nations and corporations.

Typical headlines were "Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger blasts site for left-wing bias: 'The word for it is propaganda'" (Fox News), and "Nobody should trust Wikipedia, says man who invented Wikipedia – He says there’s a complex game being played to make an article say what somebody wants it to say", from The Independent.

In a more nuanced review of Sanger's concerns of "sinister motives" for a left-leaning bias, the conservative National Review said "those with center-left opinions, which constitute the prevailing 'establishment', are [not] necessarily sinisterly motivated by selfishness in suppressing dissenting opinion. They may simply genuinely think that the opposition is wrong and does not deserve a platform for their erroneous view...the repercussions of shrinking intellectual diversity are real. As John Stuart Mill argued, when we are left with only one set of opinion that is deemed acceptable, not only may we never know whether that narrative is in fact correct, but we may also no longer be incentivized to thoroughly understand that set of opinion and how it had come by. Hence, truth becomes more elusive."

A story in The Wall Street Journal did not reference Sanger specifically but said in "How Science Lost the Public’s Trust" that science writer Matt Ridley held "Wikipedia long banned any mention" of heterodox topics like the Wuhan lab leak theory. B

Who are we to judge?

Stephen Harrison in Wikipedia's war on The Daily Mail in Slate reviews what is, at first glance, a very much settled question. The Daily Mail is a seriously unreliable newspaper that generally should not be used as a source on Wikipedia. At least that is the consensus among Wikipedians that is unlikely to change soon. The story covers how that consensus was reached at WP:Reliable sources/Perennial sources and how there is a general system of evaluating the reliability of individual news outlets. Editors had different opinions on the matter, but a consensus was reached. This judgement was briefly a news story on its own. Media expressed their opinions of Wikipedians sitting in judgement of the media. The Daily Mail focused on what they thought of Wikipedia's reliability. This last section is the most interesting part of the article. Who are we to judge? Who should we trust to make a better judgement? Surely not The Daily Mail. S

The rotting web

USA shutdown notice.png
An extreme example of link rot: Will the whole Internet look like this someday?

In The Atlantic, Jonathan Zittrain writes that The Internet Is Rotting. Zittrain dives into the issue of link rot, and the common misconception that once something is on the Internet, it is forever. Citing Wikipedia as a chief example, he lays out what he calls the "Procrastination Principle", arguing that too much planning ahead can burden a project, stopping it from getting off the ground. In essence, he has hit upon what has been oft-said before – that Wikipedia works in practice, but not in theory. The article is also a useful reminder that Wikipedia can do its part to keep important links alive and unrotted by using User:IABot to create Internet Archive backups of any cited webpages. G

Who Gets To Be Notable And Who Doesn't

When women go missing from Wikipedia, that absence goes reverberating through the 21st century.
— Francesca Tripodi

The NPR news show All Things Considered featured a four minute interview "Who Gets To Be Notable And Who Doesn't: Gender Bias On Wiki" with researcher Francesca Tripodi, whose work identifies some of the ways women's biographies face differential hurdles in both becoming created and then remaining posted here. See further Signpost coverage of Tripodi's work at Recent research. – B

Murderous mistakes in Google knowledge panels

How well does Google summarize Wikipedia articles for their Knowledge panels? Not very well in some cases. In Got the same name as a serial killer? Google might think you’re the same person, Vox Recode reports that that a knowledge panel for Hristo Georgiev contained correct information from the now-deleted Wikipedia article Hristo Georgiev (serial killer), but omitted that this Georgiev was executed in 1980. Google's algorithm also added a non-Wikipedia photo from a living person of the same name, who was not amused. The Signpost notes that the serial killer is also not a canoeist or the historical patron of Sofia University. Google explained to Vox how difficult the problem was to solve, but did not explain how they would fix it. Might we suggest not including a photo that's not from a Wikipedia article when they summarize any Wikipedia article about a criminal?

The Atlantic gave similar examples, one involving a mass murderer without a photo, in a 2019 article. The examples also included some odd photos, some antisemitism and slurs originating from Wikipedia's infoboxes, and some just-plain-weird coincidences. – S

In brief

Just what the doctor ordered?
  • Wikipedia and a pint of gin (Desert Review): A Wikipedia editor recounts their attempts to change "erroneous" to "controversial" in the description of public testimony about ivermectin prophylaxis for COVID-19 in a doctor's biography.
  • Wikipedia wars - Hong Kong / China editing Hong Kong Free Press reports that mainland Chinese editors are allegedly threatening to turn in Hong Kong editors to the National Security police. Get further coverage in our Special report.
  • The answer to vanished institutional authority: A member of Stanford Internet Observatory said in a piece published in The Atlantic that "The same model [used by Wikipedia]—tapping distributed expertise rather than relying on institutional authority—could be useful for other government agencies [like CDC] that find themselves confronting rumors."
  • "Make NO Mistake – Wikipedia is at WAR with the Jews", written by David Collier, was posted on the 22nd of July. The blog post is hosted by The Jewish Press, a 60 year old NYC-based newspaper with >2M online views per month.

Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next month's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page. You may find further information on media coverage of Wikipedia at WP:PRESS 21.