Words

 This week's headlines, "satire is obsolete" edition.

 

Nov 5: Willie Horton's revenge, bots laugh last, Farrakhan does Tehran, shittiest flight ever

TV & Facebook drop Willie Horton redux ad

Hillarybots more effective than Trumpbots, study finds

Farrakhan presses American buttons in Iran

And you thought YOUR flight was shitty...

Gymnastics org declared professionally incompetent

 

Nov 6: Voting is hard, pot calls kettle black, Gillum concedes (but not for long), blue wave flops, Girl Scouts: "no boys allowed" 

Polling places freeze when faced with the unexpected: voters

CNN to Hannity: where's your integrity? (Not an Onion story)

Gillum concedes in Florida race [not for long, as it turns out...]

Blue wave fails to materialize

Girl Scouts to Boys: stop poaching our customers

 

Nov 7: Robot surgeon kills patient, Acosta meltdown, Trump auto-backpattery, space tumbleweeds

Robot surgery goes horribly wrong

Acosta learns actions have consequences

Trump takes (undeserved) credit for oil price drop

Trump takes (deserved) credit for Flake's flake

Trump blames Obama for Crimean referendum

Moon has company: astronomers photograph dust clouds

 

Nov 8: Iranians should eat Pompeo, Antifa apologist hides under bed, Trump says GTFO, wildfire spreads like...

Pompeo says he knows what's best for Iranians: starving

Vox.com creep defends Antifa vs. Carlson, deletes Twitter when called out

Trump tightens border controls: no asylum for you

California wildfire engulfs towns, forces evacuations

 

Nov 9: Panopticon coming soon, Bermuda triangle of votes, Amazon snitches, Saudis save face

DEA & ICE hiding surveillance cameras in streetlights

Bermuda triangle of votes strikes again: Florida recount on horizon

'Alexa, who's the killer?' Echo to testify in murder trial

Saudis end US refueling in Yemen to avoid embarrassing protests

Ashton Kutcher proves gun laws don't work

 

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as the War Party seizes the House of Representatives back from the War Party, a moment of silence to remember, We Have Always Been at war with EastAsia. Last week's headlines:

Oct 29: the "Trump defense" makes Twinkie look legit; classiest tent cities ever; MAGAbomber had 100+ on naughty list; move along, nothing to see here

Terror suspect's lawyer blames 'china shop bull' Trump, fake news

Trump to build 'nice tent cities' for asylum-seekers

'Hit list' with 100+ names found in MAGAbomber suspect's van

Classes continue after NC school shooting

 

Oct 30: Kanye West exits Blexit; Trump visits Pittsburgh against its will; bitcoin will kill us all - or will that volcano?

Kanye West out as Trump-whisperer

Trump visits Pittsburgh without its consent

Crypto-mining threatens environment

Volcano warnings mean as little as terror warnings

 

Oct 31: Hackers target your brain; Facebook's 'transparency' is a joke; Pentagon manual yanked; Soros gonna Soros

Brain implants: the next frontier in cybersecurity

Facebook's "political transparency" tool fails to catch 100% of fakes

Pentagon pulls bizarre racist Saudi Arabian training manual

Soros paying migrants? Bears shitting in woods? You tell me, says Trump

 

Nov 1: 'Axis of evil' redux; deflower a robot hooker; 'the Purge' hits Paris; out-Nikki-ing Haley

Bolton shares regime-change to-do list: 'Troika of terror'

Take a sex robot's virginity for just $10K

Life imitates art: Halloween 'Purge' riots outside Paris

Fox News presenter in line to replace Haley as UN ambassador

 

Nov 2: Migrants get litigious; FDA approves super-fentanyl; Oumuamua=extraterrestrial litter?; Twitter says 'kill all Jews'

Migrants go native, file lawsuits

FDA approves opiate 10x stronger than fentanyl over protests

Mysterious space object may have been alien 'lightsail'

Twitter: actually, we didn't mean for you to 'kill all Jews'

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My headlines from this week, as the nation is slowly engulfed by crazy. Next week: firing squads?

Oct 22: Monsanto verdict stands; Brooklyn cops vent sexual frustration; Mexico City explodes; 'the Mooch' clings to relevance; 'Bloody Gina' back from Turkey, where escaped convict goes on totally unrelated rampage; Canadian elections dull in comparison

MonSatan must pay, affirms court

Brooklyn precinct's sexual frustration erupts in mouthful of panties 

Mexico was blowing up before it was cool

Sad hedge fund man tries to dance his way back into our hearts

'Bloody Gina' Haspel off to Istanbul for knowledge-sharing w/Saudi thugs

Istanbul con goes on butcher shop stabbing rampage

Toronto elections now 100% less psychotic than southern neighbors

 

Oct 23: Godwin's Law eats itself; terrorists <3 food stamps; Trump blames CA for wildfires; Ecuador forgets what 'asylum' means; half of Yemenis poised to starve

Former Bush aide takes Trump vs Hitler to next level

Food stamp fraud funds terrorism -report

Trump blames CA for wildfires & drought, threatens to withhold aid

Ecuador declines to protect Assange from extradition, forgets what 'asylum' means

New UN stats show half of Yemen on brink of famine

 

Oct 24: NYTimes publishes Trump snuff porn; Argentina prepares to relive 2001 crisis; Waters gets double-bombed; FL kids plot murder; new video of Trump hotel shooter; Israel shoots up Gaza, again

NYTimes publishes Trump snuff porn & bad spyfic while bleating about civility

Argentina protests austerity cuts from largest-ever IMF bailout; replay of 2001 looms

Maxine Waters receives 2nd dud mailbomb, 'ain't scared'

Florida tweens planned to murder & eat classmates to spend eternity with Satan

Video emerges of Trump hotel shooter ahead of trial

IDF hits 8 sites in Gaza after rocket attack

 

Oct 25: #metoo-gle; Rachel Dolezal's revenge; glyphosate is everywhere; Japan resettles radiation refugees; more suspicious packages in NYC and FL; Haspel briefs Trump on hack(ed) journalist

#metoo-gle: Google gets taste of own medicine with harassment exposé

Transracial shoe on other foot, thanks to Dr. Phil

Glyphosate: it's everywhere you want to be

Japan redefines "safe" radiation to send Fukushima residents home

FL courthouse evacuated for suspicious packages

CNN building evacuated again, this time over kids' toys

Haspel briefs Trump on Khashoggi death tape

 

Oct 26: NBC hid discrediting info on Kavanaugh witness; HBO hires sex coach; personal responsibility no longer a thing

NBC sat on discrediting info about Kavanaugh accuser

HBO hires stunt coordinator for sex scenes

Media blames Gab.ai for synagogue shooting

 

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(reposted for those looking for more info after watching this - also see this article. originally published 25 Sep 2018)

(note: you can subscribe to this site to be notified when I post a new article by RSS or following me on the platform of your choice - just click on any of the icons on the right side of the page under "antisocial media")

Can we trust Wikipedia as an unbiased source of truth? Can we at least offer it the same trust we place in our news media? The country is experiencing a crisis of confidence. Establishment credibility is collapsing all around us. We know that the New York Times, for example, boasts more Pulitzer-winning journalists writing in its pages than any other paper, as well as robust editorial review boards. Yet even this paper, written by experts, has become a source of politically-motivated misinformation, and trust in the news media is at an all-time low. Trust in government has similarly cratered. We fumble blindly for a trustworthy source, and where expertise has failed us, we reach now for the Vox Populi. Surely, everyone else can’t be wrong.

A 2014 YouGov poll showed that UK residents trust Wikipedia more than the news media.1 While no such poll was conducted in the US, we can safely extrapolate the popular climate of media mistrust across the Atlantic. According to Reuters, 61% of Americans think news media is doing a good job covering the most important news events, but only 56% think they report the news accurately and 58% think they cover the government well. Only 47% think they report on all sides fairly, and among supporters of the government, only 21% think the news media is fair.2 A Gallup poll paints an even bleaker picture: only 32% say that they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media, and only 14% of Republicans say so.3 Meanwhile, only 33% of Americans trust their government “to do what is right,” according to Edelman, which rates media slightly higher at 42%.4 Expertise is no longer valued because the experts have failed us. The “smartest guys in the room” gave us Enron; “expert” journalists brought us lurid tales of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq; financial savants gave us the crash of 2008; and savvy pollsters and Democrat careerists brought us an election contest between the two most unpopular candidates in history.

Officially, there is no barrier to entry to editing Wikipedia, and this paradoxically contributes to its perceived trustworthiness. If one is willing to suspend disbelief and cling to a fleeting idea of the essential goodness of humanity – if one has never before visited an online forum and seen the race to the bottom accelerated by trolls, sociopaths, and other misanthropes – perhaps one can believe that an encyclopedia that “anyone can edit” will trend toward the truth in a sort of benevolent consensus reality. But would we read a peer-reviewed medical journal written by people with no background in science or medicine? Wikipedia is just such a journal. There is no guarantee an editor writing about a living person or a concept under development has any knowledge of the subject. Worse, there is no guarantee they are not concealing some bias or looking to grind their personal axe through editorial control of an article or an entire section of the encyclopedia. In what world would we allow the inmates to run the asylum?

The reality is that Wikipedia is not a grassroots collaborative crafted through the shared effort of People Like Us. Its rules are applied selectively and secretively. It is common to find articles on living persons written up as smear jobs, replete in some cases with outright libel but more often disguised as “neutral” assessments in which undue weight is given to negative evaluations and mischaracterizations of a person’s work while their defining achievements are minimalized or left out. Victims of these hit pieces have no opportunity to address the attacks on their reputation by anonymous editors whose qualifications are frequently nonexistent. Despite Wikipedia’s stated protections against character assassination – drawn up in the aftermath of a scandal which saw a journalist smeared as an accessory to the Kennedy assassination – the rules are selectively enforced and there is a clear bias toward individuals whose work supports the status quo, whatever their field.

Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales has not been shy about espousing his political philosophy. He is a devotee of Ayn Rand, whose belief in “the virtue of selfishness” survives in the neoliberalism that forms the economic core of both US political parties. While Rand is more openly championed by the political Right today, Wales’ British wife worked in Tony Blair’s Labour cabinet and he moves in centrist Democrat circles in the US. He is also an avowed Skeptic, meaning he eschews all but the most established scientific orthodoxy as “lunatic charlatanism.” Wales thinks homeopathy should be illegal5 and has expressed hostility toward users of his site who support alternative and holistic medicine.6 All his biases are on display on Wikipedia – they are the edits left in when others are reverted. Yet even as it sports the hallmarks of a dictatorship, Wikipedia embodies the pitfalls of democracy, falling prey to mob rule – with the mobs led by Wikipedia’s administrative oligarchs. At Wikipedia, expertise is given short shrift, as any amateur can edit a page they know nothing about and there are always more amateurs than there are experts on any particular topic. These amateurs can easily be marshaled to “dogpile” on a rogue expert who expresses ideas outside the range of acceptable theories. Thus Wikipedia is led by petty dictators, each leading ideologically-motivated armies to guard their fiefdoms, be they medical, political, or religious in nature. Politically, it truly is the worst of both worlds. And the reputations of living people are suffering because of it.

How Wikipedia Smears

John Pilger is an Australian journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker. His 1979 documentary Year Zero, filmed after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, inspired viewers to raise substantial donations for the UK’s first relief shipment to Cambodia, purchasing much-needed medicines, food, and clothes. Pilger worked as a war correspondent for the Daily Mirror in Vietnam, Biafra, Bangladesh, and Cambodia. He has also made several documentaries about indigenous Australians and exposed the 1998 legislation that deprived them of their common-law rights. His documentary on the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Death of a Nation, scored record ratings and contributed to the massive international outcry that culminated in Indonesian withdrawal from the province in 2000. The audience response to his films has been cited as proof that humanity has not yet succumbed to “compassion fatigue.” Yet Wikipedia calls his work “full of falsehoods,”7 quoting conservative journalist Oliver Kamm, who is not an authority on journalism, international conflicts, or documentary filmmaking. Unfortunately, Wikipedia’s libels are beginning to have a real-world effect: Pilger has stated that “my written work is no longer welcome” in mainstream publications, a chilling thought given his stellar track record. His last column was dropped in 2015 from the Guardian, whose Board includes such luminaries as Jimmy Wales.8

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author best known for the concept of morphic resonance, which posits that “self-organizing systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems.” Organisms and groups develop or change along teleological “paths” worn by their predecessors, and patterns are imposed on otherwise random or indeterminate activity according to the previous and contemporaneous iterations of that system. The theory radically reimagines everything from memory (memories no longer have to be stored inside the brain in a fixed location) to the notion of a collective unconscious (members of a species have access to the sum total of their knowledge). Sheldrake has written 13 books and 85 scientific papers. He has a PhD in biochemistry from Cambridge University. As a Fellow of the Royal Society, he discovered the chemiosmotic model of polar auxin transport in plants (auxin is a plant hormone that influences cell differentiation). His Wikipedia bio focuses almost exclusively on negative responses to his work without giving a proper explanation of that work. But then, Sheldrake is a vocal critic of what he calls the “dogmatic materialism” endemic to much of current science, which he likens to religion. His outspokenness on this front has made him the enemy of organized Skepticism, and the outcry they orchestrated following his TEDxWhitechapel talk in January 2013 both spilled into and fed off of his Wikipedia page.

Guy McPherson is an author and professor emeritus of conservation biology and natural resources at the University of Arizona, where he has taught for 20 years. He is the leading authority on abrupt climate change leading to near term human extinction, having coined the term “Near-Term Extinction” to designate the possibility of human extinction before the year 2030. McPherson became a tenured full professor before the age of 40 and is among the most accomplished faculty members at the University. His works include Walking Away from EmpireGoing Dark, and Letters to a Young Academic. McPherson is also one of the most slandered scientists in the climate change field, and Wikipedia has not hesitated to jump on the bandwagon, taking a New York Times quote that describes him as an “apocalyptic ecologist” far enough out of context to imply he’s some sort of cult leader with an “End of Days following,” then shoehorning in a quote from science blogger (and unreliable source, according to the Wikipedia rule which bars blogs and personal websites from being used as sources for the biographical articles of living persons) Michael Tobis, who accuses him of climate denialism “of a different stripe,” whatever that means – even though McPherson’s whole thesis is that mainstream climate science is itself denying the reality of humanity’s impending extinction.9

Sharyl Attkisson is an author and television journalist who currently hosts the public affairs program Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson on channels owned by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. Her book Stonewalled was a New York Times e-book bestseller. Attkisson began her journalism career on a PBS affiliate in Gainseville, Florida, and worked at local stations in West Palm Beach, Columbus, and Tampa before moving to CNN. She moved to CBS in 1993 and spent 21 years there, working as an investigative correspondent on the channel’s Washington DC bureau. From 1996 to 2001, she also hosted a medical news program on PBS. Attkisson has won Emmy awards for her reporting on the American Red Cross (2002), the Troubled Asset Relief Program (2009), and the BATF’s “Fast and Furious” program (2012). Wikipedia drags in the ubiquitous vaccine defender Dr. Paul Offit to criticize Attkisson’s reporting as “damning by association”10 because of a piece she aired on vaccines, while neglecting to even mention a second book she wrote, The Smear. Several other awards she received are also omitted, while the better part of a page is devoted to making her claims of being hacked for surveillance purposes seem less than credible.

Jeremy Corbyn is a UK politician currently serving as Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition. A Member of Parliament since 1983, he identifies as a Democratic Socialist. Corbyn opposes military intervention and austerity cuts to public services and supports renationalizing the UK’s public utilities, including its railway network. He has proposed the Bank of England issue funds for large-scale public spending such as housing, energy, and transportation projects, calling the policy “People’s Quantitative Easing” to contrast it with existing quantitative easing policies that attempt to stimulate the economy by buying commercial banks’ assets. He has been a strong campaigner for nuclear disarmament and active in the anti-war movement since his youth. Corbyn’s public support of the Palestinian cause has led to predictable allegations of anti-Semitism perpetuated by the Israeli lobby despite his widespread support among British Jews, and such allegations have metastasized to consume a third of his Wikipedia biography – certainly more space than his actual political views – and spawned several articles of their own.

Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist, eco-feminist, and author who promotes seed freedom and water rights. She has brought global awareness to the destructive effects of GMO farming in her native India, where Monsanto seeds have largely supplanted natural crops and thus must be purchased year after year, leaving farmers so hopelessly in debt that many commit suicide. She exposed genetically modified “golden rice” as a fraud with negligible health benefits and fought against the patenting of living organisms. Shiva began her activist work in the aftermath of the Union Carbide leak in Bhopal. She was also an early voice warning the public about the carcinogenic effects of glyphosate. Beloit College, honoring her with its Weissberg Chair in International Studies, called her a “one-woman movement for peace, sustainability, and social justice.”11 Wikipedia opts to focus on criticism of her work, giving half a page to a single article written in response to a New Yorker piece about her.

Craig Murray is a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan turned whistleblower and human rights activist. While working for the UK Foreign Office in Samarkand, he informed his superiors that the Uzbek regime was torturing thousands of dissidents every year, employing such techniques as rape, asphyxiation, pulling out fingernails, and immersion in boiling liquids. Because the regime had just permitted the US military to move into a military base near the Afghan’s border to facilitate the hunt for Osama bin Laden – a privilege it was paying for with half a billion dollars in annual aid payments – it enjoyed a privileged status with regard to international human rights law; Murray was outraged at the “conspiracy of silence” perpetrated by his fellow diplomats, and spoke out against the regime’s abuses at an October 2002 human rights conference. He was subsequently drummed out of the Foreign Office with a series of fictional and trumped-up charges.12 While much of the worst material in his Wikipedia article has been removed – the editor responsible was banned from editing topics related to contemporary British politics for six months after several of his victims brought his misdeeds to media attention – the article is also missing any reference to Murray’s achievements before becoming Uzbek ambassador, including his roles brokering a peace deal in Sierra Leone, supervising Ghana’s first democratic election, and negotiating the UN’s convention on the law of the sea. The main “Craig Murray” page was even set up to redirect to the biographical article of an ice hockey player before it was fixed.

Meg Patterson developed Neuro-Electric Therapy as a treatment for drug addiction, having discovered its therapeutic effect as a side-benefit of the electro-puncture treatment a colleague used as surgical anesthesia. A tiny electrical current is tuned to various frequencies, stimulating the release of chemicals including endorphins and allowing addicts to detoxify without experiencing the most unpleasant of their withdrawal symptoms. Her patients included Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Boy George. Patterson also received the MBE in 1961 for her work establishing and expanding clinics in India and was the only woman member of the Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons at the time. Wikipedia dismisses NET for its “reputation based on celebrity endorsements,”13 as if these are somehow disqualifying.

Deepak Chopra is an author and speaker known for bringing Ayurvedic medicine to a mainstream audience. He is board certified in internal medicine and endocrinology and focuses on mind-body spiritual healing through multiple modalities, aiming to integrate Ayurveda with quantum mechanics to create “quantum healing,” linking shifts in consciousness to shifts in biology. Chopra runs a spa retreat featuring meditation, yoga, massage, and Ayurvedic meals. Because he was one of the first practitioners attacked by Richard Dawkins on his “Enemies of Reason” television series, he has been hounded by the Skeptics who idolize Dawkins. They flock to Chopra’s Wikipedia page to pay homage, and as a result it is cluttered with derogatory phrases in quotation marks, linked to blogger and oncologist David Gorski, who appears to take great joy in verbosely mocking alternative medicine practitioners.

Susan Sarandon is an Academy Award-winning actress with dozens of film and TV credits to her name, including Thelma and Louise, The Lovely Bones, The Hunger, and Cloud Atlas. Reading her Wikipedia page, however, you would have no idea she was also an impassioned political activist. Sarandon most recently made appearances at multiple rallies for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Entire paragraphs detailing her history of activism for third party candidates like Sanders, Jill Stein, and Ralph Nader, against the war in Iraq and other imperialist conflicts, for economic justice with Occupy Wall Street, and against mass incarceration have been removed, with no substantial explanation given for their deletion. Does Wikipedia think actresses should confine their work to the screen, or just shut up and look pretty?

These are just a few examples of the type of reputational attacks found on Wikipedia – some quite subtle, some lying by omission, some giving undue weight to minor incidents in a figure’s life or giving space to “opposition voices” when no such courtesy is afforded voices who disagree with establishment dogma. They are not limited to politicians, scientists, journalists, or activists. There are as many ways to smear a person on Wikipedia as there are victims of Wiki smears. But to confirm that Wikipedia’s weaponization as a character assassination tool is more than theoretical, we tried to correct the record on nutritionist, investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker Gary Null, whose biography is a particularly egregious mess of libel, unsubstantiated allegations, and baseless smears.

Case Study: Gary Null

We began by invalidating the article’s primary source as unreliable per Wikipedia’s own rules. “QuackWatch,” the personal website of discredited ex-psychiatrist Stephen Barrett, is cited no less than eight times in Null’s biography, even though as a self-published personal website it meets none of the standards of Wikipedia’s “Reliable Sources” policy. Barrett has spent most of his life railing against alternative medicine on his various websites, and his bias is so persistent that it has been called out in a court decision,14 so he also violates Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View (NPOV) policy. Wikipedia’s policy on Biographies of Living Persons mandates editors “Remove Contentious Material That is Unsourced or Poorly Sourced”15 – yet when we tried to do so, we were unequivocally and rudely rebuffed.

Other sources used in the article include a Salon.com book review titled “Quack Record” in which the author, Peter Kurth, states in the opening paragraph that he “can’t be impartial about Gary Null’s book” – another source that must be struck for failure to adhere to NPOV. When we finally do find a reliable source, the TIME article “The New Mister Natural,” it doesn’t include the information for which it is used as a source (Null’s alleged denial that HIV causes AIDS). The rest of the sentence is not even sourced, suggesting that the article was written or copy-pasted first and sources haphazardly added later to lend the appearance of legitimacy. Another false allegation follows, citing two articles, neither of which supports the false statement that Null was hospitalized as a result of consuming his own supplement – an incorrect statement clearly written to defame Null, conspicuously placed in the introductory paragraph where it would not belong in any case even if true, being at most a minor footnote in Null’s four-decade career.

The next paragraph cites Barrett’s biography of Null as the source for negative information about Null’s alma mater, the Union Institute, even though the Barrett website does not contain any information about Union’s alleged dissolution or the restructuring of its PhD program. It is unknown where this information originates, if it was made up out of whole cloth or if the editor who added it merely neglected to include their source, but in any case it flagrantly violates Wikipedia’s policies on multiple levels. A later paragraph cites the TIME and Salon pieces as sources for Null’s alleged statements that “HIV is harmless and does not cause AIDS,” something he has never said and which even these pieces do not claim he said. Repetition does not create veracity. The article then brings in Seth Kalichman to compare Null to a Holocaust denier, ironically accusing him of “cashing in on HIV/AIDS” despite the fact (not mentioned anywhere in Null’s Wikipedia article, yet important to any unbiased assessment of Null’s work) that Null has never charged any of the AIDS patients he has treated. Kalichman’s source for his evaluation of Null? Barrett. Kalichman’s own dubious history16 should disqualify him from opining on anyone else’s credibility, and it is worth considering whether his history of assuming fake identities might extend to Wikipedia editing. The article frames Null’s fundraising activities for PBS negatively, deliberately misattributing to Null a statement about “quacks and charlatans” made in reference to a Deepak Chopra special on spiritual healing. Blogger and journalism professor Keith Kloor is quoted about Null’s documentary Seeds of Death, though he is not an expert in the scientific field and his opinions are therefore irrelevant to a serious discussion of Null’s work. The article then devotes an entire subheading to claims about an incorrectly-manufactured supplement made earlier in the article. Though Null has produced over 20 documentaries and 25 television specials, his article lists just three, adding that they are both “self-produced” and “low-budget,” unsourced adjectives that appear pejorative.17

To read his Wikipedia article, the uninformed researcher would not know that Null is a board-certified clinical nutritionist who has conducted over 40 clinical studies on lifestyle and diet, more than anyone else in his field. He hosts the longest-running daily non-commercial radio program in history and for 12 years ran the most popular show on WABC. He has published over 700 articles, many in peer-reviewed journals, and has been invited to present his findings at scientific conferences. His research showed humans could not only survive but thrive on a diet wholly devoid of animal protein. His documentaries have won more than 276 awards, placing him among the country’s top documentary filmmakers. He has counseled tens of thousands of people over his 50-year career, never charging a penny. None of this information – all of which can be confirmed with reliable sources – appears in his Wikipedia article.

In our attempts to bring balance to this article, we were not only unable to make our reliably-sourced changes stick, but after approaching the matter from various angles found we were unable to make any changes at all. Worse, our attempts to add truthful and reliably sourced information to the article were met with active hostility on the part of entrenched editors, who added more defamatory material and further degraded the quality of the article. More than once, the article was “frozen” in a libelous state, preventing anyone from editing it.

Any number of people who could have had their lives changed for the better have been dissuaded from investigating Null’s work and the work of people like him who have the courage to stand up to the medical establishment. The reasons cited by Wikipedia editors in refusing to allow our edits – a bureaucratic death by a thousand cuts consisting of endless rules about “fringe” theories and “pseudoscience” – don’t hold water given the voluminous scientific proof we have on hand. Null has reversed the course of AIDS in 1,200 patients, a fact attested to by their doctors and medical charts. He has been on PBS eight times discussing his work; PBS is a reliable source even given the hyper-establishment guidelines set forth by Wikipedia.

Null has demonstrated conclusively that AIDS is not a death sentence – that natural therapies can reverse the course of the disease. His findings were published in the Townsend Letter of Medicine, a respected medical publication, yet none of this information is permitted in his Wikipedia article because it threatens the merchants of death at the helm of the medical establishment. Since the publication of this false and defamatory Wikipedia article, Null has experienced a steep drop in invitations to speak at conferences, and some academics and other professionals have refused to work with him. Had he not built a strong audience over the decades preceding the rise of Wikipedia, he would have been swept into the dustbin of history by now. No one unaccountable website should have the power to imprison people in an online gulag, unable to address the charges against them even as their reputation is put before the firing squad. Wikipedia articles appear at the top of the Google search most people run on unfamiliar names. First impressions are everything, particularly as the pace of our daily lives increases and few have the luxury of conscientious research. Wikipedia ensures that Null and people like him who question the prevailing wisdom of society are blacklisted, censored, and blocked from reputable outlets. What you don’t know can’t help you, and that’s what Wikipedia and its puppetmasters are counting on.

Conflicts of Interest

Wikipedia hides behind the tax-exempt structure of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit formed by employees in 2003 to shield Wikipedia from tax requirements. As a lifelong Objectivist, Wales believes taxes are theft. Objectivists hold government interference to be a mortal sin – an institutionalized form of altruism, which they liken to mental illness – and feel no compunction about bending the rules to avoid supporting the governments they want to see wither and die.

The IRS forbids 501(c)(3) organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation from participating in political campaigns “on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” a ban which extends to “contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” IRS policy clearly states that “violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.” The policy further explains that “voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”18

The Wikimedia Foundation paid $436,104 to hire the Minassian Group,19 run by Clinton Foundation Chief Communications Officer Craig Minassian, to train Wikimedia’s c-suite employees, directors, and managers in media strategy starting in the 2014-15 fiscal year.20 In 2016, they paid Minassian $406,957 to conduct a “communications audit” and presumably continue its earlier work.21 While the details of Minassian’s activities are not public, the group did issue a report detailing its audit findings, which primarily consisted of parsing media coverage by subject, country, publication, and author and ranking outlets in terms of prestige Wikipedia was advised to focus on portraying itself as trustworthy and neutral in the media even while “seeking out and dispelling controversial issues.” The audit recommended concentrating on building a rapport with “friendly” journalists writing for what Wikipedia’s editors would call “reliable sources.”22 Minassian has a history of planting stories favorable to the Clinton Foundation in “friendly” media, as WikiLeaks revealed in its Podesta emails dump, which included a message from Craig Minassian himself boasting of favorable coverage he had secured for the foundation on the Colbert Report.23 Shortly after Minassian published the results of its audit, Wales announced the launch of WikiTribune, a crowdsourced news platform to combat “fake news.”

Some Wikipedia editors expressed their unease at the Wikimedia Foundation’s decision to spend almost half a million dollars in such a politically polarizing manner. Sashi Manek linked the Minassian hire to the arrival of militant editors on the Clinton Foundation article, which was kept clean of any mention of the billions of dollars in donations that had never been distributed to Haitian earthquake victims and the Foundation’s choice to build a lucrative industrial park in an undamaged part of the island instead.24 Clinton’s own Wikipedia article is similarly spotless, bearing only a sanitized summary of her “email controversy” and no mention at all of the revelations from WikiLeaks’ DNC and personal email document dumps. No mention is made of the invasion of Libya on false pretenses or the fallout from that invasion – indeed, reality is directly contradicted with a mystifying sentence reading “there was a trend of women around the world finding more opportunities and in some cases feeling safer, as the result of [Clinton’s] actions and visibility,” sourced to a book called The Hillary Doctrine. The article is “protected” – frozen so that only high-level administrators can make changes.25

Wikipedia’s glowing treatment of Clinton can be contrasted with its lukewarm article on Bernie Sanders, which is careful to include statements from journalists and adversarial politicians contradicting Sanders’ positions – auditing the Fed, for example, “would expose the Federal Reserve to undue political pressure from lawmakers who do not like its decisions,” and Sanders’ total neglect by the media was “proportional to his standing in the polls” despite approximately half of Democratic voters favoring him over Clinton.26 Wikipedia’s article on Donald Trump wastes no time in pointing out that many of his public statements “were controversial or false,”27 and the article “Efforts to Impeach Donald Trump” was created before he was even inaugurated.28 Trump’s article is protected now, but the 2016 election saw a huge disparity in editing activity between the two candidates29 before it was locked. In May 2016, articles relating to post-1932 American politics received an additional degree of protection in the form of “discretionary sanctions,” meaning editorial disputes can be resolved by uninvolved administrators called in for reinforcements. The measure is merely another hurdle low-level editors must jump in order to make edits without incurring penalties or being reverted, and the logic behind these “discretionary sanctions” is impenetrable, perhaps deliberately so.30

Many administrators make no secret of their political beliefs, which is not in itself an issue until one recognizes the techniques they use to freeze out opposing views. For example, admin BullRangifer wrote that non-believers in the Russiagate conspiracy “lack the competence needed to edit American political subjects.” They should be “monitored carefully,” since their political views are “at odds with the basis of all editing here,” and banned when they attempt to cite “fake news” as a source.31 Excluding information sourced from “fake news” sounds reasonable enough until one scans their list of “reliable sources,” which excludes anything to the left of the Huffington Post or to the right of The Economist.32 BullRangifer is also a proud Skeptic, displaying this affiliation on their userpage. They openly drop hints to other Wikipedia editors about how to insert biased information into political articles, recognizing no conflict of interest even as they call out the same behavior in their ideological opponents.33 Other editors use private mailing lists to enlist reinforcements when they are outnumbered in an “edit war” or administrative dispute.34 One expects this sort of behavior in online message boards, but not from the people in charge.

In the runup to the 2016 election, Wikipedia became ground zero for discussion of the “Russiagate” conspiracy. An administrator previously banned for conflicts of interest, impersonating multiple accounts (“sockpuppeting”), and hostile behavior toward other users resurfaced with a new account, Sagecandor, and proceeded to make thousands of edits on articles related to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and related talking points, from “fake news websites” (904 edits), “Russian interference in the 2016 election” (631 edits) to “Murder of Seth Rich” (275 edits), “Comey memos,” “kompromat,” and “efforts to impeach Donald Trump.” Sagecandor also participated in at least 19 disciplinary actions in just three months, resuming their previous behavioral pattern of picking fights with other editors. Instead of another ban, however, this confrontational behavior got them promoted – given auto-patrolling and page-moving powers and allowing them to edit protected entries, like Hillary Clinton’s article and some of the Russiagate material, without another editor signing off on their changes.35 A closer look at some of these pages and their frequent editors reveals a group of users working on the same controversial topics and supporting each other’s’ edits, voting in each other’s favor in disciplinary proceedings, and generally working to ideologically shift Wikipedia toward a neoliberal-Democratic position. These editors, including Volunteer Marek (a mainstay of one of the extra-Wiki mailing lists under a previous username)36, BullRangifer, Neutrality (who cleaned up Tim Kaine’s Wikipedia bio before Clinton publicly named him as her Vice President pick)37, MjolnirPants, and Snooganssnoogans, frequently overlap with the Skeptic camp. Both viewpoints are favored by Jimmy Wales.

The efforts of a clique of ideologically-motivated editors are of particular interest given the deployment of such teams on other social media sites like Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter during the 2016 election. Clinton strategist and fundraiser David Brock’s Correct the Record (CTR) superPAC spent at least $1 million during the election to “push back against” negative posts about Clinton as part of a program called “Barrier Breakers,”38 and it’s unlikely that such an operation would have overlooked Wikipedia, which other social media sites often use as a fact-checking tool. Brock has come under scrutiny before for bending campaign finance rules – superPACs aren’t supposed to participate in individual elections, and Media Matters for America, the organization for which he is best known, is a 501(c)(3) and therefore barred from conducting political activity on behalf of any candidate.39 A former CTR contractor estimated the group’s expenditures at $5-6 million as of August 2016 in a post on an anonymous message board in which he encouraged others to sign up for easy cash, explaining that CTR employees were given high-ranked and backdated accounts on Reddit and Twitter so as to more easily blend into the discussion.40

In 2016, Wikipedia dispensed a $16,100 grant to the New Venture Fund,41 a Washington DC-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that makes grants to “left-of-center advocacy and organizing projects,” according to InfluenceWatch, which also cautions that New Venture’s critics have called it a “dark money” organization used to cloak left-leaning groups’ donations to advocacy issues. New Venture founder and chairman Eric Kessler worked with the Clinton administration managing conservation issues and is still a member of the Clinton Global Initiative.42

One Clinton link can be dismissed as a coincidence, but when multiple links surface in conjunction with spotless articles relating to the Clintons and their Foundation – personal friends of Jimmy Wales – the facade of political noninvolvement must be reexamined. According to Jonathan Schilling, the self-appointed guardian of Clinton’s Wikipedia page interviewed by Business Insider, Wales actually contacted Clinton to find out her preferred nomenclature – Hillary Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton – and was told she preferred Rodham. Schilling is the ranking editor on Clinton’s page, having logged 2,269 edits in nine years.43 Minassian neglected to mention this article or Business Insider itself in the communications audit, perhaps because of the obvious conflict of interest in attempting to treat its primary client objectively.

The Clintons are of course not the only politicians to benefit from Wikipedia’s protection, though they are the most obvious, given their high profile in the recent election and the long list of scandals that must be swept under the rug to keep their pages clean. John McCain’s Wikipedia page is a paean to the fallen war hero most Americans believe the senator to be. Reality only intrudes upon the talk page, where several concerned editors tried to insert material relating to McCain’s stonewalling of POW-MIA recovery efforts in the early 1990s. Though comprehensively documented with reliable sources – the definitive article on the scandal was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Sidney Schanberg – the guardians of McCain’s legacy ultimately ruled the material inadmissible.44 US politicians are not Wikipedia’s only beneficiaries and victims, either; one need only regard the differences between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May’s biographical articles for evidence that special treatment for the few at the expense of the many extends to the UK and beyond.

The Wikimedia Foundation is a noted beneficiary of politically-linked funds, several of which have ties to the New Venture Fund mentioned earlier. The Hewlett Foundation donated $1.3 million to the Wikimedia Foundation in 2010 for “general operating support,” a grant the Heartland Institute (a right-wing think tank that has itself been a victim of ideologically-motivated Wikipedia editing) claims coincided with Wikipedia’s political shift.45 Also in 2010, Wikimedia received a $2 million grant from the Tides Foundation, which pioneered the “dark money” approach to political fundraising, anonymizing donors and recipients to shield both from IRS, media, and political scrutiny.46 Wikimedia donated $5,000 back to Tides in 2016,47 even as Tides continues to be listed as a “Major Benefactor” of Wikimedia.48 In 2011, the Stanton Foundation made what was then the largest gift in Wikimedia’s history, donating $3.6 million, a fraction of which was used to hire a “Wikipedian in Residence” at Harvard to make edits to politically-sensitive articles reflecting the American foreign policy point of view. The hire, Tim Sandole, even spoke at an event in support of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, directly violating the IRS’s prohibition on political campaigning by nonprofit charities.49 Hewlett and Tides have both funded the New Venture Fund at various times.50 51

Wikipedia also uses the Communications Decency Act as a shield against legal action by character assassination victims, specifically section 230, which states that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”52 This provision enshrines the concept of neutral content platforms in internet law, preventing them from being held liable for the potentially actionable speech of their users, and is integral to the functioning of social media platforms, search engines, and ISPs. However, as Facebook, Twitter, and – yes – Wikipedia increasingly involve themselves in the curation of content, they move into a gray area in which section 230’s applicability becomes debatable. Just as Facebook or Twitter, by blocking one user for posting “hate speech” while allowing another user posting similar material to continue unmolested, violates this provision, Wikipedia, in applying its own rules unevenly, involves itself in the stream of content provision. Wales himself has edited articles on multiple occasions, including his own biographical article, from which he repeatedly excised Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger.53 He has been accused of trading edits for sex (with ex-girlfriend Rachel Marsden)54 and money (from Wikimedia donor and former Novell employee Jeff Merkey).55 Some users are rewarded with admin privileges for breaking rules that get other users banned, and these bans are heavily concentrated toward the sections of the ideological spectrum furthest distant from Wales. It is not for nothing he is referred to as the “god-king” of Wikipedia.56

Wikipedia’s editorial choices have much further-reaching implications than Facebook or Twitter. Its articles appear at the top of search engine results and are assumed to be neutral, truthful, and beyond reproach. As some of the more easily parsed elements of Wikipedia (names, dates, places) are shifted into the Wikidata project, whose Creative Commons license dispenses even with the need for sourcing (“reliable” or otherwise), the system becomes even riper for abuse. As of 2015, half the data in Wikidata was unsourced. That data feeds directly into Google, where it appears in “knowledge boxes” in response to search queries.57 Google can skew election results,58 a prospect which should alarm anyone committed to transparency, as the internet giant has admitted to manipulating search results both to avoid offending certain groups and to stop the spread of so-called “fake news” (as if every search engine query is meant to turn up nonfictional material!).59 Even when Google isn’t deliberately manipulating its search algorithm, editorial changes to Wikipedia – such as the substitution of “Nazism” as the ideology of the California Republican Party a week before that state’s electoral primaries earlier this year60 – have the potential to cause political chaos. No unaccountable anonymous editors should have this kind of power, whether or not they have the blessing of Wikipedia’s administrators.

The IRS’s rules barring nonprofit groups from engaging in political activity exist for good reason. Just as our declining trust in the news media stems in part from that news media’s dominance by six major corporations, our trust in any institution should take into account the institution’s backers. If the Wikimedia Foundation claims to be an independent charity, we should be able to fact-check its claims by examining its financials without venturing into the murky territory of quid-pro-quo political editing. When the very structure of a tax-exempt foundation is perverted to obfuscate the real special-interest backers of the “people’s encyclopedia,” it makes a mockery of the entire system.

Similarly, section 230 of the Communications Decency Act only applies when an online platform is not exercising editorial control over the content it hosts. Wales and a cabal of ideologically-motivated editors control what can and cannot be uttered by the modern Oracle of Delphi with a Kafkaesque thicket of rules that morph to suit their purposes, locking outspoken anti-establishment voices in reputational cages from which there is no conceivable escape. A governmental investigation of the Wikimedia Foundation is long overdue.

 

NOTES

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(NOTE: reposted this piece for anyone looking for more info after seeing my On Contact with Chris Hedges interview. originally published 25 Aug 2018 & again in revised form 14 Sep 2018)

For some time, I’d heard rumors that Wikipedia was not the open-source knowledge utopia it claimed to be. Despite a comprehensive set of rules replete with checks and balances and a seemingly open democratic editing process, stories of pay-for-play editing, character assassinations, ideologically-driven trolling, and other offenses against public knowledge suggested all was not right in Jimmy Wales’ empire. Authors and public figures in fields as diverse as Complementary and Alternative Medicine and progressive politics (including Deepak Chopra, Rupert Sheldrake, Gary Null, John Pilger, and George Galloway) have complained of persistent negative coverage on Wikipedia despite the site’s vaunted neutrality and the promise that “Biographies of Living Persons” are held to the highest standard. Efforts to have misinformation corrected were fruitless and their reputations have suffered as a result. 

This seemed implausible. How could a site with over 100,000 volunteer editors, with open access for anyone looking to get involved, be engaged in such widespread bias? As an investigative journalist and activist who has spent many years seeking the truth in a landscape of obfuscation and lies, I decided to find out exactly what was going on at Wikipedia. 

First, Wikipedia no longer has over 100,000 editors. The number of active editors has been declining for over a decade, even as fewer new editors join the site. MIT researchers found the “complex bureaucracy” and “hard-line responses to newcomers’ mistakes” were the primary reasons why would-be editors opted not to stick around. Meanwhile, the site’s core of “active” editors decreased from 2007 to 2015 by 40%, dropping to about 30,000.1 In 2017, Purdue University reported that just one percent of those editors had made 77% of the total edits.2 The rate of changes rejected climbed from 6% in 2006 to 25% in 2010,3 and the site bans 1,000 IP addresses a day.4 “Edit wars” are resolved by silencing them. Editors who hang on long enough to become administrators capable of freezing and deleting entries no longer feel compelled to abide by Wikipedia’s rules, and statistics show that the number of editors approved to become administrators has plummeted since 2007.5 Wikipedia is an oligarchy with all the problems that entails. One set of rules exists for the user-citizen, and one for the ruling class of administrators and senior editors.

Wikipedia has a convoluted and lengthy policy on conflicts of interest, a policy that seems to lengthen whenever another pay-to-play edit scandal breaks.  And there have been a lot of these scandals. Disclosing one’s conflicts of interest is not even mandatory but a “generally accepted standard that editors should attempt to follow.”6 The unwritten law seems to be that paid editors should only engage in conflict-of-interest work if they can do it without getting caught and embarrassing the site. If you can’t obey the rules, at least break them quietly. Many paid editors do opt to follow the policy, disclosing their conflicts of interest and liaising with third-party editors to modify their clients’ entries, but many more slip through the editorial process unnoticed.

Quid Pro Quo

In 2013, a British Petroleum representative was found to be supplying Wikipedia editors with company-approved text that eventually comprised 44% of BP’s page. The editing took place while a civil trial was underway which could have resulted in BP paying out billions of dollars to victims of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The process itself – PR flack supplies biased “info” to an unaffiliated editor, who then inserts it without disclosing its origins – is common on Wikipedia and does not actually violate the rules, as BP was quick to point out.7 Indeed, multiple editors jumped to the defense of the editor working for BP, suggesting they were also being paid or merely wanted to keep their options open. 

Roger Bamkin, a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation UK and a PR consultant, used his Wiki position to place his PR client, the country of Gibraltar, on Wikipedia’s “did you know” front page feature 17 times during August 2012. As a “Wikipedian in Residence,” Bamkin was not permitted to operate with a conflict of interest or to edit the pages of the organization he worked with, but nothing in the rules prevented him from promoting that page. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales called Bamkin’s behavior “wildly inappropriate” and denounced it in a double-speaking editorial. Basically, he told future emulators to be more circumspect in their behavior, because the “disaster for our reputation” would be immense if it got out that Wikipedia editors were “paid shills” instead of “free and independent scribes.”8 Wales understands the importance of one’s online reputation, which makes it even more unconscionable that his site has been weaponized to destroy the reputations of so many people.

During the time Bamkin was being encouraged to resign, another Wikipedian in Residence, Max Klein, was discovered to be selling “Wikipedia Editing as a PR Service” on his website, UntrikiWiki, boasting that he had “the expertise needed to navigate the complex maze surrounding ‘conflict of interest’ editing on Wikipedia.”9 In October 2013, editors found hundreds of “sockpuppet” accounts linked to one company – WikiPR, which claimed to employ not only garden-variety editors but an admin capable of freezing and deleting pages. WikiPR claimed over 12,000 clients, from household names like Viacom and Priceline to minor firms whose pages were frequently deleted for not meeting Wikipedia’s “notability” standards. Once again, Wikipedia management condemned the practice, not because it was dishonest, but because “companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia’s educational mission.”10 In other words, they’re saying, stop making us look bad.

In a bizarre coda to the WikiPR affair, Cooley LLP, the law firm contracted by the Wikimedia Foundation to send a cease-and-desist letter to WikiPR, was editing its own articles as well. Cooley’s letter misrepresented Wikipedia’s terms of service, claiming “sockpuppeting” and paid editing were both expressly prohibited by the site when the whole point of the WikiPR scandal was that it exposed the giant regulatory loopholes permitting paid advocates to make Wikipedia their promotional playground. Rounding out the letter were ominous yet empty threats – the foundation was “prepared to take any necessary legal action to protect its rights,”11 as if any nation had laws on its books prohibiting the paid editing of crowdsourced online encyclopedias – suggesting that Cooley partners spent more time editing their firm’s Wikipedia article to remove embarrassing facts like a partner’s support for California’s Proposition 8 than reading up on relevant case law.12

 

Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Wikimedia UK only won its nonprofit status in 2011, and the Bamkin scandal drew intense criticism from the sector. Nonprofit Quarterly took him to task for violating the foundation’s tenets, noting that Gibraltarpedia was the second major scandal in the UK foundation’s year as a nonprofit. Trustee chairman Ashley van Haeften resigned the previous month when he was banned for life from editing Wikipedia, having clashed with several editors over the hosting of explicit images on the site.13 The American arm of the Wikimedia Foundation has been involved in even more questionable behavior. Wikimedia project director Sarah Stierch was fired in January 2014 after a screenshot emerged as proof she was selling her services as an editor.14 Amidst the fallout from the WikiPR scandal and Stierch’s firing, it was decreed that all paid Wikipedia editors must disclose their status. However, without a way to enforce such an edict, the measure is ultimately hollow. The Wikimedia Foundation’s own Financial Dissemination Committee “laments that the Wikimedia Foundation’s own planning process does not meet the minimum standards of transparency and planning detail that it requires of affiliates” and points to an absence of goals and budget transparency as setting a bad example for the rest of Wikipedia.15 If Wikimedia can’t even follow its own transparency guidelines, where else is it falling short?   

The Wikimedia Foundation solicits donations from Wikipedia users every year, even though its expenses ($2 million to run hosting and servers) are vanishingly small compared to its profits. Wikimedia has increased its spending over 1000% since 2008 and sits on $97.6 million in assets as of 2016.16 The money has primarily gone toward expanding the Wikimedia bureaucracy, which grew from three permanent employees in 2006 to 174 by 2013.17 Fifteen executives took home six-figure salaries in 2015, and Executive Director Lila Tretikov scored a six-figure golden parachute after she was forced to resign for attempting to conceal the development of the Wikipedia “Knowledge Engine,” a major search engine project intended to drive traffic to Wikipedia by wresting market share from Google. VP of Product Erik Moeller was rewarded with $208,306 the same year for causing the Wikipedia equivalent of a strike. When the bungled 2013 launch of the new VisualEditor interface led editors to rebel and disable the feature, Moeller “superprotected” his department’s next feature, called Media Viewer, so that editors could not disable it. Many ceased contributing in protest; 1,000 others signed a letter of protest to Wikimedia, which was ignored.18 The parallels between well-paid Foundation execs “failing upwards” and “too big to fail” investment bankers landing on their feet are difficult to ignore; Wiki volunteers may not lose their homes when the experts make mistakes, but they’re still being asked to donate both time and money to a parasitic administrative class that ultimately serves as an instrument of control.

“Charitable organizations” like Wikimedia are barred from operating for the benefit of “private interests,” with no part of a group’s “net earnings” accruing “to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”19 Yet Wales was so fond of his Wikimedia credit card he was relieved of it in 2006, after it was revealed that he was billing $1,300 steak dinners and other outsize expenses to the “charity.”20 Wales, like some of his editors, takes Wikipedia’s rules as mere suggestions. From minor tweaks to entries belonging to his famous friends21 to more extensive reputational rehab for a girlfriend22 to wholesale rewriting of his own history,23 he has earned the “god king” nickname bestowed upon him by his adoring public. Openly disregarding Wikipedia’s laws while enforcing them on everyone else, Wales has made Wikipedia a microcosm of the society that birthed it. Is it any wonder that the same injustices so rife in America today are playing out on our computer screens as well – that the wealthy and well-connected are subject to different rules than the rest of us?

The relationship between the Wikimedia Foundation and Wales’ for-profit company Wikia so flagrantly violates the letter and spirit of nonprofit regulations that Wikipedia gadfly Greg Kohs actually brought it to the attention of the IRS in December 2006. Kohs has thoroughly documented the incestuous relationship between Wikipedia/Wikimedia – ostensibly nonprofit – and Wikia, the for-profit ad-covered version Wales founded in December 2004 with Angela Beesley, a Wikimedia Foundation board member. All three Directors on Wikia’s original Board – Wales, Beesley, and Secretary-Treasurer Michael Davis – also sat on the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation, as did many later Wikia employees.24 Davis had worked with Wales since 1994 and actually helped him set up the non-profit Foundation to manage Wikipedia in 2003.25 In 2006, Wikia shared hosting and servers with the Wikimedia Foundation, also “donating” $6,000 worth of office space to the nonprofit,26 and Wikimedia was from 2009 to 2010 actually paying rent to Wikia using funds donated by the Stanton Foundation, sneaking tax-deductible dollars through to the supposedly unaffiliated for-profit company.27 Shortly after Wikia was founded to house community-built wikis for subjects not considered notable under Wikipedia rules (“Wookieepedia” for Star Wars enthusiasts was an early favorite), Wikipedia began sprouting links to Wikia pages, which heavily inflated Wikia’s advertising revenues with every click due to Wikipedia’s high Google ranking. Wikipedia users attempted to institute measures that would have nullified that revenue boost, only to be overruled by Wales.28 Wikimedia Foundation donors Amazon.com and the Omidyar Network both also contributed large sums to the fledgling Wikia. Amazon supplied the entirety of its second round of venture capital funding and was rewarded with hundreds of thousands of Wikipedia links to its sites, including IMDB.29 Meanwhile, the Wikimedia Foundation hired the Omidyar Network’s Matt Halprin to its Board of Trustees as part of a $2 million “package of support” grant from Omidyar just three years after Omidyar had invested $4 million in Wikia. The Foundation dismissed the conflict of interest as if it was absurd to think that these two companies founded and run by the same people might have something in common.30 Wales was replaced as Wikia’s CEO in June 2006 by Gil Penchina (formerly of eBay) after investors got wind of Wales’ efforts to expense the same $1,300 dinner bill Wikimedia had cut up his company credit card for to Wikia.31 Still Chairman of the firm, Wales oversaw the rollout of user-powered search engine Wikia Search in January 2008, but the project tanked the following year32 despite glowing media coverage until the end.33 Penchina disappeared in October 2011, still owed $30,000 by Wales, according to Wales’ divorce papers.34 Beesley quit in February 2012. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given this history, Wikia is due to change its name to Fandom in 2019.

 

Big Brother, Big Pharma, Big Money

The US government has been meddling in Wikipedia since at least August 2007, when a tracing program developed at the Santa Fe Institute called Wikiscanner discovered that computers at CIA headquarters had been used to make edits to entries on the US invasion of Iraq and the biographies of former CIA head William Colby and former presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. An FBI computer had also been used to edit the entry on the US’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility.35 Voting machine manufacturer Diebold was caught deleting 15 paragraphs critical of its product,36 while the Vatican and the British Labour Party were also prolific editors.37 Since then, the intelligence agencies have had to camouflage their edits or outsource them to third parties. Unfortunately, the demise of Wikiscanner in 2016 left a hole in Wikipedia accountability that has yet to be filled.38

Big Pharma’s fingerprints are all over Wikipedia. Editors linked to AstraZeneca were caught posting negative material to competitors’ pages and adding promotional material to their own.39 Wikiscanner caught Abbott Labs removing information from its entry about possible side effects of two of its most popular drugs, the weight loss pill Meridia and the arthritis pill Humira.40 An analysis of the entry for Purdue Pharmaceuticals shows it has been through several editing cycles in which information on the addictive potential of the company’s infamous opiate Oxycontin was added, then removed, then added again, though any editors working for Purdue seem to have slunk away in the aftermath of their employer’s settlement with the state of Kentucky for $24 million in damages from widespread Oxycontin abuse in the state.41 

The New York Police Department was caught whitewashing dozens of Wikipedia entries in March 2015 when Wikiscanner technology linked hundreds of edits to computers at NYPD headquarters. Most of the edits sought to downplay crimes committed by department officers and cast the victims of such as more threatening or criminal than they were. An entry on the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man whose choking death at the hands of Officer Daniel Pantaleo helped launch the Black Lives Matter movement, was altered to make Garner appear much more threatening than he was, while the chokehold which killed Garner was reduced to a “headlock.” Another user attempted to delete the entry on Sean Bell, who was gunned down by police as he left his bachelor party with two friends; the officers fired over 50 bullets at the three men and even then-commissioner Ray Kelly – who’s never heard of excessive force – condemned the incident. NYPD editors got busy with the NYPD entry itself, deleting large chunks from the “police misconduct” and “scandals and corruption” sections, and the entry on “stop and frisk” was larded with explicatory language.42 

 

Pay to Play

What appears on the surface to be a simple case of pay-to-play editing can mask a deeper conflict of interest, as in the case of the Stanton Foundation. In 2011, Stanton donated $3.6 million to Wikimedia, then the largest one-time gift in the foundation’s history. Wikimedia then used $53,000 of that donation to hire Tim Sandole as a Wikipedian-in-Residence at Harvard University’s Belfer Center. Despite warnings from Wikimedia to avoid over-representing his own institutional viewpoint,43 Sandole used his edits to promote the work of Graham Allison, the head of the Belfer Center, whose wife Liz Allison runs the Stanton Foundation. More troublingly, by taking money from Wikimedia to edit Wikipedia, Sandole punched a hole in the firewall that is supposed to separate the two, threatening the Foundation’s nonprofit status.44 Sandole really put his foot in it when he appeared in his official Wikimedia-funded Belfer Center capacity at a campus event promoting Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.45 Nonprofits are forbidden from campaigning for political candidates. He also failed to disclose his financial backers – who were paying over 100 times the amount that got poor Sarah Stierch fired! - and made a number of edits that violate Wikipedia’s hallowed Neutral Point of View to political articles like the Cuban Missile Crisis, but these crimes are practically rites of passage for fledgling Wikipedia editors.

Stanton and Wikimedia have a history of financial entanglement. Two Wikipedia editors who modified the biographical article of Foundation namesake Frank Stanton to remove inconvenient disclosures like his foundation’s historically massive gift to the Wikimedia Foundation were hired by Wikimedia not long after making their guard-dog edits. One, Pete Forsyth, was brought on to design the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, which Allison would subsequently use as institutional cover for Sandole’s hire.46 Allison herself returned to the scene of the crime in 2016, making extensive edits to the Stanton Foundation article. While most conflict-of-interest edits are reverted and publicly shamed when found out, Allison seemed to think her foundation’s massive donations had bought her special privileges, defending her edits despite having removed informational and well-sourced material. Allison was correct in her assumption – her edits remain in the article, with all attempts to revert them blocked; Wales refused to address the issue on his talk page. 47

Former Novell computer scientist Jeff Merkey claimed Wales personally offered to “use his influence” to ensure Merkey’s Wikipedia article “adhere[d] to Wikipedia’s stated policies with regard to internet libel” in exchange for a “substantial donation” to the Wikimedia Foundation in 2006.48 Merkey’s article included the gritty details of multiple lawsuits in which he was involved, including one from his former employer. After Merkey donated $5,000, his page’s edit history showed the entry was blanked and restarted by Wales, who warned other editors to “be extra careful here to be courteous and assume good faith.” The entry also gained “protected” status, meaning only administrators could make edits.49 Wales denied the allegations, stating he would “never offer, nor accept any offer, whereby a donation would buy someone special editorial treatment in the encyclopedia.” Merkey claimed he was banned by Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee after he ceased contributions to the Wikimedia Foundation; he returned briefly under other user names, but was banned every time, while his page was eventually deleted. If Wales is offering naked pay-to-play editing, the list of benefactors to the Wikimedia Foundation takes on a much more sinister significance – are companies like Boeing, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, GE, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and GlaxoSmithKline giving money out of charitable impulses, or because they get something in return?50 What about George Soros, David Koch, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett, all of whose names were on a leaked list of individual donors in 2011?51 What does Jimmy Wales have to offer these men who have everything? 

 

Wikipedia Takes Washington

The first major pay-to-play Wikipedia scandal dates back to February 2006, when it was discovered that US Congressional staff were scrubbing the biographies of their politicians – removing broken campaign promises,52 scandals, and other undesirable details and adding “glowing” tributes and favorable information.53 At the same time, negative information was appended to the biographies of their opponents. Some ambitious staffers were replacing their candidates’ biographies wholesale with staff-authored versions. Joe Biden, Diane Feinstein, Norm Coleman, Conrad Burns, and Tom Harkin were named in early reports, later joined by Mike Pence, Gus Gutknecht, and David Davis. Wikipedia responded initially by banning Congressional IP addresses and later by creating a Twitter feed to document Wikipedia edits made by congressional staffers.54

Wikipedia’s initial heavy-handed reaction to the congressional edits may have stemmed from the IRS’s rules that bar nonprofit foundations from “voter education activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates.”55 Wikipedia does not always toe the line in its political coverage. The article on Donald Trump, for example, gives ample space to discussions of the “Russiagate” investigation and even “Impeachment efforts,” though no impeachment proceedings have passed preliminary hearings; the Hillary Clinton article glosses over most of the controversies that dogged her political career, offering a sanitized account of the “email controversy” while entirely omitting the revelations from the WikiLeaks DNC document dump. “Some commentators” are given space to air their speculation on how Trump might be impeached without a vote, yet no voices are quoted taking Clinton to task for her role in rigging the Democratic primary. Nor do we find references to her role in plunging the once-progressive nation of Libya into violent chaos, or in appropriating billions of dollars’ worth of donations meant for Haitian hurricane victims. Trump is taken to task for “comments and actions [that] have been perceived as racially charged” – an accusation with no citation – but Clinton’s racially-charged “super predators” comment is missing from her page. There is clearly a double standard at work.56 57 An October 2016 article on Wikipedia’s role in that year’s election might point to the answer: Clinton’s page was “protected,” while Trump’s was not. Trump’s page was edited more than three times as often as Clinton’s during the campaign season. 58

When Google search results returned “Nazism” as the ideology of the California Republican Party just a week before that state’s primaries, Google was quick to blame Wikipedia vandalism, explaining that the Google “knowledge box” that contained the offending term is often populated with Wikipedia text.59 The “vandalism” had remained on the party’s Wikipedia page for six days before it was corrected, hidden in a “piped link” where the link text and “alt text” read differently; meanwhile, other edits were reverted within a few minutes, suggesting this one was allowed to persist, deliberately hidden so it would only appear in Google search results.60

Such apparent political bias makes more sense in light of the fact that the Wikimedia Foundation contracted the Minassian Group, run by Clinton Foundation Chief Communications Officer Craig Minassian, to train Wikimedia’s own C-level employees, directors and managers in media strategy for the year 2014-2015.61 Minassian was further tasked with conducting a “communications audit” in 2016.62 Some editors among the Wikipedia rank and file were unhappy about having their territory politicized,63 particularly given how much of the foundation’s money was going to Minassian.64 Sashi Manek suggests it was precisely this Clinton Foundation hire that kept the Foundation’s page clean throughout election season of any references to its crimes against the people of Haiti during the period the Clintons were supposedly helping with hurricane recovery.65

Going further, it appears Minassian was sent in to lay the groundwork for the post-election focus on the Russiagate conspiracy. The account “Sagecandor” appeared days after the election and commenced a frenzy of edits on matters related to Clinton’s 2016 election talking points, from “Russian interference in the 2016 election” (631 edits) to “Murder of Seth Rich” (275 edits), “Comey memos,” “kompromat,” and “efforts to impeach Donald Trump.” The new account also created dozens of book reviews - books critical of Donald Trump and books written by CNN commentator and noted fabulist Malcolm Nance, whose own biography was cleaned up to remove some of his more egregious falsehoods. The account nominated many of its own book reviews for placement in the coveted “Did You Know” module on Wikipedia’s front page. Sagecandor was eventually revealed to be a “sockpuppet” of “CIRT,” an admin who had been banned under multiple usernames for conflicts of interest and hostile behavior toward other editors. Continuing that pattern, Sagecandor participated in no fewer than 19 disciplinary actions over three months, seemingly colluding with a power admin to get the cases against it closed speedily. In June 2017, rather than being banned like its predecessors, Sagecandor was given auto-patrolling and page moving powers, allowing it to edit protected entries (like the Russiagate material) without someone else signing off on the edits.66 Some admins are open about their political beliefs on their profile pages, like BullRangifer, a “Skeptic” who writes that anyone who does not believe that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election “lack[s] the competence needed to edit American political subjects” because they are victims of “fake news.” The “fake news” link, of course, points to a Wikipedia page authored in part by the admin who wrote the original paragraph, but circular logic does not seem to bother this Skeptic.67 

Wales’ newfound concern about “fake news,” which became the bête noire of the Western media establishment during the 2016 election, also makes much more sense in the light of the Minassian connection. The same Wikipedia editor who wrote so much on “Russian interference in the 2016 election” also made 904 edits to “fake news websites” as the election tipped toward Trump. Another Minassian operative was dispatched to Vice in the guise of a Wikipedia editor to give a chummy interview about how the site handles “fake news.”68 In my opinion, the preponderance of election-related edits were coordinated with a Clinton-linked consultancy hired by the Wikimedia Foundation; if this is the case, such collusion should rule out nonprofit status for Wikimedia.69 

Wales’s latest project is dedicated entirely to the problem of Fake News. WikiTribune is a crowd-sourced journalism and fact-checking platform that pairs professional journalists with volunteers, paying the pros via a crowdfunding campaign while tasking the volunteers with fact-checking and editing the articles. “Those who donate will become supporters, who in turn will have a say in which subjects and story threads the site focuses on. And Wales intends that the community of readers will fact-check and subedit published articles,” according to a Guardian piece that reads like a PR release (most likely because Wales sits on the Board of Guardian Media Group, another conflict of interest he dislikes disclosing).70 

WikiTribune takes several cues from Minassian’s 2016 media audit, which recommended that Wikipedia focus on positioning itself as an island of neutrality in a roiling sea of bias. Wikipedia dissenter Kingsindian points out the logical flaws in that model: “Would anyone accept a ‘newsroom’ where anonymous contributors with undisclosed conflicts of interest argue about things, where expertise is irrelevant, where contributors’ work is not paid, there is no editor or copy-editor, and then nobody takes responsibility for the final product?”71 Meanwhile, Google is not the only platform that uses Wikipedia as a fact-checker. YouTube is rolling out Wikipedia links embedded in videos that will permit viewers to fact-check those videos’ claims in real time, ostensibly to combat “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.” Wikipedia has also largely supplanted the scandal-ridden Snopes in Facebook’s fact-checking arsenal.72 With Facebook now assigning “trust ratings” to users based on their record of sharing approved news stories, Wikipedia’s judgment is likely to become more significant in determining what users see on their newsfeeds.73

 

The Philip Cross Affair

Sagecandor’s UK equivalent seems to be “Philip Cross,” who ranks number 308 in the list of most active Wikipedia editors after 15 years on the site. He has spent the equivalent of full-time working hours editing Wikipedia for the past five years.74 A few of his “victims,” including UK MP George Galloway and former Uzbekistan ambassador Craig Murray, began investigating the prolific editor after they noticed him systematically terrorizing their pages. Cross’ victims shared a common skepticism about the UK’s foreign policy, especially with regard to Syria. With seemingly unlimited free time to edit, Cross removed favorable information and added negative material, amounting to 1,796 edits on Galloway’s page alone.75 Cross attacked anti-war and anti-imperialist personalities like John Pilger, Vanessa Beeley, and Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter at the same time he was tweaking their Wikipedia pages with lies and distortions and favorably editing the articles of pro-establishment journalists like Luke Harding and Oliver Kamm. By personally attacking his “targets,” he embodies a conflict of interest. Murray pointed out the similarities between the views espoused by Cross and those of Wales himself,76 who did not take the comparison well. “If your worldview is shaped by idiotic conspiracy sites, you will have a hard time grasping reality,” Wales sneered after repeatedly asking for – and receiving – proof of Cross’s malicious edits. Murray also pointed out that British intelligence has bragged about operating “sockpuppets” to push the “official” narrative in the media, and Cross’s open flouting of the rules seemed like the behavior of someone accustomed to life above the law (on the Wikipedia talk page for Galloway, he openly admitted his conflict of interest, then returned to editing Galloway’s article).77 Cross’s behavior eventually resulted in his being permanently banned from all topics related to post-1978 British politics, but with the stipulation he can appeal the ban in six months. As a parting shot, the editor who initially brought Cross’ misbehavior to the Arbitration Committee’s attention was also banned from “linking to or speculating about the off-wiki identity of other editors.”78 Cross has already violated his topic ban repeatedly, forcing a reluctant ArbCom to ban him from the site entirely for a week,79 and Galloway understands there are too many ways around the ban for it to effectively stop the abuse, especially after learning that Cross works “in synchronicity” with a group of editors who share the IP address of a Rupert Murdoch media property.80 Still, he hopes that by bringing the Philip Cross affair to media attention he can disabuse people of their belief that Wikipedia is some sort of oracle of truth, free from political bias and other ulterior motives. A 2014 YouGov report showed 64% of British people trust Wikipedia editors at least “a fair amount” to tell the truth – more than trust Murdoch’s Times or even the BBC81 – so the unorthodox collaboration between obsessive editor and old-media outlet seems to be paying off. While Galloway avoids reading his vandalized Wikipedia profile, he can’t seem to avoid it – speakers at his public appearances regularly read from it to introduce him. If exposing Philip Cross can destroy the public’s faith in Wikipedia’s neutrality, he says, his online ordeal will have been worthwhile. 

Cross’ choice of Galloway as his number-one victim provides a clue as to who was directing his campaigns of editorial terror. In 2016 Galloway released The Killing$ of Tony Blair, a documentary chronicling the former UK PM’s rise through (and, as Galloway sees it, destruction of) the Labour Party; his collusion with the US government to launch the illegal Iraq war, leading to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths; and his post-political career burnishing the public image of authoritarian regimes. The film is a scathing indictment of Blair’s war profiteering; Galloway and many of the people he interviews call for Blair to be tried for war crimes at The Hague. Unfortunately for Galloway, Blair is a close friend of Wales, whose wife Kate Garvey previously worked as his diary secretary. Wales is fiercely defensive of his famous friends, and Blair’s own Wikipedia entry barely mentions Blair’s vast financial wealth (37 homes – 10 houses and 27 flats – worth £27 million, plus millions of pounds distributed through a network of companies);82 his PR work on behalf of dictators and human rights abusers in Kuwait, the UAE, Colombia, Egypt, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan;83 his utter failure to support Palestinian rights during his time as Middle Eastern peace envoy; and the human consequences – over half a million civilian casualties – of the Iraq invasion he continues to defend.

 

Reputation Rehab for Dictators

In June 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation actually financed a group of paid editors in Kazakhstan, providing a $16,600 grant to Rauan Kenzhekhanuly’s fledgling WikiBilim project.84 WikiBilim began as an effort to expand the tiny Kazakh language Wikipedia and progressed to cleaning up English-language articles for high-ranking Kazakh subjects, up to and including the country’s dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his family.85 Wales awarded Kenzhekhanuly the first ever “Wikipedian of the Year” award that same year, despite protests that he was whitewashing the reputation of a repressive dictatorship. In response, Wales denied everything, claiming “Wikimedia Foundation has zero collaboration with the government of Kazakhstan. Wikibilim is a totally independent organization.” When questioning persisted, he resorted to threats and banned the questioners from his talk page.86 Wales’ objections are disingenuous, considering that Kenzhekhanuly is not only a former government official but also a former employee of the government propaganda station National TV Agency run by Nazarbayev’s daughter. WikiBilim is also financed by the Samruk Kaznya State Investment Fund, the sovereign oil wealth fund run by Nazarbayev’s son-in-law.  Also editing English-language articles on Kazakhstan was Portland Communications, a lobbying firm which has previously been caught editing negative material out of Wikipedia entries for clients.87 Portland is run by a former advisor to Tony Blair, who was reportedly paid $13 million for his own part in the rehabilitation of Kazakhstan’s reputation. The merest suggestion of a link between Blair’s work for the Kazakh government and Wikipedia was dismissed in typical overcompensatory fashion by Wales, who banned such discussion from his page (“My personal life has nothing to do with Kazakhstan!”).88 

Kazakhstan has been on an expensive and expansive mission to improve its reputation abroad, hiring multiple PR firms and sending out infomercials on CNN International. Human Rights Watch states that the government is “considering legislative amendments that appear to propose even further restrictions on freedom of religion” and “impunity for torture and ill-treatment in detention persist.”89 While high level government officials claim the country has a free press, journalists risk arrest, police harassment, lawsuits, and heavy fines for criticizing the regime. Journalists can be imprisoned for up to seven years on the charge of “disseminating knowingly false information.”90 “Inciting national discord” is another charge frequently brought against activists, journalists and other writers. A journalist who called for sanctions against Kazakh officials who commit human rights violations was stabbed on board a train by an unknown assailant. The editor of an independent newspaper was banned from journalism for three years as part of his sentence on politically-motivated money laundering charges. An editor and the founders of another independent newspaper were convicted of defamation. Two activists were sentenced to five years imprisonment for protesting land reform proposals, and another remains in prison serving a 12-year sentence. In 2017, the regime convicted at least 22 people on charges of “inciting religious discord” while placing three-month bans on several Protestant and Jehovah’s Witness churches; a proposed law would further restrict religious teaching, proselytizing and publishing.91 In 2011, the same year WikiBilim’s founder was named Wikipedian of the Year, police massacred at least 14 protesters during an oilfield strike that turned into a riot, highlighting the poor relations between the regime and labor unions; the government responded by declaring a state of emergency and restricting access to journalists.92

After helping Kazakhstan reposition itself as a modern investment mecca, Wales was chosen in December 2014 (along with World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee) to receive the United Arab Emirates’ “Knowledge Award,” a $1 million technology prize invented for the occasion. Wikipedia users swarmed his talk page to protest both the country’s appalling human rights record and Wales’ apparent indifference. Wales finally snapped, “Every penny of the money will be used to combat human rights abuses worldwide with a specific focus on the Middle East and with a specific focus on freedom of speech / access to knowledge issues. Of course.”93 though when the Daily Dot suggested he was only turning to philanthropy to muffle the backlash due to his taking money from a(nother) repressive dictatorship, Wales demanded a correction.94 The UAE regime is notorious for flogging homosexuals, arresting rape victims, and using migrant workers as literal slave labor in the construction of its lavish luxury projects. It also “arbitrarily detains and in some cases forcibly disappears individuals who criticize the authorities”95 and regularly tortures both citizens and foreigners96 it has detained. In March 2018, the regime sentenced a human rights activist to ten years’ imprisonment on trumped-up charges including using social media to “publish false information that harms national unity.”97 Since March 2015, the UAE has partnered with Saudi Arabia in a lopsided assault on Yemen, the poorest country in the region, killing upwards of 7,000 civilians and wounding over 10,000.98 Armed with the finest and most expensive US weaponry, the Saudi-UAE coalition has blockaded the port city of Hodeidah in violation of international human rights law, placing the lives of 22 million Yemenis who depend on food aid at risk.99 Perched on top of billions of dollars’ worth of oil, the UAE can buy powerful friends, whether they run the US government or Wikipedia.

The Register pointed out that for Wales, “starting a foundation” with his Emirati blood money was a great way to reap the reputational benefits of “charity” while retaining control of the cash, which may have been Wales’ goal.100 Wales seems to like retaining control of prize money, even when the prize is one he’s supposed to be giving away. Two years after Kenzhekanuly was named Wikipedian of the Year, the Kazakh insider hadn’t seen a dime of the $5,000 that was supposed to accompany the award, nor had 2013’s winner, a Nigerian user known as Demmy.101 In 2014, Wales opted to honor Ukrainian student activist Ihor Kostenko, who was shot dead during the US-backed Euromaidan riots that culminated in the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically-elected government and its replacement with a far-right fascist regime. Choosing Kostenko permitted Wales to reframe the dead Wiki editor’s life as a propaganda narrative – tragically cut down in his prime, all “because he wanted Ukraine to be led by people with a patriotic spirit”102 – and distract Americans from the fact that their government was arming the Nazis marching through the streets of Kiev.103 

 

Ill-Fated Charities

Wales’ surface proclivity for charity work clashes with his outspoken adherence to the Objectivist “philosophy” of Ayn Rand, which venerates individualism to the point of selfishness and bows to an absolute, inflexible rationality. Wales’ first wife, Pamela, told W he had actively discouraged her from pursuing a career in nursing during their marriage because “to him, altruism was evil.”104 His serial charity establishment is perhaps best understood in a mercenary context – by adopting the identity of a chronic do-gooder, he escapes the scrutiny that might accrue to the stereotypical internet billionaire who spends more time chasing tail than saving whales. Objectivism also explains the tendency of Wales’ charitable endeavors to end badly, as most recently occurred with The People’s Operator (TPO), a mobile communications firm that supposedly donated ten percent of users’ bills and a quarter of its earnings to charities of the user’s choice. In practice, only about 3.8% of revenue made it to charity in 2016.105

Wales was brought in by TPO founder Andrew Rosenfeld in January 2014 as Co-Chairman and Executive Director of Strategy and Digital Community, essentially a famous face to raise the profile of his company in the runup to a public offering.106 Rosenfeld was implicated in the Cash for Honours scandal in 2006, having loaned £1,033,000 to Tony Blair’s Labour party and found himself – along with seven of the other 11 businessmen who funded Labour’s 2005 General Election campaign – on Blair’s short-list for a life peerage;107 Blair-linked PR firm Portland Communications handled the publicity for both Wales’ hire and the share offering. TPO was a money-losing proposition from the beginning,108 but Wales’ backing encouraged enough investor confidence to net the firm £20 million in an IPO on the UK’s junior AIM market. After Rosenfeld died suddenly the following February, Wales took over as CEO, pulling a $400,000 annual salary while TPO’s value remained stagnant.109 To accompany TPO’s US rollout, which he assured investors would send its valuation north of £2 billion within 4 years, he tacked on a “viral” social network/donation platform110 to draw new customers in place of traditional marketing and advertising. When the carrier bungled the switch from a 3G to 4G network, leaving some customers without service for weeks at a time,111 financial losses accelerated. Wales stepped down as Executive Chairman in 2017; in June 2018, TPO sold off the same US customer base Wales had valued at billions of pounds for a bargain-basement £700,000 to stave off creditors.112 Within two weeks, Wales left the near-bankrupt husk of TPO to “concentrate on his other interests.”113 All the while TPO was posting year after year of losses, the press sang its praises, promising its fortunes would turn around at any moment. One couldn’t fault them for their optimism – they probably got their information from the TPO Wikipedia article, which was created and maintained by a company employee.114 

TPO wasn’t Wales’ first foray into the charity realm. In December 2009, he partnered with then-girlfriend Andrea Weckerle to launch CiviliNation, a vaguely-defined initiative to combat online harassment and character assassination. The irony of Wales’ involvement in such an organization appears to have eluded him. CiviliNation’s 2011 financial disclosures showed 74% of expenses paid to Weckerle, as well as 82% in 2012 and 80% in 2013.115 In 2013, he helped launch model Lily Cole’s “altruism-based social network” Impossible.com, where users post their wishes to be granted by benevolent strangers. Cole, a multimillionaire, snared £200,000 of taxpayer-funded grants intended for the needy,116 rather perverting the whole charitable order by taking from the poor to give to the comfortably-off. A Huffington Post profile notes that “Impossible doesn’t fulfill the needs of people who are truly desperate – you won’t see a post from someone who is starving, for example” and Cole is not so detached from reality that she cannot understand the truly desperate may not be in a position to post their cries for help on the latest smartphone.117 One wonders if Wales’ charitable endeavors have not deliberately been chosen to prove – in true Objectivist style – the uselessness of charity.118 

 

Moral Relativism for Dummies

UK PR firm Bell Pottinger was caught in December 2011 burnishing the Wikipedia entries of its clients, including the former president of Zambia and South African arms manufacturer Paramount Group, and adding negative information about its clients’ enemies, including journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, the sister-in-law of then-UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.119 Ten accounts, responsible for hundreds of edits, were suspended, and Wales stated he was “highly critical of their ethics,” adding that he had “never seen a case like this.”120 By 2016, Bell Pottinger was back on Wikipedia, editing articles for South African firm Oakbay Investments as part of a racially inflammatory PR campaign that positioned Oakbay’s wealthy Indian owners, the Gupta family, as victims of “white monopoly capital” even as public scrutiny of their influence in President Jacob Zuma’s government increased. The resulting scandal took down both Bell Pottinger and Zuma.121 It is not a stretch to suggest that the current racial unrest in South Africa can be partially laid at the feet of Bell Pottinger, the Guptas, and their disingenuous crusade against “white monopoly capitalism,” a term they popularized in an astroturfed social media campaign to promote their company and obscure its disproportionate influence within the Zuma government.

Bell Pottinger employees were caught on tape boasting of their ability to “sort” negative Wikipedia articles and manipulate Google search results to drown out negative coverage, and Wales was “astonished at the ethical blindness of Bell Pottinger’s reaction” to getting caught.122 But Minassian had proposed Wikipedia get involved in just this type of business operation in its 2016 media audit by suggesting the site introduce “a breaking news Twitter feed that pushes out neutral content when controversy breaks” – essentially a full-time distraction engine to be switched on in times of crisis. Wikimedia Executive Director Katherine Maher says Wikipedia “should be about creating information.”123 The Wikimedia Foundation actually paid a public relations firm to conduct a study concluding Wikimedia is the largest “participatory grantmaking” fund, then link to the Wikipedia definition of “participatory grantmaking” that uses an article from the same public relations firm as one of its only sources. Wikimedia was forced to issue a correction replacing the word “research” with “report,” as in “report that they commissioned,” as in “designation they paid for.”124 Creating information, indeed.

Wales’ wife’s firm, Freud Communications, regularly edits its own Wikipedia page125 – founded by a friend of Tony Blair, it enjoys supralegal status in the Wikipedia class hierarchy – and publishes a magazine called Baku for the daughter of Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev.126 It’s not surprising, then, that in January 2014, the Azerbaijani regime launched a “WikiDays” project through a youth organization it controls called IRELI Public Union. In partnership with Wikipedia Azerbaijan, instructors taught participants how to edit and protect articles with an eye toward the “principles of propaganda” – with the end goal of “encourag[ing] the youth to use Wikipedia in a correct manner, to protect interests of Azerbaijan in Wikipedia and prevent distortion of information about Azerbaijan.”127 The Aliyev regime also works with the Podesta Group, whose co-founder John Podesta chaired Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and served as Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton,128 and hired the ubiquitous Blair to seal a pipeline deal. In 2017, the Azerbaijani government sentenced 25 journalists and activists to lengthy prison terms following politically-motivated show trials. Torture of prisoners is common, as is harassment of suspected LGBT individuals. In May 2017, authorities permanently blocked the websites of a number of independent and opposition media outlets, citing “national security threats.”129 One wonders why, if Wikipedia is so amenable to servicing the needs of authoritarian governments, Turkey went the route of banning the site altogether. Surely they can afford to buy their way into Jimmy Wales’ good graces. 

It seems that wherever Tony Blair goes, Wales follows. In 2012, Blair facilitated the Qatari royal family’s purchase of a stake in British hotel group Coroin.130 The Qatar Foundation soon became one of the top 20 donors to the Wikimedia Foundation, contributing upwards of $100,000 in 2013, and the Qatar Foundation’s Wikipedia article soon undertook a makeover at the hands of “Jmgrayling,” seemingly a Grayling PR employee. Grayling had only recently taken over the Qatari account from Bell Pottinger, where user “Annikabenn” had been busily editing the Qatar Foundation’s article for her own firm.131 Like the UAE, Qatar treats its migrant laborers like slaves, confiscating passports and documents so that they cannot leave, withholding payment of wages, and mandating a sponsorship system that forbids them from changing employers.132  The country also blocks access to its only independent news website from its two internet service providers.133 

Wikipedia has a pattern of shutting out anti-establishment points of view on controversial topics, and it is here that it becomes important to distinguish between the traditionally-understood concept of Truth and Wikipedia’s version. Wikipedia relies on consensus, not ultimate Truth – the more sources support a particular view, the more likely that view will prevail. Wikipedia’s rules on what constitutes a reliable source have evolved over the years to exclude all “alternative” media outlets, particularly where politics and health are concerned. Even publications like Mother Jones and the Nation, which barely deviate from the mainstream, are consigned to the no-man’s-land of unreliable sources, while Vox and Mic – which didn’t exist 10 years ago – enjoy a place of privilege in the Wikipedia editor’s toolbox.134 Thus placing their finger on the scale, Wikipedia ensures editors come to contested pages with viewpoints already slanted toward the establishment narrative. A Harvard Business School study purported to show that opposing political factions moved toward the center over time in a consensus model, but they assumed a level playing field that simply does not exist in Wikipedia.135 When only mainstream sources count, status quo is easily mistaken for Truth.

The Croatian language Wikipedia exemplifies one danger of a consensus-focused model. Over the past decade, a group of far-right ideologues gradually seized control of the site in an internet putsch so thorough that the Croatian Minister of Education now actively discourages students from using it, warning “that a large part of the content of the Croatian version of Wikipedia is not only dubious but also [contains] obvious forgeries, and therefore we invite them to use more reliable sources of information.” Somehow, he still includes “Wikipedia in English and in other major languages of the world” in “reliable sources,” clearly not grasping the reason Croatian Wikipedia went so far off the rails.136 In 2009, fewer than 10 conservative administrators began consolidating their hold on power, banning and suspending certain editors for their liberal or moderate views on hot-button topics. Much of the controversial material centers on the Ustaša, a fascist group that operated from 1929 to 1945, serving as a puppet government under the Third Reich and massacring hundreds of thousands of political dissidents, Serbs, Jews, Roma, and other racial and ethnic minorities. Their crimes have all but disappeared from Croatian Wikipedia, and other articles have also been changed to reflect a strong bias against Serbs and LGBT people.137 The situation remains unresolved because to “fix“ it would require rewriting the rules of Wikipedia, in which consensus – not truth – is the goal. If Croatian Wikipedians find “collection camp“ more accurate a term than “concentration camp“ to describe the wartime prisons of Eastern Europe where racial and ethnic minorities and dissidents were rounded up and worked to death, Wikipedia can't step in and change that consensus without running afoul of its entire ecosystem of rules. Ultimately, politically-motivated historical revisionism is no different than scientific Skepticism, except one is considered permissible in polite company.

 

Alternative Medicine Under Siege

Holistic health professionals are subjected to an online Inquisition when they attempt to edit false statements and libel out of their profiles only to have the edits immediately reverted and their life’s work dismissed. It was Dr. Gary Null’s investigation into this phenomenon that first alerted me that Wikipedia was playing fast and loose with the facts beyond of the political realm, and I use him here as an example not to sing his praises but because his case is such a clear example of the site’s bias. Null is a board-certified clinical nutritionist who has conducted over 40 clinical studies on lifestyle and diet, more than anyone else in his field. He hosts the longest-running daily non-commercial radio program in history and for 12 years ran the most popular show on WABC. He has published over 700 articles, many in peer-reviewed journals, and has been invited to present his findings at scientific conferences. His research showed humans could not only survive but thrive on a diet wholly devoid of animal protein. His documentaries, including Death by Medicine, the Drugging of Our Children, and Seeds of Death, have won more than 276 awards. He has counseled tens of thousands of people over his 50-year career, never charging a penny. None of these achievements are in his Wikipedia bio, which focuses instead on his divergence from medical orthodoxy and accuses him of quackery. I did not merely take Null’s word at face value when evaluating his statements against those of the Wikipedia page he has been wrestling with for the better part of a decade. Instead, my investigation revealed a pattern of systemic bias that has the entirety of Wikipedia’s medicine and science coverage in its thrall.

Wikipedia’s article on Null is theoretically subject to the strictest standards of verifiability as a Biography of a Living Person. Editors working on Null’s behalf have pointed out that the primary source for the majority of false and libelous information on his page is “Quackwatch,” the personal website of Stephen Barrett, a discredited former psychiatrist who has made it his life’s purpose to “debunk” alternative and natural health practitioners. Such a site does not meet Wikipedia’s guidelines for a reliable source. In Wikipedia’s own words, “Anyone can create a personal web page or publish their own book, and also claim to be an expert in a certain field. For that reason, self-published media, such as books, patents, newsletters, personal websites, open wikis, personal or group blogs (as distinguished from newsblogs, above), content farms, Internet forum postings, and social media postings, are largely not acceptable as sources. Never use self-published sources as third-party sources about living people, even if the author is an expert, well-known professional researcher, or writer.”138 But Barrett’s acolytes, a group of ideologically-driven Wikipedia editors calling themselves Skeptics, revert every edit that attempts to correct the record on Null. They stonewall attempts to delete his page and block editors who make repeated efforts to remove the defamatory material. Attempts to take the matter to higher authorities are persistently rebuffed.

After Null and his lawyers gave up on correcting individual facts within the article, they nominated it for deletion. They reasoned that surely a person who was dismissed as a quack by so many editors should not be deemed worthy of a page in the first place. However, half a dozen Skeptics circled the wagons and invoked “WP:SNOW,” a declaration that the motion literally had a snowball’s chance in hell of passing, after less than 36 hours of deliberation. The “judge” who sentenced Null to indefinite detention without a trial in the Wikipedia gulag sided with the Skeptics before anyone else could get a word in.139 The article shows clear evidence not only of bias but of awareness of that bias, with a notice marked “Please read before starting” alerting new editors to the presence of “fringe theories and pseudoscience” and linking to the pages instructing editors on “how Wikipedia deals with fringe views.”140 Such prejudicial editing instructions turn Wikipedia’s editing process into a kangaroo court, effectively dismissing the mountains of evidence supporting Null’s work in favor of the unsupported allegations of a few biased editors. 

There was an extended discussion among Wikipedia editors on how to treat Quackwatch as a source. One camp suggested that if Barrett was such an expert, surely his views could be found in other publications considered more reliable; other users acknowledged the point, but maintained that Quackwatch was “often the only or best source available,” and should be treated as reliable because Barrett has been quoted in other media considered reliable. When someone brought up Barrett’s bias against alternative and natural medicine, stating that he was holding these therapies to a higher standard of efficacy than conventional modern medicine, they replied that this was to be expected, as he was a scientific Skeptic. According to these editors, Barrett’s bias represented a “legitimate and necessary form of double standard” of the sort practiced at Wikipedia itself – “the more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded.” The same senior user suggested that any editor who attacks Quackwatch should be placed under observation in preparation to ban. “Attacking such reliable sources is a pretty obvious symptom that one's POV and ideologies are screwed up.”141 Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia’s Susan Gerbic, who has taught dozens of Skeptics how to edit Wikipedia articles, is borderline fanatical in her motivations for editing: “we’re not doing this project for us, we’re doing this project for the world,” she gushes to fellow Skeptics, sharing how “awesome” she felt after inserting the word “quackery” into the first paragraph of Wikipedia’s homeopathy article.142 In another video, she shows off a t-shirt reading “Big Pharma Shillin’ “ to audience applause.143 These are not neutral editors, and it is extremely unlikely such ideologically motivated actors can put aside their biases to weigh in on the edits of others. Skepticism appears to be official policy at Wikipedia.

 

Skeptics vs. the Facts

Barrett has spent 40 years attacking anyone involved in holistic health practice, while admitting he has never studied any natural therapeutic systems because they “don’t make sense.”144 When his opinions are given the barest scrutiny, they fall apart. He simply does not have the scientific literature on his side, and cannot be considered a reliable source just because he is quoted as an expert in outside publications. By that logic, New York Times reporter Judith Miller would be considered a reliable source on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Her “intel” from the operative codenamed Curveball was quoted by not only other media outlets but Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell! Yet Miller’s faulty intelligence led to over a million casualties and more than 10 million people internally displaced in Iraq, where no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. The Wikipedia community’s unquestioning acceptance of Quackwatch is causing another kind of damage, not only to the practitioners who lose their livelihoods as a result of Barrett’s character assassination but to the millions of people who might have sought out potentially life-saving therapies if they hadn’t read something disparaging about them on the fifth most popular site on the web. 

Dr. Dean Ornish, for example, has reversed heart disease in patients so sick they were told they would die without a transplant, yet Quackwatch dismisses his work because (it claims) “there’s virtually no science” in it and because he is open about having learned about the importance of a plant-based diet from an Indian guru.145 Quackwatch has no evidence to contradict Ornish’s work, or Null’s, or any of the other professionals the site categorically dismisses. Wikipedia’s Skeptic editors have no sense of responsibility for the human consequences of their aversion to fact-checking, no acknowledgment that they could be wrong, having never taken the time to educate themselves about treatment modalities like acupuncture, chiropractic, or even nutrition. Why should they? Wales himself makes no secret of his disdain for alternative practitioners, whom he calls “lunatic charlatans,” echoing the terminology of the Skeptics,146 who have enshrined his derision in policy.147 

I reviewed the scientific literature on five topics where Null and Barrett disagree – sugar, alcohol, mercury, fluoridation, and the safety of vitamins and minerals – and after scanning thousands of abstracts, found Barrett to be wrong on every issue.148 Why would Wikipedia’s editors, who hold such power over public opinion, not do the research needed to reveal he has no credibility on these matters? This is no mere oversight – when credible information is supplied by other editors, on Null’s page and elsewhere, it is rejected, often within minutes. We all make mistakes, but when one is so arrogant they cannot acknowledge their error and instead insist on repeating it, there must be consequences. Wikipedia has insulated itself from legal action using section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which holds that as a neutral content platform it is not responsible for what is written by editors on the site. However, by selectively applying its rules, it takes on editorial functions and exits that legal sanctuary. Wikipedia must answer for its malicious actions, for all the lies it has perpetuated and truths it has covered up. Because it cloaks itself in the non-profit structure of the Wikimedia Foundation, its day of reckoning must include an investigative review and audit by the Internal Revenue Service. 

 

Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant

George Galloway, Rupert Sheldrake, Jill Stein, Gary Null and the other victims of Wikipedia’s character assassination are public figures. They stand behind their positions and are open and available for debate and discussion. Because Wikipedia editors are anonymous, their backgrounds remain unknown, their biases hidden. There is no way to tell whether an editor is an expert or a malicious actor. In 2007, a prolific Wikipedia editor who claimed to be a graduate professor with degrees in theology and canon law was revealed to be a 24-year-old college dropout. Ryan Jordan, who contributed to 16,000 Wikipedia entries during his time at the site, rose to become a member of the Arbitration Committee, Wikipedia’s “supreme court,” before he was unmasked.149 It is a simple matter for powerful groups like the pharmaceutical industry and the CIA to infiltrate Wikipedia and libel their enemies – people like John Pilger, Seymour Hersh, Chris Hedges, and Glenn Greenwald, who have a history of shining a spotlight on the corruption and criminality of our institutions. How better to silence them than to assassinate their character – even when they’ve been shown, time and time again, to be accurate? Wikipedia acts as Grand Inquisitor, presiding over online show trials in which the victims are prohibited from defending themselves and forced to watch as their names are dragged through the mud.

My research confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that Wikipedia

• supports repressive dictatorships

• promotes certain political candidates and attacks others

• accepts donations in return for favorable coverage

• is hostile to non-mainstream media

• suppresses holistic health information

• permits the publication of libel, maliciously and selectively

and that these problems are part of a systemic bias that reaches to the core of the platform, rendering all information it provides suspect. If ideologically-motivated actors are able to get away with epistemological murder in one subject area, it’s all but certain they are pulling off similar crimes elsewhere.

Wikipedia may have begun life as an open-source utopia of free knowledge, but it has devolved into a repressive oligarchy run by unaccountable petty tyrants. It is a punitive system that targets those who refuse to toe the line. Anyone who represents a threat to the establishment can become a victim, and once an ideologically-motivated cabal of editors sinks its teeth into your article, there is no way to remove them. Because of space restrictions, I have reserved some material for future articles, including revelations from whistleblowers and independent legal expertise outlining how Wikipedia can be challenged in the courts. Once the first lawsuit is won, there will be a torrent of legal action as all those who have been victimized by Wikipedia step forward to claim their pound of flesh.

I believe that Jimmy Wales knows he is not what he pretends to be – that for all his famous friends, for all the fawning media profiles he commissions, he lives in terror that someday someone will pull back the curtain and expose him. I believe it is this fear and insecurity that leads him to overreact to the slightest criticism with such disproportionate vitriol, only opening his mouth in order to more deeply wedge his foot in it. Wales seems terrified he – and his site – will soon be exposed as shallow, hollow, biased impostors, with no more authenticity than a Hollywood set. Like others who, thinking themselves omnipotent, have abused their positions of power – the Harvey Weinsteins, Robert Dursts, Dennis Hasterts, and Bernie Madoffs of the world – Wales will fall victim to his own hubris. 

Denial is America’s national virtue. Until we are shown incontrovertible proof that a respected authority is lying to us, we cling to that authority tenaciously, lest our worldview begin to crumble.  Once the world knows the truth about Wales and Wikipedia, they will wonder how they ever trusted this organization to serve as an encyclopedia, fact-checker, judge, jury and executioner. Gazing upon the ruins of one of the greatest frauds of the 21st century, they will be forced to wonder who else is lying to them. Therefore, it will not be the mainstream media who exposes the truth, for they are too invested in the status quo. Only brave independent journalists will have the integrity to expose this deception and bring the fraudulent edifice of Jimmy Wales crashing down once and for all. 

This is only the beginning of a multi-part investigation. Stronger revelations are forthcoming.

 

 

 

NOTES

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My headlines from this week, now with more hypocrisy (it's as American as apple pie, with only half the calories!).

October 15: Assange's newly-recovered "freedom" isn't free; cardiac stem cell research is fake; Trump dating app is a trap; politician lies, surprising no one

Assange reconnected, plus nine pages of caveats

Hospitals admit cardiac stem cell pioneer made it all up

Tinder for Trumpsters leaks users' personal data on first day

Democratic senator caught hiding positions from voters

October 16: Anti-net-neutrality comments faked by industry interests; professional sociopaths think military needs more mafia; robots are better dancers than us too; Trump 'threatened' by Fed's spite-hikes; YouTube outage shakes internet's faith in reality

FCC repealed Net Neutrality on the word of bots, astroturfers

Mercenary promotes Murder Inc. model to US military

Boston Dynamics robot out-dances pathetic humans

Trump feuding with Fed over rate hikes

YouTube goes down, foundations of internet reality shaken

October 17: Nikki Haley makes presidential noises; Facebook sued for lying about ads; GOP candidates & operatives attacked; Trump good at science, so climate change no biggie; Japan wonders why people mind radioactive waste in ocean

Haley talks Kissinger, Zionism to secretive GOP kingmakers

Ad buyers take Facebook to court for lying about video metrics

'End to civility' leads to attacks on GOP candidates & operatives in MN, NV

Trump not concerned about climate change, because he's good with science

Japan prepares to dump Fukushima wastewater in Pacific, wonders why the fuss

October 18: Dear Nikki: please do standup, not politics; UK can't meme; McCaskill digs deeper hole; exorcists band together to protect Kavanaugh; navy captain on hook for penny-ante shenanigans

Haley makes a better comedian than a politician

UK researchers blame memes for childhood obesity, don't know what memes are

McCaskill threatens undercover journalists who exposed her as fraud

Exorcists pledge to protect Kavanaugh against Brooklyn coven's hex

Navy captain court-martialed for $0.6mil insider dealing while $trillions vanish at Pentagon

October 19: Pompeo & Trump grandstand about migrant caravan while silently shitting pants; Israel eager to get its war on; Macedonia rams through name change

Pompeo slams migrant caravan for using women & children as 'human shields'

Trump condemns 'bad hombres' after Mexico border breached

Israel's trigger finger itches after conveniently-timed Gaza rocket attack

Macedonian parliament, eager to join NATO, ignores referendum failure & votes to change name

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They were right - I've been a Russian bot all along.* Here's my first week with RT:

October 8: the unexpected side effects of runaway political correctness; pig convicted of murder in unicorn verdict

Gender danger: Trans student barred from locker rooms during school shooting drill

"No other civilized country allows the police to kill with impunity," black activist tells RT

October 9: US weapons systems using "password" as password; SecDef insists on battle-ready planes, the better to intimidate you with; creepy porn lawyer clings to media spotlight 

Homeland Insecurity? "Entire generation" of US weapons easily hackable

Mad Dog Mattis wants 80% of key fighter jets ready for war

"Resistance" poster boy Avenatti is picking a literal fight with Donald Trump Jr.

October 10: Tesla to be engulfed by Murdoch borg; flying is nuts; most vets want US out of Afghan quagmire; Pompeo pouts over being left out of Korean talks

Murdoch heir rumored to be in line for Tesla chair, Musk denies in 4:20 tweet

"Emotional support squirrel" on plane drives passengers nuts

US veterans overwhelmingly want troops out of Afghanistan - poll

Pompeo complains about being left out of Korean peace talks

October 11: Facebook deplatforms hundreds of popular alt.media accounts; Branson grows morals over Khashoggi disappearance; Ecuador praised for human rights while denying Assange his; creepy robot learns new moves

Facebook purges hundreds of political pages, some with millions of followers

Virgin Galactic boss Richard Branson suspends $1bn Saudi investment over Khashoggi disappearance

Ecuador gets UN praise for 'freedom of expression' as Assange remains gagged in embassy limbo

Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot can now do parkour, chase squishy humans up stairs

October 12: Ethics watchdog sees Hatch Act violation in Kanye selfie; friendly neighborhood Spider-Cops coming to NYC; 5th graders given creepy sex survey; your DNA can be used against you; FDA stiff with rage

Sarah Sanders' photo with Kanye is illegal, ethics watchdog says

Friendly neighborhood spider-cop? Web weapon designed to subdue mentally ill troublemakers

Creepy survey asks 5th-graders about their sex lives

It's frighteningly easy to track someone down via DNA, reveals scientist

Viagra in vape liquid has FDA hot & bothered

 

*I'll take a Turing test if you will! 

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Facebook purged more than 800 accounts earlier this week, continuing its scorched-earth campaign of eradicating dissent as Americans prepare to go to the polls. The social media platform is nicely settling into its role as official censor, working hand in glove with the imperialist Atlantic Council to silence all popular voices to the left and right of neoliberal orthodoxy. As the boundaries of acceptable political discourse narrow online, Big Tech has been drafted to do Big Brother's dirty work - the methodical dismantling of First Amendment protections using the smokescreen of private enterprise.

On Thursday, the social media platform issued a press release explaining that the offending pages were engaged in "coordinated inauthentic behavior" - self-promoting with fake accounts and circular links, a practice common to many news pages on Facebook - and even admitted that such behavior was "often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate." There was no explanation of how they distinguished the behavior of, say, a progressive antiwar blog from a Washington Post columnist, or why they would censor the former and not the latter.

Establishment media outlets like the New York Times eagerly parroted the press release, dismissing the purge victims as dishonest spammers preying on impressionable users, even opining that there was something awfully Russian about the whole business, as if the Kremlin had invented clickbait. But many of the deleted pages were genuine alt-media sites with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of followers - from AntiMedia and Free Thought Project on the Left to Nation in Distress and RightWingNews on the Right. Popular pages dedicated to exposing the horrors of the American police state like Cop Block and Police the Police also got the boot. When they took to Twitter to protest, many were removed from there as well - AntiMedia and Free Thought Project had their Twitter accounts suspended within hours of the Facebook purge, as did AntiMedia publisher Carey Weidler. 

One Twitter user received a followup message thanking them for a report against AntiMedia they did not make, indicating there might be more going on here than meets the eye. The message is especially intriguing given recent admissions from Facebook that at least 90 million accounts may have been hacked. If certain entities are spoofing abuse reports in order to have pages deplatformed whose politics they disagree with - or actually hacking third parties in order to use their accounts to report those pages - users need to know (I have personally heard from a few others who received these messages - if this has happened to you please send me your story, with screenshots if possible). 

Facebook's press release states that "people will only share on Facebook if they feel safe and trust the connections they make here." Facebook has proven since the very early days that they are anything but trustworthy - from Mark Zuckerberg's disparaging assessment of his users as "dumb fuckers" to his eager collaboration with the NSA's PRISM program to the partnership with the pro-NATO Atlantic Council to the platform's ultimate admission that basically everyone's data has been compromised at this point. Anyone who "shares" on Facebook at this point is deliberately ignoring reams of proof that the platform is not "a place for friends."

While Facebook has always been in the pocket of the security state, its alliance with the Atlantic Council earlier this year ushered in an Orwellian new era. A press release gushed that the think tank, which boasts such esteemed warmongers as Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice on its Board, would serve as the "eyes and ears" of Facebook so the platform could play a "positive role" in ensuring democracy was practiced correctly in the future. Since then, its news feed has been cleansed of actual news and political writers have seen their audience numbers plummet as their posts are hidden for running afoul of proprietary algorithms.

In August, hundreds more accounts got the axe after cybersecurity firm FireEye linked them (very tenuously, in some cases) to Iran and Russia. The smoking gun? "Coordinated inauthentic behavior" geared toward "shaping a message favorable to Iran’s national interests." Anti-war activists were put on notice. One need only post "anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes" to have one's Facebook account - which Zuckerberg wants to see become an internet drivers' license - yanked for failure to toe the line.

As Americans, denial is our national pastime, and plenty of Facebook users will remain on the platform until they themselves are caught in the wrongthink dragnet. The use of "spam" as the rationale for removing these pages is no accident - like "hate speech," the term inspires a visceral negative reaction while lacking a definite meaning. "Spam" conjures up penis enlargement ads, misspelled offers for cheap prescription drugs, Nigerian money laundering scams. Spammers are less than human - often automated bots that seem to exist just to irritate us. We do not care what happens to spammers, any more than we care what happens to the "haters" we hear about in the news but have never met. The mainstream media encourages this mentality by smearing the deplatformed users as the equivalent of 2016's Russian trolls - worse, because they're essentially betraying their government by promoting wrongthink in their fellow Americans. 

It doesn't take a genius to understand why the media establishment might be cheering on and enabling Big Tech's censorship of alternative voices. As the election approaches, the establishment is panicking because they have been unable to fully regain control of the discourse. Having long since jettisoned fact-checking and journalistic integrity in order to more effectively fearmonger, mainstream media lacks any concrete advantage over the competition, and more people than ever are turning to independent media for their news. As a result, the establishment has lost every single pitched information battle since the election. Kavanaugh's confirmation? The media wanted to see him strung up by the balls without so much as an indictment, let alone a trial, even though as a Bush minion he was effectively one of theirs, but he's now ensconced in the Supreme Court. The Helsinki summit? The media shrieked for a solid week that Trump had sold the nation out to Putin for a football and a pat on the head; missing evolutionary link John Brennan all but called for a military coup, but nothing happened. Both media events revealed just how impotent they have become regarding their ability to change the facts on the ground.

This is not to say they have no influence, however. The nation remains crippled by the military-industrial leeches sucking it dry through multiple wars, many undeclared. The media marches in lockstep cheering on every increase in military spending, every missile dropped on a Yemeni wedding party or Syrian child. Americans have become hyper-partisan even in our personal lives, a self-perpetuating feedback loop the media set off in 2016 with a dozen "Boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse like Trump? Dump that piece of shit!" articles, no doubt due for a revival with thoughtful meditations on how we should avoid family at Thanksgiving if they voted the wrong way a few weeks before. The establishment media and Big Tech are collaborating to foster this ugly with-us-or-against-us climate, forcing us to choose between a "blue wave" or "red wave" when both are repulsive tides of sewage, reassuring us all will be well if we just hold our noses and vote the party line.

Only independent media permits sanity and reality to intrude on the delusional fantasy fed us by the ruling class. Dismissing the victims of the latest Facebook purge as "spammers" is the cowardly act of a dying species. The New York Times, CNN, and the rest of the hagiographers of hegemony must join the rest of the dinosaurs.

(I originally covered the latest skirmish in the Great Deplatforming for RT here.)

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It’s almost election time, and lest you forget, American democracy has never been in greater peril. Not from inaccurate, insecure voting machines a schoolchild can hack; nor from bought-off candidates who leave voters cold; but from Russian agents probing the fabric of our society, looking for weaknesses. It is up to us, as patriotic Americans, to defend our beloved institutions against the Red Menace.

So writes Susan Landau, a "cybersecurity expert" (professional fearmonger) with funding links to Big Tech and the military-industrial complex, at least. Landau warns that the same Russians whose interference in the 2016 presidential election was never conclusively proven are burrowing further into American society, emboldened by the absence of a decisive response to their prior meddling. 

Perhaps realizing that Americans are running low on fear – twenty years fighting a losing War on Terror have inured us to the threat of jihad, and it was only through appeals to Cold War-era pop culture that our Russophobia was so easily resuscitated – Landau plays dirty with the one card left in her propagandist’s deck. The Russians aren’t just targeting our “civil society” organizations; they want our boy scouts. 

Such allegations are calculated for maximum emotional impact. Even the most avowedly liberal American parents feel a twinge of discomfort at the rapid pace of social change over the last decade, and the scouts – no longer boy scouts in our brave new world – have been ground zero for much of this change. America has morphed from a society that guardedly accepts sexual variation into a neurotically permissive society terrified of offending members of genders not yet invented. Facebook offers the user over 70 gender options, an all-you-can-be buffet of identity politics. To question this paradigm is considered intolerant.

By linking the gender-neutral Scouts with the Red Menace, Landau is offering progressive parents a "get out of bigotry free" card. It's OK to be uncomfortable with the queering of the Boy Scouts, as long as the Russians are behind it!

Almost exactly a year ago, she wrote a piece for Foreign Policy warning that the Russians were plotting an assault on our cherished civil institutions and that should they succeed in infiltrating them, they might…cause us to lose trust in our government! That threat clearly didn't galvanize the Resistance, because this year, she’s kicking things up a notch: it’s now “extremely likely” that Russians are targeting civil society groups, which are the only thing standing between us and abject barbarism. 

Landau has no proof that Russians have captured our institutions, as gay scoutmasters or otherwise, but she won’t let that stand in the way of a good story. Lacking Russian examples, she claims Facebook turned a German town into refugee-attacking hatemongers and points to a spoofed text sent to undocumented supporters of Texas senate candidate Beto O’Rourke as something Russia “could” do. In an effort to bridge these logical chasms, she links to a Brookings Institute report that depicts Russian use of US social media platforms in terms normally used to describe thermonuclear war (“An attack on western critical infrastructure seems inevitable"). 

Like the January 2017 “Intelligence Community Assessment” from which she derives her certainty that Russians are infiltrating civil society organizations, Landau’s article treats Russian interference in the 2018 election as a foregone conclusion despite the lack of evidence, pointing to Microsoft’s claim that Russia “hacked” two conservative think tanks and two Democratic senate campaigns as proof that Putin has “our democracy” by the throat yet again.

Coverage of Microsoft’s “discovery” reads like a press release for its new AccountGuard initiative, seemingly designed to profit off candidates’ fears of Russian meddling while offering no proof of actual Russian involvement. The company also called for greater cooperation between corporations and the government, though as the first eager collaborator with the NSA’s Orwellian PRISM program way back in 2007, Microsoft could hardly cooperate any more than it already has.

The most disturbing outgrowth of the entire Russian bot narrative is the adoption of “sowing discord” as a new social sin, a crime worthy of de-platforming citizens from social media - or worse. The phrase is relatively new to the American lexicon, but one finds it in authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia or Kazakhstan, where it is used as a catch-all charge to imprison journalists and activists whose work inconveniences the regime. 

With McCarthyite organizations like PropOrNot collaborating with the mainstream media to smear independent journalists as useful idiots and traitors, the US doesn’t need Russians to sow discord. Years of dishonest divide-and-conquer media narratives have completely alienated us from our fellow man. Nothing - not even the threat of Boris and Natasha filling our children’s heads with gender theory around the campfire - can rescue our national solidarity. 2016’s status-quo candidate, Hillary Clinton, said as much when she denounced half the electorate as a “basket of deplorables" - and conservatives took that ball and ran with it, denouncing the Left as mentally ill “snowflakes” and violent Antifa goons.

As if Big Tech’s censorship wasn’t onerous enough, Landau implores Americans to censor themselves online so as not to contribute to the Russian discord-sowing operation. It’s the same line we were fed when the bogeyman was Islamic terrorism: They hate us for our freedom! So we’re going to take away your freedom in the hope they’ll go away! Or, in her words, “It’s time for Americans to change their behavior.” We’re supposed to keep our politics to ourselves, lest it get back to Putin that American civilization has its discontents.

Landau is right about one thing. It reflects poorly on American society that all that is needed to bring the whole house of cards down is for a few well-placed “wrongthink” social media posts to go viral. But this is less the fault of Russia than of America’s homegrown oligarchs, who have exploited the people so thoroughly that even the robust psychological defense mechanisms we’re taught as children to combat cognitive dissonance can only keep reality at bay for so long. Everyone has their breaking point, and America’s is fast approaching. Blame-the-Russians propaganda is the last gasp of an empire in decline, and even propagandists like Landau don’t believe it anymore. A propagandist with no audience is just a liar.

 

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