Wikipedia and bias

Posted Mar 25, 2009 in Media, Politics.

Wikipedia is constantly being accused of having a bias toward a ''liberal'' point of view. Obviously Wikipedia has other bias issues too, such as the suggestion that it is too US-centric, but it does its best to address these with a concerted effort to eradicate systemic bias. But the politics thing is different. I have a theory about this I wish to share with my readers.

When progressively-minded Wikipedians edit contentious articles, they have a tendency to carefully and painstakingly build a consensus for their edit. Often this involves consultation of reliable sources and extensive talk page discussion. This approach is time-consuming, but in most cases successful.

Conservatively-minded editors employ a different editing strategy. They will make “drive-by edits” posting misleading or accusatory material in articles about liberals. They will use the talk pages of articles to “inform” Wikipedians of Wikipedia's terrible bias, or of the evils and sins of certain liberals. They will wave their arms around in the air and shout as loudly as they possibly can. They will create multiple Wikipedia accounts (known as sockpuppets, often using dozens of IP addresses) to try to get around Wikipedia's rules and guidelines. If discovered and blocked, they will enlist the assistance of other conservatives to do their editing and shouting on their behalf (meatpuppets). They will tell lies about everything, criticize everything, and delete anything that doesn't agree with their ideology.

Okay, this may be a slight generalization and exaggeration; however, as someone who is generally a progressively-minded person it seems like a pretty accurate description of how Wikipedia works. The conservatively-minded folks are easy to spot (thanks to their arm-waving and shouting), but they are many and they are relentless. They claim the moral high ground, yet they employ cheating and lying as normal tactics to achieve their goals. But it is because of their transparent agenda that liberally-minded folks with their methodical, rules-based approach can fend them off. I imagine that it is infuriating to be a conservative Wikipedian, because the kind of consensus-driven, community-driven, good-faith driven system employed by Wikipedia is anathema to them.

Oh well. Too bad.


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    Oh, all sides do it! We're used to "calls to arms" from activists on all sides of an issue.

    But, the thing is: every time, there's a core of people - whatever their political views - who get the idea of Wikipedia and stick around to try to work on a neutral article that is a fair survey of views on a topic. Whatever their personal strong opinions.

    Posted by David Gerard on Mar 25, 2009.

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    Hey Simon, I am a relatively new Wikipedian, so be gentle. My contribution to the Global Warming article came from this morning's New York Times Magazine article on Freeman Dyson, which you can find here:


    Posted by Johna30305 on Mar 29, 2009.

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    Simon: I appreciate your quick response. Thank you very much for sending me the link to Template Documentation for Wikipedians. Regards, JAH.

    Posted by Jack Harwood on Mar 30, 2009.

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    You are welcome, Jack.

    Posted by Simon Jessey on Apr 01, 2009.

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    "I dont understand how Wikipedia can be biased when the articles are written by random users?"

    Self-selection bias - look it up. "Random" is extremely difficult when it comes to people. One obvious example is that most protesters are liberal - seeing how this translates to wikipedia demographics is pretty obvious.

    Posted by TheGoodLocust on May 07, 2009.

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    It kinda sours the web 2.0 taste for others when a trusted site like Wikipedia appears to be entirely objective and built from user-generated content. I guess their users have more in common than we think.

    Posted by MICR Toner on Jun 08, 2009.

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    I don't understand how Wikipedia can be biased when the articles are written by random users?

    Posted by Canvas Paintings on Jun 08, 2009.

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    Even I feel that Wikipedia is too biased towards US and content related to US.

    Posted by Free Cards on Jun 08, 2009.