Has Wikipedia become a property to be controlled by Democratic Party operative David Brock ?


Updated 09 December 2016 16:00 ⎪ During the recently concluded 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle, it was noted that supporters of former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had formed a group to combat negative online portrayals of former First Lady Clinton. The group, Correct the Record, was founded by David Brock. Operatives for Correct the Record swarmed social media networks to counter social media messages that were critical of former First Lady Clinton. The raw, unvarnished sentiment of some social media users was that rather than dispelling negative or unfounded notions about former First Lady Clinton, the work of the operatives generated frustration and a backlash amongst supporters of Democratic presidential primary candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein.

The work of Correct the Record was reportedly focused on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. However, it has been noted that aggressive counter-messaging that has acted to defend former First Lady Clinton from criticism has been experienced on Wikipedia, the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia. Well-sourced facts that have reflected negatively on former First Lady Clinton have been removed from Wikipedia. For example, the fact that the Clinton Foundation accepted a donation from the Government of Qatar, became the subject of controversy on Wikipedia. After it had been noted that the Clinton Foundation had accepted donations from nine nations, including Qatar, without consultation with the U.S. State Department, the fact that the lack of consultation may have violated an ethics agreement former First Lady Clinton signed with the U.S. Department of State was deleted from Wikipedia's entry for the Clinton Foundation-State Department controversy. The Wikipedia editor, who deleted information about the possible ethics violation, noted that removal was made in order to "tone down POV wording," referring to point-of-view, even though the source of the information, a Reuters wire service report, revealed that former First Lady Clinton had signed an ethics agreement and promised to notify the U.S. State Department of material donations to the Clinton Foundation. The Reuters report confirmed that the Clinton Foundation did not always notify the U.S. Department of material donations, as was promised. The donation from the Government of Qatar attracted attention from the press, because, in the past, Qatar has been a supporter of Hamas.*

The entry for the Clinton Foundation-State Department controversy provides an overview about reported conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation, including its funding, and the work of former First Lady Clinton when she served as U.S. Secretary of State. In addition to being reportedly purged of unflattering yet well-sourced information about former First Lady Clinton, the entry for the Clinton Foundation-State Department controversy was targeted for deletion. In the Wikipedia entry for the Ready for Hillary Super PAC, information was scrubbed about contributions received by the Super PAC from lobbyists tied to private prison corporations.

When a contributor to Wikipedia complained about systemic bias in the entry for the Clinton Foundation, one of the core Wikipedia editors, who coïncidentally supported the deletion of the entry for the Clinton Foundation-State Department controversy, retorted, "Blah blah blah. This argument is really old. Try discussing the issues and comment on the content, not the editors." It is not known if any of the editors, who were responsible for removing critical information about former First Lady Clinton or who supported deletion of the Clinton Foundation-State Department controversy entry, are connected to Correct the Record. A request for an interview sent to Mr. Brock and to Media Matters of America, a watchdog group founded by Mr. Brock, was not answered.

Similarly, a request for an interview sent to the press office of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, was not answered. In the past, government reform activists have expressed criticism about the high level of influence that a small number of core Wikipedia editors have been able to exert over the contributions made by the general public. In 2006, open data advocate Aaron Swartz was seeking to join the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Directors. During Mr. Swartz's campaign, he dispelled the notion that the public could meaningfully contribute to Wikipedia, noting that after "an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it." Of the imbalance of power over final control over the edits made to Wikipedia, Mr. Swartz wrote, "The more frightening problem is that people love to get power and hate to give it up." Because Wikimedia Foundation did not answer the request for an interview, it is not known what measures Wikipedia has taken to guarantee that the insular control by its core editors are not misused by outside groups for political ends.

In a report filed by the journalist Evan Halper for The Los Angeles Times, it was noted that Correct the Record operatives would aim, in part, to "stop the spread of online misinformation and misogyny." However, some of the allegations made online against Correct the Record include the spread of false or misleading information.

Edits to Wikipedia not only appeared to defend Clinton ; edits also appeared to deliberately negatively portray her political rivals

In addition to the removal of unflattering information from Wikipedia, operatives for Correct the Record have been blamed by government reform activists for altering the Wikipedia entries of political rivals of former First Lady Clinton. For example, the general nature of the extreme statements made about Green Party vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka on his Wikipedia entry came to the attention of the supporters of Mr. Baraka's presidential running mate, Dr. Stein. On the social media site Reddit, a post asked that individuals with Wikipedia credentials to restore balance to the entry about Mr. Baraka, beseeching, "It's incredibly biased and takes everything he has said completely out of context. We need to get this fixed before the debate." Blame was placed on "CTR," initials that became shorthand for Correct the Record.

On the Wikipedia entry for Mr. Baraka, one edit removed the reasons why Mr. Baraka has been critical of President Barack Obama's failures to address racism against Blacks. In place of the information that was removed, a statement attributed to Mr. Baraka was added that described President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch as members of the "black petit-bourgeoisie who have become the living embodiments of the partial success of the state’s attempt to colonize the consciousness of Africans/black people." Rather than allow contributors to Wikipedia to provide nuance and explanation to complex political relationships, the edits controlled by Wikipedia's core editors have tended toward extremism.

The portrayal by Wikipedia that Mr. Baraka espouses "fringe" beliefs was repeated in a report filed by the journalist Gideon Resnick for The Daily Beast. Separately, a report filed by the journalist Clark Mindock for The International Business Times, included nuance that was missing from Wikipedia about an anthology to which Mr. Baraka had contributed. The anthology generated controversy over the beliefs of the book's editor and other contributors. The book's editor, Kevin Barrett, has been described as a Holocaust denier, and the report in The International Business Times noted that Mr. Baraka has denounced Holocaust denial. Information about that denunciation is absent from the Wikipedia entry for Mr. Baraka. The way that information was presented by Wikipedia about Mr. Baraka's business relationships with the book's editor appeared to be aimed to give the impression that Mr. Baraka was guilty of sharing Mr. Barrett's beliefs by association, a conclusion that was not sourced, not even reliably, the standard supposedly used by Wikipedia editors.

The message control activities by Correct the Record operatives positioned supporters of former First Lady Clinton against the government transparency Web site, WikiLeaks, which, in the final months of the presidential election cycle, published e-mails about Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta. According to allegations made by supporters of WikiLeaks, operatives for Correct the Record were allegedly responsible for making biased edits to the Wikipedia page for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. An open call was made by a Twitter account affiliated with WikiLeaks for assistance to restore balance to the Wikipedia entries about Mr. Assange, and that open call was noted in a Reddit post made by supporters of now President-elect Donald Trump, revealing how, at times, solidarity was formed amongst a wide spectrum of political forces against the message control work of Correct the Record. That Reddit post was up-voted 585 times. Blame was placed on "CTR."

The reason it has been believed that Correct the Record has been involved, to at least some extent, if not inspiring Wikipedia editors to adopt this strategy, in the making of politically-motivated edits to Wikipedia has been Correct the Record's self-espoused philosophy and the nature and types of edits that have been made to Wikipedia. The subject of the Wikipedia entries subjected to politically-motivated edits were either former First Lady Clinton's political rivals or the sources of criticism. In addition to the deliberate absence of reliably-sourced nuance and context from Wikipedia entries, some contributors making edits that add reliably-sourced nuance and context to entries have faced sanctions or bans by Wikipedia.

The disinformation campaigns waged by political partisans during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has inspired a national conversation over fake news Web sites. Yet, the supposition that information on Wikipedia may be being deliberately edited to result in biased entries has relatively escaped much debate. On the /pol/ community bulletin board of 4chan, a post noting the lopsided inclusion of Conservative Web sites in Wikipedia's entry for fake news Web sites failed to be shocking enough to inspire an eruption of outrage.

The backlash to the Correct the Record's aggressive online confrontations has been reportedly lost on Mr. Brock. After the general election loss, Mr. Brock has since sought to redirect and expand the political and media work of the various nonprofit groups, Super PAC's, and businesses that he controls, according to a report published by Mediaite. Mr. Brock envisioned transforming Shareblue, his online news Web site, into the Brietbart of the Left. He has restructured another Super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, into an anti-Donald Trump "war room." He has planned to pit another property, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, against the Conservative civic group, Judicial Watch. And Mr. Brock has planned to redirect the mission of Media Matters to counter fake news Web sites, according to the Mediaite report.

There's no confirmation, yet, as part of Mr. Brock's larger strategy, whether he considers Wikipedia an extension of his properties.

(*) UPDATE : This report was updated to provide the accurate source link for information that had been removed from the Wikipedia entry for the Clinton Foundation-State Department controversy.

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NOTE : For questioning the pro-Clinton bias of some Wikipedia entries and for reverting edits that were deleted by the core group of Wikipedia editors, who have appeared to gate-keep some entries on Wikipedia, the publisher of Progress Queens received a 31-hour block from making any edits and a perma-ban on editing entries about politics covering the time period of 1932 to the present. Core editors at Wikipedia later blocked the publisher of Progress Queens from editing entries for 48 hours after the publisher of Progress Queens reverted an edit that had been deleted from the Wikipedia entry for fake news Web sites that pertained to the journalism ethics of Shareblue, a news Web site owned by a company formed by Michael Brock.