The Wikipedia File – Wrong information and propaganda in the Online Encyclopedia

Many people were shocked to learn the news that the publishers of renowned encyclopedia have decided to stop their print edition, such as the Encyclopædia Britannica, the publishing of which came to an end in 2012, after 244 years, or the German Brockhaus this year, after it had been issued since the mid 19th century. The reason for that is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia which has been become so widely used in the last ten years that the printed reference books were not sufficiently in demand. They were no longer profitable.

In his book “Die Akte Wikipedia. Falsche Informationen und Propaganda in der Online-Enzyklopädie” (The Wikipedia File. Incorrect Information and Propaganda in the Online Encyclopedia), published by Kopp-Verlag in July, Michael Brückner analyses what Wikipedia is and how it works.

The author states that Wikipedia’s worldwide influence is enormous and still on the rise. Evermore people consult Wikipedia entries on the internet instead of lexical entries. The Wikipedia entry mostly ranks first in an internet search. – Thus one can see how arbitrary rankings in search engines like Google are – not only in private but also in public areas such as schools or science, Wikipedia sources are increasingly used and accepted.

In the media sector, the economic pressure forces journalists more and more frequently to replace time-consuming own research by information from Wikipedia. Thus Wikipedia information is spread unquestioned.

In his publication, Brückner traces the paths of such Wikipedia entries. He assumes the many writers have basically good intentions: Anyone can write an entry, anyone can also improve or delete entries. However, here a Wikipedia hierarchy comes in. It is not established by research-based accuracy but by a special hierarchy in the Wikipedia system itself. This hierarchy is partly determined by the duration of the engagement at Wikipedia. So there are often conflicts over entries.

In the political field the worldview of the “administrators” plays a crucial role. With the example of a Wikipedia entry for Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung, Brückner demonstrates that Wikipedia works politically one-sidedly and also acts intolerantly. The Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung was placed in a right-wing corner, straightaway – despite their clear objection. The authors of the Wikipedia entry deliberately based their misjudgment on left-wing publications, which probably reflected their own attitude. It was not possible to correct that entry. The author lists further examples in order to demonstrate how entries are manipulated. No one is consulted about an entry, even if he is affected by it, he will not even know about it (cf. box about Current Concerns below).

The publication of the book by Michael Brückner gained new importance due to the propaganda battle related to Ukraine. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung confirmed on 22 July that alone between 2002 and 2010, the United States Congress initiated 9’000 changes in Wikipedia entries. Similar governmental proceedings are reported from Israel, Russia, Ireland, Canada, Australia and Norway – not to mention large international corporations. This is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Trying to gather knowledge on the Internet and making it universally accessible to the public does actually make sense. The problem that Wikipedia entries do not meet scientific standards could be solved. Precisely because the influence of Wikipedia has grown to such an extent, this probem has become a more urgent one. Wikipedia is not subject to scientific or democratic control. There is urgent need for action.

At least, anyone accessing this service should be aware of its risks and know that Wikipedia entries often have propaganda function.

With his publication, Brückner takes up a serious problem of our fast-paced internet time, the scope of which we are not yet fully aware of. The claim to be informed truthfully as precisely as possible, which an encyclopedia is based upon, is lost with Wikipedia. However, reputable encyclopedias provide an important foundation for societal discourse. If they become outdated and if they are replaced by Wikipedia, an objective debate on many issues becomes extremely difficult.     •

Michael Brückner. Die Akte Wikipedia. Falsche Informationen und Propaganda in der Online-Enzyklopädie. Kopp Verlag Rottenburg. July 2014. ISBN 978-3-86445-123-2

Source: Zeit-Fragen (Current Concerns)


A concrete example: Zeit-Fragen, the VPM and Wikipedia

Zeit-Fragen (Current Concerns) is a Swiss periodical, based in Zurich. It describes itself as “The international journal for independent thought, ethical standards, moral responsibility, and for the promotion and respect of public international law, human rights and humanitarian law.” The Wikipedia entry is somewhat different! – TS

There is no useful entry on the keyword Zeit-Fragen (Current Concerns) on Wikipedia. Instead of obtaining information, the user is lead to a link about the VPM (Verein zur Förderung der Psychologischen Menschenkenntnis/Association for the Advancement of Psychological Understanding of Human Nature). Thus the reader does not learn anything about Zeit-Fragen itself: neither that Zeit-Fragen was constituted as a cooperative nor that the magazine has been being published since 1993. There is neither information about the editorial work for the purposes of international humanitarian law nor about the broad political spectrum covered by Zeit-Fragen.

In the Wikipedia entry on the VPM the user is palmed off with a series of half-truths and omissions of important facts. Therefore it is completely non-serious. A realistic picture of the association cannot be obtained which is probably not intended, anyway. About Zeit-Fragen as such the Wikipedia user does not learn anything.

Assuming that an Internet user aims at finding objective information, he gets instead fully laden with prejudice by means of so-called “information” by Wikipedia. Thereby a factual approach is deliberately made difficult. This is an example of Wikipedia’s political dubiousness.

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Filed under Media, Journalism & Disinformation

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