Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown as the online phenomenon that apparently allows the truth to be managed democratically; however the CIA and powerful corporations and special interests have been caught paying PR firms or editing information themselves to further an agenda or create bias. The promise of accurate, neutral articles and privacy for contributors is just a mirage, according to insiders. They say they’ve been left battle-scarred after troubling personal encounters with the world’s most popular encyclopedia.
Recently, two trusted Wikipedia officials were exposed running businesses that covertly edited Wikipedia for PR clients. Interests for Sony, the CIA, the Vatican, Barack Obama and John McCain all reportedly have been caught secretly editing their own Wikipedia pages to their advantage.
So, welcome to WikiWorld, a realm where inconvenient truths can easily be removed, while erroneous information-convenient lies and disinformation-can be entered in the encyclopedia with emotionally upsetting and even worse consequences for the people involved. This is the modern Ministry of Truth which, together with the liars and no doubt some mentally unstable people, has been put in charge of rewriting history.
It labels itself as the “Free Encyclopedia”, but perhaps the world should be freed from this encyclopedia before the old proverb is converted thus: “There are lies, damned lies, statistics, and then there’s Wikipedia.“
The problem with Wikipedia is not that it exists, but that it has become the cornerstone for researchers scanning the Internet for information and blindly copying from Wikipedia entries, wrongfully assuming that they are neutral and correct.
It has become the “Ministry of Information”, the “one-stop information shop” of the Internet, but no one should fall for the “Newspeak” of a title. Wikipedia has made the task for those seeding disinformation and removing dissenting views easier, more direct and even more anonymous. Lies and Wikipedia, indeed…
Anyone can edit the site, but reverting people’s edits is easy, and so is blocking users or IP addresses. Not everyone can do that. Who decides who can and who can’t? Wikipedia editors are kept in line with what has been called “a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere”, one which gives special permissions to a very select group of editors – privileges that can be revoked if someone’s decisions are deemed ‘out of line’ with the Official Narrative. Wikipedia is not as radically unbiased and fair as it purports to be, and increasingly reflects the agendas of those with deep pockets who have invested in shaping it to suit their commercial purposes.
By destroying biographies of celebrities, scientists, inventors, whistleblowers, journalists, activists and dissidents of mainstream politics and social movements, this COINTELPRO style disinformation campaign degenerates society, stifling innovation and progress in every field.
Complaints that the Wiki-companies, and Wikimedia Foundation, has provided criminal cover for CIA/FBI counter-intelligence operators have been issued by dozens of organizations, journalists, and activists in recent months. The Wiki-editors have abused their public platform to control information, issue propaganda, discredit reputable authorities, degrade legitimate intelligence, suppress social movements, and generally confuse people.
On 15 December 2005, various media sources reported that the open-access encyclopedia Wikipedia was about as accurate as the online Encyclopedia Britannica (btw, that’s not good), at least for science-based articles. This was the result of a study by the journal Nature, which chose scientific articles from both encyclopedias across a wide range of topics and sent them for peer review.
The reviewers found just eight serious errors. Of those, four came from each site. They also found a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, there were 123 such problems with Britannica and 162 with Wikipedia.
That in itself is a staggering conclusion, which translates as averaging out to 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia, or three versus four mistakes. That, of course, is not “as accurate” as mainstream media reported-thus showing misleading statements in the headlines.
Disgruntled people at odds with Wikipedia are numerous. The “pseudophysicist” (to quote Wikipedia) Jack Sarfatti considers himself to be a victim of the service and even considered litigation at one point. He found that certain libelous information had been posted about him. Of course, he, like anyone else, can go in and alter that information, which is what he tried to do. He tried posting at various times of the day, but each time, within minutes, the changes were undone-suggesting that the Wikipedia moderators were constantly monitoring certain pages.
TedTalk on Wikipedia manipulation:
Wikipedia is not controlled by a grassroots organisation of volunteers. The number of individuals editing it has been in decline for years and nowadays it receives multi-million dollar donations from companies and grant giving foundations such as from the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network and Google, some of which have been linked to seats on the board of the Wikimedia foundation. The business of paid edits is harder to document, but many professional wikipedia editors choose to voluntary report conflicts of interest.
On 14 August 2007, Wired reported that CalTech computation and neural-systems graduate student Virgil Griffith had created the “Wikipedia Scanner”, which “offers users a searchable database that ties millions of anonymous Wikipedia edits to organizations where those edits apparently originated, by cross-referencing the edits with data on who owns the associated block of Internet IP addresses”.
“I came up with the idea when I heard about Congressmen getting caught for white-washing their Wikipedia pages,” he says. Griffith became very intrigued when, on 17 November 2005, an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted 15 paragraphs from an article on e-voting machine vendor Diebold, excising an entire section critical of the company’s machines. Griffith traced those changes to an IP address reserved for the corporate offices of Diebold itself.
Wired concluded that when the new data-mining service was launched, it traced millions of Wikipedia entries to their sources, and for the first time put “comprehensive data behind longstanding suspicions of manipulation, which until now have surfaced only piecemeal in investigations of specific allegations”. In short, Griffith proved Sarfatti and others’ conspiracy theory.
Griffith has compiled lists of different corporations and government branches that have abused the “trust” of Wikipedia essentially to edit the truth out of existence, replacing it with a PR-friendly faade favourable not to the facts or any sense of neutrality but only to the interests of the parties concerned. The WikiScanner page (see http://wikiscanner.virgil.gr) lists a few “favourites” which include the CIA, the Vatican and the Church of Scientology.
You might expect that the CIA would make the biggest use of this tool, to spread propaganda, but such thinking would be too primitive: a multibillion-dollar agency that has existed for 60 years has better and less traceable methodologies at its disposal. Still, rather interesting and somewhat humorous is that, on the profile of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a worker on the CIA network added the exclamation “Wahhhhhh!” before a section on the leader’s plans for his presidency.
A warning on the profile of the anonymous editor read: “You have recently vandalised a Wikipedia article, and you are now being asked to stop this type of behaviour.” It seems that one CIA worker also tweaked the profile of Oprah Winfrey-an edit which hopefully occurred during a lunch break.
More interestingly, WikiScanner uncovered that the Vatican edited entries about Sinn FŽin leader Gerry Adams. The edit removed links to newspaper stories written in 2006 that alleged that Mr Adams’s fingerprints and handprints had been found on a car used in 1971 in connection with a double murder. The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit father Federico Lombardi, clarified on Vatican Radio on 17 August 2007 that accusations saying that the Holy See manipulated the encyclopaedia intentionally “…lack all seriousness and logic. It is absurd even to think that such an initiative could have even been considered.” Forced to explain how it could have happened, he said that there are many computers in the Vatican and that anyone could have access to Wikipedia on any one of them.
Equally interesting is that a computer traced to American Airlines (AA) was used to make a significant change about 9/11. The original entry read: “Two American Airlines aircraft were hijacked and crashed during the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack: American Airlines Flight 77 (a Boeing 757) and American Airlines Flight 11 (a Boeing 767)”-to which an AA employee added (somewhat ungrammatically): “Although these flights were daily departures before and a month after September 11, 2001. Neither flight 11 nor 77 were scheduled on September 11, 2001. The records kept by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics ( http://www.bts.gov/gis/) do not list either flight that day.” (See http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/august2007/ 260807_b_airlines.htm.) What are we to make of this?
But WikiScanner especially revealed that most abuse originates from corporate clients-and politicians. According to the UK Independent of 18 August 2007, Wal-Mart cleaned some statements about its employment procedures, and again, in October 2005, a person using a Diebold computer removed paragraphs about Walden O’Dell, chief executive of the company, which revealed that he had been “a top fund-raiser” for George W. Bush. Such cleaning should be seen as rewriting history. Even if the edits are not correct, Wikipedia’s policy should be to insert “it is alleged” or statements to that effect.
The Independent, along with many media sources, mentioned other abuses. Griffith’s tool also discovered that a computer owned by the US Democratic Party was used to make changes to the site of right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. The changes brand Mr Limbaugh as “idiotic”, a “racist” and a “bigot”. An entry about his audience read: “Most of them are legally retarded.”
An IP address that belongs to the oil giant ExxonMobil was linked to sweeping changes to an entry on the disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. An allegation that the company “has not yet paid the US$5 billion in spill damages it owes to the 32,000 Alaskan fishermen” was replaced with references to the funds that the company has paid out. The Republican Party edited Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party entry so it made it clear that the US-led invasion was not a “US-led occupation” but a “US-led liberation”-the clearest example of Ministry of Truth’s approved Newspeak if ever there was one.
Also uncovered by WikiScanner was that a computer registered to the Dow Chemical Company deleted a section on the 1984 Bhopal chemical disaster (which ultimately killed up to 22,000 people) which occurred at a plant operated by Union Carbide, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow.
It was also reported that Barbara Alton, assistant to Episcopal bishop Charles Bennison, deleted information on a cover-up of child sexual abuse, allegations that the bishop misappropriated US$11.6 million in trust funds, and evidence of other scandals. When challenged, Alton claimed that she had been ordered to delete the information by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori.
WikiScanner also uncovered that staff in Australia’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) had edited entries on topics such as the “children overboard” affair, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 August. PM John Howard stated that he had not asked any of his staff to edit those entries. WikiScanner revealed, too, that Department of Defence staff had made more than 5,000 changes to the encyclopedia, but the Herald reported that they were now blocked from editing entries (note that a general IP number can be used by several departments).
Commenting on ABC News, the chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia, Dale Clapperton, said: “You also have to ask yourself whether it’s a responsible and reasonable use of taxpayer dollars to have public servants trying to sanitize entries on Wikipedia using taxpayer-paid resources to make their point of view more acceptable to the current government.”
In a follow-up Herald report of 30 August, the PMC secretary claimed that the IP number did not belong to the department but instead to Macquarie Telecom-a claim that experts and the Herald dispute as highly unlikely, stating they have more evidence than merely an IP address to identify the government department as the source.
On 8 April 2013, Virgil Griffith took wikiscanner.gr down, as it was costing him “several thousand USD per month. On December 21, 2012, a research group from Fondazione Bruno Kessler released an open-source clone of WikiScanner called WikiWatchdog.
Just before WikiScanner grabbed the headlines in mid-August 2007, there was one Wikipedia incident which received far less attention than it deserved: it revealed that the intelligence agencies had been using Wikipedia for disinformation purposes, thus proving Sarfatti’s Orwellian allegation.
Daniel Brandt posted a summary on The Wikipedia Review website on 1 August. The incident involved Pierre Salinger. He was a White House press secretary to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, served as a US senator from California in 1964 and was campaign manager for Robert Kennedy. Salinger was also a famous investigative journalist who broke many important news stories.
When he was based in London, he investigated the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people. He and his collaborator, John K. Cooley, hired Linda Mack, a young graduate, to help in their research, which resulted in Salinger testifying at the Camp Zeist trial in November 2000:
“I know that these two Libyans had nothing to do with it. I know who did it and I know exactly why it was done,” he said. Thinking the judge would allow him to present this evidence, Salinger queried: “That’s all? You’re not letting me tell the truth. Wait a minute; I know exactly who did it. I know how it was done,” Salinger replied to the trial judge, Lord Sutherland, who simply asked him to leave the witness box. “If you wish to make a point you may do so elsewhere, but I’m afraid you may not do so in this court,” Lord Sutherland interrupted.
So what does this have to do with Wikipedia? “SlimVirgin” had been voted the most abusive administrator of Wikipedia. She had upset so many editors that some of them decided to team up to research her real-life identity. Attempts to track her through Internet technology failed. This was suspicious in itself, as WikiScanner has revealed. According to a team member, SlimVirgin “knows her way around the Internet and covered her tracks with care”. The question, therefore, was: why?
Daniel Brandt patiently assembled tiny clues about SlimVirgin and posted them on his website. Eventually, two readers identified her as none other than Linda Mack, the young graduate whom Salinger had hired. To see her name appear in such a context was of course of great interest. But that was not all.
Cooley, Salinger’s collaborator in the Lockerbie investigation, sent a letter to Brandt which was posted on The Wikipedia Review on 4 October 2006. He wrote how Mack “…claimed to have lost a friend/lover on Pan103 and so was anxious to clear up the mystery. ABC News paid for her travel and expenses as well as a salary… Once the two Libyan suspects were indicted, she seemed to try to point the investigation in the direction of [Libyan President Colonel Muammar al-] Qaddafi, although there was plenty of evidence, both before and after the trials of Megrahi and Fhimah in the Netherlands, that others were involved, probably with Iran the commissioning power… Salinger came to believe that Linda was working for MI5 and had been from the beginning; assigned genuinely to investigate the bombing of Pan Am 103, but also to infiltrate and monitor us…”
Soon after John Cooley contacted Brandt, Linda Mack contacted Cooley and asked him not to help Brandt in his efforts to expose her. Though all doubts about SlimVirgin’s true identity then vanished, as for her motives…
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