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Summary of Wikipedia’s Activities in Violation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

Summary of Wikipedia’s Activities in Violation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

 

February 13, 2020

 

 

Background

 

Wikipedia is promoted as an “encyclopedia” and in an attempt to authenticate itself as such it compares itself to other general and specialized encyclopedias, almanacs and gazetteers. Wikipedia states that it is not to be a resource for unverifiable material; it is not to provide partisan preferences, promote political policies, nor offer medical advice or guidance. It claims to oppose censorship of any kind. Nor does it permit the publication or referencing of personal opinions, blogs advocating ideological agendas and subjective biases.

 

Since Wikipedia is a non-profit entity and its stated mission to make all of human knowledge available to everyone, its function is clearly different than internet social media. However, given its popularity and global usage, it in fact has served as a social media resource for third parties to advance their personal views, opinions, and agendas.   Despite its stated rules, Wikipedia operates in direct violation of its principles. Its content relies upon self-selected and volunteer editors who often represent special interests, marginal ideologies, and political and nationalist philosophies to write and compile articles on crucial and relevant subjects related to health, medicine and politics. There is no mechanism in place that assures objectivity and to screen bias.

                                                                                     

Since Wikipedia relies upon third parties, who act as unpaid volunteers, little preference is given for scholars in the fields in which they write unless they happen to reach the higher levels of editorial administration. Wikipedia admits that while traditional encyclopedias are written by experts, it follows a different paradigm. Theoretically, Wikipedia is supposed to compensate for its inherent weaknesses by requiring references to reputable secondary sources and depends upon discourse to reach consensus among editors. Nevertheless, favored editors and administrators can delete any text they personally disapprove and can prevent, and block changes or deletions made by others. Consequently, Wikipedia freely accommodates subjective views, personal opinions, ideological groups and special interests of those who have seized control of the encyclopedia’s entries. In this respect, it functions similar to social media providers such as Facebook and Twitter.

 

Volunteer editors are not required to properly identify themselves. There is no obligation for editors to make their names, their educational level and professional background public. Many editors and even senior administrators therefore remain anonymous, especially for oversight and decision making about controversial subjects that address matters of political governance, geopolitics, corporate interests and various fields in the medical profession.

 

Unfortunately, due to the WikiMedia Foundation’s (the parent organization) non-profit status and its protection under the 1996 Communications Decency Act, and its subsequent amendment Section 230, the organization has been able to remain excused from writers’ and editors’ content that can legally be ruled as libel and defamatory.  In many instances such intentional lies have had an adverse impact on the reputations and careers of many living persons.

 

In the past it may have been easier to ignore the influence social media and entities such as Wikipedia have upon the population. Today, possessing the power to both shape and influence public opinion as well as the power to censor dissenting voices or views contrary to these internet entities’ subjective criteria is dangerous and is already threatening our democracy.

 

However, the public perception of the Internet has been reaching a potential tipping point. Most users have stopped trusting or at least have begun to question the truthfulness or authenticity of any “factual” information found online. Most of the popular news coverage has been in relation to Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. A Pew Research Center report released early last year shows as many as 40 percent of American users have taken a break from checking Facebook for several weeks, and a full 44 percent of US users ages 18 to 29 have actually deleted their Facebook app from their phones. The CEOs of Google and Twitter, too, have been hauled into Congressional hearings to answer for their misdeeds – from the anti-trust abuses that crop up in every monopoly to more insidious censorship of narratives not aligned with the heads of these companies’ views. It is the latter of these that should concern Wikipedia. Our interviews with former Wikipedia editors and administrators have confirmed our research findings: that the veneer of objectivity Wikipedia has cultivated is more illusion than fact. Editors who truly want to create a fact-based encyclopedia are finding the Wikipedia environment becoming increasingly hostile. In the meantime, the WikiMedia Foundation claims immunity from the many acts of libel, character assassination and political activity committed on the encyclopedia. 

 

 

Wikipedia’s Culture of Information Bias

 

Our two year investigation and subsequent reports into the WikiMedia Foundation’s operations and editorial structure have revealed evidence that a culture of secrecy and personal agendas exists as a controlling force behind Wikipedia.

 

Wikipedia’s senior administrators operate in secrecy. During the course of our own efforts to alarm the Foundation’s legal department and Board of Trustees of improprieties and libelous content, we have discovered to our dismay that on matters of medicine and health, senior volunteer administrators take orders directly from the Foundation.

 

Criticisms of Wikipedia have included references to “cabals” that control certain content. This is not an imaginary assumption. Back in September 2001, Wikimedia Foundation’s co-founder and Board member Jimmy Wales joked about forming a “cabal” to enforce policy when the site was first launched. His idea became the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom), which some have likened to Wikipedia’s “supreme court.” Skilled in navigating the dense thicket of rules that has grown up around Wikipedia, ArbCom and the hundreds of administrators who form another bureaucratic layer are able to control the content that remains on the encyclopedia and what (or who) is deleted. If these powers were wielded fairly, their influence would be welcome – but the rules are instead used as a cudgel to enforce ideological conformity, notably a radicalized liberal libertarian agenda that disrespects Wikipedia’s neutrality rules that prohibit attacks on conservative policies and legislators who embrace a conservative platform. In the field of medicine the organization is deeply aligned with industry’s astro-turf groups and permits every effort to discredit the safety and efficacy of Complementary and Alternative Medical practices thereby labeling them as pseudoscience and/or quackery.

 

Solving such a conflict in a reasonable manner is hard in any large community and Wikipedia’s policies take extra care to make it even harder, so external factors, such as cabal power, will inevitably be invoked by some participant. This is common among senior Skeptic editors and administrators who often mention Skepticism as an exemplar for evaluating health subjects. Solving these conflicts through reason is an unworkable strategy as any participant can play dirty and derive an advantage. Likewise, seemingly independent editors who are actually cabal members can take turns supporting a position as well as each other to make it appear as if there is a broad consensus. When the conflict ends with one side winning and one side losing the winning side will be socially rewarded and over time will gather more members. The cabals that consistently lose tend to break apart.

 

Increasingly Wikipedia’s reliability is being questioned by prestigious institutions and credible journalists, including the MIT Technology Review and the recently launched Wikipedia Project at Yale University. Writing for the Huffington Post, journalist Sam Slovick asked, “Has Jimmy Wales’ marauding encyclopedic beast finally corrupted the Internet? Has Wikipedia lost all credibility, its purported neutral system compromised by toxic editors?” The most toxic Wikipedia editors now terrorizing and sabotaging the encyclopedia’s pages more often than not are anonymous non-experts and computer hacks who identify themselves with an extreme form of scientific materialism known as Skepticism. These editors now dominate large numbers of Wikipedia entries dealing with non-conventional medicine, parapsychology and doctors and researchers who advocate these disciplines.

 

 

Wikipedia’s Original Purpose

 

The core purpose of Wikipedia is to act as an educational service via their founding principles, or Five Pillars:

 

1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia: it is meant to be academic and reliable. It is specifically not intended to be used as a soapbox to promote or denigrate individuals or ideas.

 

2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view: everything on Wikipedia is supposed to be impartial, independently verifiable, and avoid controversy.

 

3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute: Wikipedia’s articles are all free to edit by anyone, as long as they abide by the licensing agreements and Wikipedia’s policies.

 

4. Wikipedia’s editors should treat each other with respect and civility: acting in good faith and assuming good faith are core to Wikipedia, personal grudges and hostility are not welcome.

 

5. Wikipedia has no firm rules: there are policies and guidelines, but they, like all other articles, can evolve over time.

 

 

One of the essential policies and guidelines of Wikipedia relates to content associated with the biography of a living person (BLP). The policy states that editors must take extreme care with this information, but it is highly sensitive, and they must strictly adhere to all applicable laws in the United States and Wikipedia’s policies on neutral point of view (NPOV), verifiability, and no original research (personal opinion). The policy declares that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a tabloid, and must avoid biased or contentious claims about the subject. Some of the guidelines for BLP are stated on Wikipedia as follows:

 

1. Tone: BLPs should be written responsibly, cautiously, and in a dispassionate tone, avoiding both understatement and overstatement. Articles should document in a nonpartisan manner what reliable secondary sources have published about the subjects, and in some circumstances what the subjects have published about themselves… Do not use controversial or effusive descriptions unless commonly used by reliable sources.

 

2. Balance: Criticism and praise should be included if they can be sourced to reliable secondary sources, so long as the material is presented responsibly, conservatively, and in a disinterested tone. Do not give disproportionate space to particular viewpoints; the views of small minorities should not be included at all. Care must be taken with article structure to ensure the overall presentation and section headings are broadly neutral. Beware of claims that rely on guilt by association, and biased, malicious or overly promotional content.

 

3. Attack Pages: Pages that are unsourced and negative in tone, especially when they appear to have been created primarily to disparage the subject, should be deleted at once if there is no policy-compliant version to revert to.

 

4. Avoid Self Published Sources: Never use self-published sources—including but not limited to books, zines, websites, blogs, and tweets—as sources of material about a living person, unless written or published by the subject of the article. “Self-published blogs” in this context refers to personal and group blogs.

 

Wikipedia’s Violation of Biographies of Living Persons

 

Online users rely on Wikipedia to gain knowledge about a person and form impressions about a person based on what they read. It is because of this, presumably, that Wikipedia has adopted unequivocal rules directing that biographies of living persons be written with a neutral point of view, not give disproportionate space to particular viewpoints and not contain material that is unsourced or poorly sourced.The biographies of many livingpersons, including Dr. Gary Null and international figures in medicine and science, with impeccable educational and professional backgrounds such as Drs. Deepak Chopra, Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin, do not even attempt to meet these standards. Instead, their biographies amount to a diatribe against these individuals and rely on personal blogs such as industry-supported Quackwatch, which have in turn been called into serious question both by other writers and by courts of law. Multiple efforts by each of these individuals, among others, to have false accusations corrected and/or have their biographies deleted have consistently failed. (See attached analysis of the Wikipedia biographies for Drs. Deepak Chopra and Gary Null).

 

Wikipedia’s rules regarding biographies of living persons begin as follows:

 

Editors must take particular care when adding information about living persons to any Wikipedia page. Such material requires a high degree of sensitivity, and must adhere strictly to all applicable laws in the United States, to this policy, and to Wikipedia’s three core content policies:

 

Neutral Point of View (NPOV)

–   Verifiability (V)

No Original Research (NOR)

 

We must get the article right. Be very firm about the use of high-quality sources.All quotations andany material challenged or likely to be challenged must be supported by an inline citation to a reliable, published source.

Contentious material about living persons… that is unsourced or poorly sourced-whether the material is negative, positive, neutral, or just questionable-should be removed immediately and without waiting for discussion.

 

On the subject of “Attack Pages”, the policy states:

 

Pages that are unsourced and negative in tone, especially when they appear to have been created primarily to disparage the subject, should be deleted at once if there is no policy-compliant version to revert to. . . Creation of such pages, especially when repeated or in bad faith is grounds for immediate blocking.

 

On the subject of “Self-Published Sources” the policy states:

 

Avoid Self-Published Sources

 

Never use self-published sources-including but not limited to books, zines, websites, blogs and tweets-as sources of material about a livingperson, unless written or published by the subject of the article. “Self-published blogs” in this context refers to personal and group blogs.

 

As provided under Remove Contentious Material That is Unsourced or Poorly Sourced

 

Remove immediately any contentious material about a living person that:

 

  • Is unsourced or poorly sourced;

 

  • Is a conjectural interpretation of a source (see No Original Research)

 

  • Relies on self-published sources, unless written by the subject of the BLP.

 

  • Relies on sources that fail in some other way to meet Verifiability standards.

 

Finally, as provided under Dealing with Edits by the Subject of the Article

 

Subjects sometimes become involved in editing materials about themselves, either directly or through a representative. The Arbitration Committee has ruled in favor of showing leniency to BLP subjects who try to fix what they see as errors or unfair material. Editors should make every effort to act with kindness towards the subjects of biographical material when the subjects arrive to express concern. Although Wikipedia discourages people from writing about themselves, removal of an unsourced or poorly sourced material is acceptable.

 

 

Wikipedia Universal Condemnation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

 As an open-source site with tens of thousands of contributors, Wikipedia should not have a ‘point of view,’ and indeed it officially does not. Articles are supposed to be written from a Neutral Point of View (NPOV) and there are further policies in place to protect living people from slander. Once strongly enforced, these are now ignored, as malicious actors have developed an alternate channel of rules to circumvent them.

Entire sections of Wikipedia – alternative medicine, nutrition, religion, political movements and activism – have become reputational prisons, where indelible scarlet letters are branded on the persons associated with them. All forms of alternative, complementary and holistic medicine, including such widely accepted modalities such as acupuncture and chiropractic are shackled with the “pseudoscience” tag, allowing administrators to punish anyone making unsanctioned changes to these pages with a block or a ban; politically-sensitive pages are also booby-trapped with administrative sanctions, chilling any attempts to correct false information. Classifying a person or topic as “FRINGE” and “Pseudoscience” invokes a set of policies largely exempting editors from the rules surrounding the “Neutral Point of View” rule, and ideologically-motivated editors have wasted no time in corralling their victims into this internet ghetto. Our research indicates that the primary reason for this is that Mr. Jimmy Wales has publicly stated that practitioners of respected medical and health practices, such as chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy, are “lunatic charlatans.

As long as Wikipedia’s editors follow the all but official position condemning all forms of alternative, complementary practices they are free to anonymously post such information.  Our investigations have revealed that few, if any, of these editors are knowledgeable or qualified to write on such topics.  Sources of information condemning medical and health modalities that have improved the health and quality of life for many millions of people include a portrait photographer, a disgraced, unlicensed psychiatrist who admits to having no knowledge of these practices and others with known personal biases.  And that is just the ones who are known.  Most hide in anonymity.  A true encyclopedia will never engage in this activity.  The contributors to a legitimate encyclopedia are not anonymous.  Their identities and academic/professional credentials are inserted for all to read.

 

 

Wikipedia’s Violation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

 

On March 26, 2019, we alerted the IRS and provided information that Wikipedia may likely be in violation of its tax-exempt status.  In particular it was noted:

 

  • Wikipedia (and its parent company the Wikimedia Foundation) has repeatedly violated IRS regulations governing nonprofit corporations, supporting certain political candidates while denigrating others.
  • Wikipedia has selectively permitted pay-to-play editing and institutional conflicts of interest, particularly where generous donors are concerned
  • Wikipedia has applied its rules unevenly to favor some political and corporate establishment entities while libeling those it dislikes, in violation of its own policies
  • Wikipedia has selectively censored user-generated content, to allow only that favored by those in power, in violation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the mission it declared in order to obtain tax-exempt status in the first place.
  • Wikipedia has indiscriminately denigrated all forms of alternative and complementary health practices (such as chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathic, etc.) as well as all those who practice or advocate such treatments, no matter how many peer-reviewed studies have proven these modalities to be safe and effective.

 

This is in violation of Wikipedia’s written rules for maintaining a neutral point of view and utilizing only reliable sources. By engaging in biased and prejudicial editing practices Wikipedia is no longer acting in accord with its stated exempt purpose and likely has not been for many years.

 

In support of its claim to entitlement to its tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) Wikipedia states in its official documents “The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain and to disseminate it effectively and globally in collaboration with a network of chapters and affiliated entities.” While this applies to content that has no direct impact upon the public, for large areas of knowledge that matter vitally, such as politics, health, medicine and biographies of influential living persons, Wikipedia is controlled by editorial and administrative blocks that have turned the platform into a propaganda tool to be manipulated by those who will only accept information that supports policies or content that favors many of its corporate donors and dismisses contrary information, no matter how well supported, as unworthy of publishing. Those that advocate on behalf of positions not favored by these cabals are maliciously condemned, slandered and lied about. The fact these abuses have been going on for years and include its co-founder, high level administrators and favored editors prove that these are not small-scale violations that will self-correct, but systemic problems that undermine Wikipedia’s very function as an impartial educational service.

 

 

Wikipedia’s Violation of Non-Exempt Status

 

The Wikimedia Foundation, a California not-for-profit corporation, doing business as Wikipedia (“Wikipedia”), is in violation of its tax-exempt status. In particular:

  • Wikipedia (and its parent company the Wikimedia Foundation) has repeatedly violated IRS regulations governing nonprofit corporations, supporting certain political candidates while denigrating others.
  • Wikipedia has selectively permitted pay-to-play editing and institutional conflicts of interest, particularly where generous donors are concerned
  • Wikipedia has applied its rules unevenly to favor political and corporate establishment entities while libeling those it dislikes, in violation of its own policies
  • Wikipedia has censored user-generated content, violating section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
  • Wikipedia has indiscriminately denigrated all forms of alternative and complementary health practices (such as chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathic, etc.) as well as all those who practice or advocate such treatments, no matter how many studies have proven these modalities to be safe and effective. All of this is in violation of its written rules regarding maintaining a neutral point of view and utilizing only reliable sources.

It is our recommendation that Congress, the IRS, and other authorities investigate the Wikimedia Foundation and its co-founder and Trustee Jimmy Wales for these violations.  A case can be made that the Wikimedia Foundation has violated its charter as a non-profit and stripped itself of the immunity conferred by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

 

 

 

 

Deceptive or Improper Fundraising Practices

Wikipedia regularly features a banner across the top of its screen telling readers it depends on small donations like theirs to sustain the site. In reality, Wikipedia is funded to the tune of tens of millions of dollars above and beyond what it needs to run the site and pay salaries by large philanthropic foundations and corporations.

“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.”

Former Novell computer scientist Jeff Merkey claimed Jimmy 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.  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.  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?  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?  What does Wikipedia have to offer these men?