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  • Writer's picturePeter DiSilvio

The Weaponization of Wikipedia

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

Just over a decade ago some associates and I took over the social media of an aspiring politician. We outlined an aggressive new media strategy that the candidate felt would help him win come November. One of the strategies we employed was systematic and methodical changes to key Wikipedia entries in order to influence voters. Since that time I have seen dozens of campaigns and individuals try to weaponize Wikipedia in their own way and to their own ends.

Why Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is the 5th most visited website in the world with 6.1 billion monthly users [1]. Not only is the site one of the most visited on the net, it is also highly referenced and integrated into Google, the number 1 most visited website in the world which boasts an astounding 60.49 billion monthly users [2]. "When it comes to the content that Wikipedia contains, one of the many reasons that it does so well is because it has other websites constantly referring traffic back to the encyclopedia. This tells Google that it has value and leads them to ranking Wikipedia higher in its SERPs or search engine results page [3].


Wikipedia Vandalism

Wikipedia is an open source website meaning it allows users to change entries with very few restrictions. This strength, this ability to update and change quickly and cheaply, has also been used against the platform and its users. Pranksters, trolls, and vandals often change Wikipedia entries with impunity. Sometimes the changes can go days or weeks before being caught and reverted.


These kinds of edits may be tempting to make but they hardly ever last. The only thing you really accomplish with this kind of action is alerting Wikipedia's army of volunteer editors that they need to keep an eye on a certain page or pages.


While we did not engage in vandalism a decade ago, choosing another strategy discussed below, we did find ourselves in an editing war with our opposition. Eventually the editors overseeing the pages we were trying to change locked them. Luckily for us, many of our edits made it onto the frozen pages and lasted up to and beyond election day.


Sources

Wikipedia relies on its users to provide sources for the information they publish on the platform. Less than savory individuals will simply cite to a page that may not correspond to the information they are adding or simply omit adding a citation at all. If you want your edits to last you will need to find sources that to one extent or another back up what you are saying.


The best way to find a reliable source is to make it yourself or have it made by supporters. A friendly site that will report or blog your version of events will be a great resource when you are trying to get the truth about something published online.


Wikipedia Whoopsies

The last thing any political figure wants to do is create a controversy with themselves at the center of it. However, more than one public figure has done exactly that by editing Wikipedia entries. Take, for example, the story of Matteo Godi, a former clerk for Judge Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Jackson is widely expected to be named to the Supreme Court later this year. Godi, presumably to help Jacksons chances, created a firestorm for himself and his former boss by editing rival Judges Wikipedia entries in order to damage their reputations [4].


A similar incident occurred when members of Parliament began erasing controversial sections of their own Wikipedia entries [5].


A Final Warning

Wikipedia is one of the most powerful tools on the internet. It is used by laymen and professionals, including reporters, to get information. Ignoring the site and its impact is political malfeasance. However, haphazardly editing pages can cause more damage that it repairs.


The best strategy for anyone in the public eye is to keep close tabs of their own Wikipedia entries and that of their interests. Even if you have no interest in editing the information presented, that does not mean your opponents or competitors don't.


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