How Wikipedia became Wokepedia

The world’s most popular encyclopaedia has become a fundraising tool for social-justice propaganda.

Andrew Orlowski

Topics Free Speech Identity Politics USA

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Last week, an old video of Katherine Maher, the new CEO of NPR, resurfaced online. It was filmed just after she stepped down as CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), which raises funds for Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia.

In this TED Talk from 2021, Maher complained that there are too many men involved in creating and maintaining Wikipedia’s articles. Apparently, too much of its content is in English, too. Even more strikingly, she explained how ‘our reverence for the truth might be a distraction that’s getting in the way of finding common ground and getting things done’. ‘I’m certain that the truth exists for you and probably for the person sitting next to you’, Maher told the audience, ‘But this may not be the same truth’.

Maher’s admission that she doesn’t much care for the truth disturbed Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, who said last week that he was shocked by the implications of the TED Talk. For years, Sanger has highlighted what he perceives to be an ideological bias at the ‘encyclopaedia anyone can edit’. Wikipedia has become Wokepedia, he claims.

Speaking to Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist who unearthed the clips of Maher’s TED Talk, Sanger said he was also concerned by her connections to the so-called deep state. Her career has included roles at the US State Department, the Atlantic Council, the Council for Foreign Relations, the World Bank and even the conspiracy theorists’ favourite networking club, the World Economic Forum.

Rufo and Sanger have good reason to be concerned about Wikipedia’s relationship to the deep state. Especially given the increasing role that states are taking in monitoring and restricting online content. Editor-in-chief of online magazine Unherd Freddie Sayers told parliament last week how his publication has been ‘demonetised’ on the whim of an operation called the Global Disinformation Index (GDI). Publishing gender-critical writers apparently caused the Unherd site to be flagged as promoting ‘disinformation’ and therefore deemed unsuitable to host advertising. The GDI counts both the US State Department and the UK’s Foreign Office among its funders. GDI co-founder Daniel Rogers even boasts on the organisation’s website that he worked ‘in the US intelligence community’.

The use of organisations like GDI is a well-established intelligence practice. They create a chain of plausible deniability. NGOs, or pseudo-NGOs, like GDI often perform an adjudication function. State sponsors can argue that the decision, say, to declare Kathleen Stock’s gender-critical essays for Unherd ‘misinformation’ was taken by GDI, not the state itself. This allows governments to maintain a veneer of being pro-free speech, while still cracking down on ideas they deem harmful. These grey and nebulous relationships – and the burgeoning role played by the state and NGOs in information management – go largely unreported in the mainstream media today.

In some ways, this is nothing new. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud and the godfather of ‘public relations’, boasted of his work for governments in influencing public opinion by stealth since the 1920s. Indeed, why would governments give up on censorship and propaganda, especially in the ‘information age’?

Where does Maher fit into all this? All we know is that during her two-year stint as WMF CEO, she proved to be a thoroughly modern NGO girlboss, seeking to crack down on the alleged ‘white male Westernised’ bias of Wikipedia. She closely conforms to the profile of many high-status globetrotters who flit effortlessly between top jobs in the public and private sectors, and at NGOs, without anyone being quite sure why. According to family folklore, her father was a spook, but we have no evidence to suggest that she is.

Maher made woke activism an organisational goal of the WMF. Seeing as net assets grew by $16million to $255million at the end of 2023, it can certainly afford to fund a lot of political activity. Vast fundraising efforts targeted at Wikipedia users have generated a huge surplus, allowing the creation of an endowment. This is administered by the Tides Foundation, another major funder of social-justice causes. We’re talking about serious money here. WMF’s endowment is projected to hold $130.4million in cash assets this year.

The Tides Foundation has also hatched a ‘Knowledge Equity Fund’, which has subsequently been transferred to the WMF itself. Recipients of this fund include ‘Data for Black Lives’, an organisation that was given $100,000 to ‘match racial-justice leaders with machine-learning research engineers to develop data-based machine-learning applications to drive change in the areas of climate, genetics and economic justice’.

The WMF raises far more than it needs to. Donors may think that their money is helping to keep the lights on and the servers running at Wikipedia. But in reality, much of these funds is being spent on creating a vast bureaucratic NGO-flavoured apparatus, which now has the time and resources to donate to its favourite woke causes (as well as to pay its execs handsomely – back in 2021, Maher earned $600,000 in severance pay alone).

None of this is to say that Wikipedia is controlled by the deep state. Paranoid fears that the online encyclopaedia has become another government propaganda outlet are surely overblown. After all, even if the WMF could be shown to be too close to government, it doesn’t actually employ the people who are responsible for writing Wikipedia articles. It doesn’t even pay them. In fact, their relationship has been frequently antagonistic. As one Wikipedia insider told me two years ago:

‘The sense of entitlement that comes from people [at the WMF], who know they can raise money easily from Wikipedia is astonishing. They don’t even feel they have to justify themselves. They’re woke people. They’re morally superior. But they don’t even write the content or check the content.’

Although Wikipedia may have gone woke, it is probably not in the pocket of intelligence agencies. Still, it would be naive to imagine that the bosses at the Wikimedia Foundation aren’t at least trying to use Wikipedia as a tool to propagate their social-justice agenda. It is certainly not the bastion of collaboration and knowledge that it was designed to be. Indeed, by the former CEO’s own admission, ‘the truth’ is an obstacle to getting things done there.

Andrew Orlowski is a weekly columnist at the Telegraph. Visit his website here. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewOrlowski.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Identity Politics USA


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