Updated: March 2023
Published: March 2020
Is Wikipedia an open encyclopedia or a covert propaganda operation?
As the seventh most visited website in the world and the best known online encyclopedia, Wikipedia exerts great influence on the knowledge and worldview of many people.
While Wikipedia is generally thought of as an open, transparent, and mostly reliable community project, upon closer inspection, this turns out not to be the case.
Furthermore, studies have shown that 80% of all Wikipedia content is written by just 1% of all Wikipedia editors, which again amounts to just a few hundred mostly unknown people.
Obviously, such a non-transparent and hierarchical structure is susceptible to corruption and manipulation, the notorious “paid editors” hired by corporations being just one example.
For instance, in 2015 a German Wikipedia administrator was exposed as a project manager at pharmaceutical company Merck who was whitewashing Wikipedia articles on Merck’s history and products. Yet despite the exposure, the manager remained a Wikipedia administrator.
In another case, a German journalist and PR consultant used several pseudonymous Wikipedia accounts to protect French pharmaceutical corporation Sanofi-Aventis against negative studies.
But the manipulation of Wikipedia goes much further than that.
Already in 2007, researchers found that one of the most active and influential English Wikipedia administrators, called “Slim Virgin”, was in fact a former British intelligence informer.
Also in 2007, researchers found that CIA and FBI employees were editing Wikipedia articles on controversial topics, including the Iraq war and the Guantanamo military prison.
In fact, Wikipedia accepts almost only mainstream media outlets as “reliable sources”, while independent media outlets, regardless of their quality, remain largely excluded.
In Germany, one of the most aggressive Wikipedia editors was exposed, after a two-year legal battle, as a political operative formerly serving in the Israeli army as a foreign volunteer.
The Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs has long been known to coordinate activists in various countries who edit Wikipedia and other websites according to Israeli interests, and former Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, previously organized courses in “Zionist editing” of Wikipedia.
In 2023, it became known that the government of Saudi Arabia managed to install sixteen agents as administrators of Wikipedia; the agents not only controlled articles on political topics, but revealed the identities of two independent administrators to Saudi authorities – who put them in jail.
Even in Switzerland, unidentified government employees were caught whitewashing Wikipedia entries about the Swiss secret service just prior to a public referendum about the agency.
Many of these Wikipedia personae are editing articles almost all day and every day, indicating that they are either highly dedicated individuals, or in fact, operated by a group of people.
In addition, articles edited by these personae cannot easily be revised, since the above-mentioned administrators can always revert changes or simply block disagreeing users altogether.
The primary goal of these covert campaigns appears to be promoting establishment and industry positions while destroying the reputation of critics. Because of this, German watchdog group Wiki Radar described Wikipedia as “one of the most dangerous websites on the internet”.
Articles particularly affected by this kind of manipulation include political, medical, and certain historical topics as well as biographies of non-compliant academics, journalists, and politicians. In some cases, relentless defamation campaigns on Wikipedia drove victims into suicide.
Many Wikipedia manipulators belong to a group called the “Skeptics”, an obscure organization that is “skeptical” of people challenging official establishment narratives. Former German intelligence chief Dr. Helmut Roewer once described the group as a “cult-like criminal organization” whose members serve as “cyber warriors” for corporate and political interests.
During the coronavirus pandemic (2020 to 2022), members of the “Skeptics” organization played a leading role in enforcing official, but mostly false narratives and defaming dissident researchers and journalists on Wikipedia. As one of their members put it, “the Skeptics will always run Wikipedia”.
Another group that is very active in manipulating social and political topics on Wikipedia is the so-called “Antifa” movement. For instance, a months-long investigation revealed that many German Wikipedia articles on “terrorism” and recent history were written by a German piano teacher and “Antifa” member who, using various pseudonyms, spent several hours per day on Wikipedia.
On the complex topic of global climate change, too, various activists try to assert the official view and vilify dissenting authors. In Germany, it was found that Wikipedia articles on global warming, climate change, climate change denial, science denial, wind energy, solar energy, and Greta Thunberg, all had the same main author: a member of the Green Party and the “Skeptics” organization.
Former Wikimedia CEO, Katherine Maher (2016-2021), previously worked at the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) as well as at a subgroup of the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA front organization specialized in global influence operations and regime changes.
Moreover, US search engines and social media platforms increasingly refer to Wikipedia to frame or suppress “controversial topics”. The revelations discussed above may perhaps help explain why.
Back in 2013, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed how spooks manipulate online debates, and in 2019 a senior Twitter executive turned out to be a British Army “psyops” officer. In 2023, the Twitter Files showed how various US intelligence agencies influenced the social media platform.
To add at least some degree of transparency to Wikipedia, German researchers have developed a free web browser tool called WikiWho that lets readers color code just who edited what in Wikipedia.
In many cases, the result looks as discomforting as one might expect.
- Wikipedia – A Tool Of The Ruling Elite (On Contact, 2018, 25 minutes)
- George Galloway: “I have finally identified Philip Cross” (TalkRadio, 2018)
- Wikipedia co-founder: I no longer trust the website I created (Unherd, 2021)
- Wikipedia and the Intelligence Services (OhMyNews, 2007)
- CIA, FBI computers used for Wikipedia edits (Reuters, 2007)
- Spies in Wikipedia (Computerra Magazine, 2007, archived)
- What we know about SlimVirgin (Wikipedia Review, 2007)
- Wikipedia and the Spooks – The Remake? (Intel Today, 2018)
- The Mystery Wikipedia Editor Targeting Anti-War Sites (ML, 2018)
- Wikipedia: Rotten to the Core (Helen Buyniski, 2018)
- Time to ditch Wikipedia? (Five Filters Analysis, 2018)
- Wikipedia Editing Scandal Continues (Neil Clark, 2019)
- Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (FreeWiki, 2019)
- The Skepticism Syndrome (Dr. Edgar Wunder, 1998)
- Policing orthodoxy on Wikipedia: Skeptics in action? (JCOM, 2021)
- Wikipedia X-Tools (Wikipedia analysis tools)
- Who Wrote That? (Wikipedia editor analysis)
- Wikipedia: Measures against abuse (2019)
Wikipedia about SPR
In May 2020, two months after the first publication of the above analysis, a Wikipedia article about Swiss Policy Research was created that tries to misrepresent SPR as a “fake news website”. Most of the English version was written, anonymously, by one Mason Pelt, an FBI informant (InfraGard) and “Skeptic” from Dallas, Texas, who specializes in “online marketing”.
Additional input was provided by Thibaut Laurent Payet, a long-time Wikipedia administrator who used a fake account (“OKTalker”) to add negative statements about SPR. Payet lives in Geneva, Switzerland, and has been linked to a private intelligence firm specializing in online defamation campaigns on behalf of governments and corporations.