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Wikipedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger Says Platform’s Neutrality Policy “Is Dead”

Sanger says articles obviously slant left, neutrality is "dead"


 | May 26, 2020

May 26 2020

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger accused the site of abandoning its own neutrality policy and allowing left-leaning bias to permeate the site.

Larry Sanger, who helped develop many of Wikipedia’s original governing policies—but is no longer involved with the company—criticized the crowdsourced encyclopedia in a May 14 blog post published on his personal website, calling the site “badly biased.” 

“Wikipedia no longer has an effective neutrality policy,” Sanger wrote, after declaring the original policy dead. According to Sanger, Wikipedia today “endorses the utterly bankrupt canard of journalistic ‘false balance,’” which directly contradicts the original neutrality policy.

Sanger says that examples of left-leaning bias running through the site are “embarrassingly easy to find,” and points to differences between the entries for President Obama and President Trump as proof.

“The Barack Obama article completely fails to mention many well-known scandals: Benghazi, the IRS scandal, the AP phone records scandal, and Fast and Furious, to say nothing of Solyndra or the Hillary Clinton email server scandal – or, of course, the developing ‘Obamagate’ story in which Obama was personally involved in surveilling Donald Trump,” Sanger writes. “A fair article about a major political figure certainly must include the bad with the good.”

The “no scandal” narrative has been promoted by President Obama himself, along with a multitude of mainstream media figures.

In his blog post, Sanger doesn’t offer his own opinion on the veracity or relative importance of these specific issues. He does, however, outline the difference between how the entries for the two presidents are treated by Wikipedia, exposing the website’s left-leaning bias. 

“The idea that the Donald Trump article is neutral is a joke,” Sanger writes. He points out that “the controversies are almost as long as the sections about his presidency.”

Sanger goes on to say that Wikipedia can be counted on to cover political issues from a liberal point of view, and that religious and scientific articles are also biased.

When Wikipedia first rose to prominence in the early 21st century, many were uncomfortable with the idea of an encyclopedia that could be edited by anyone. The open nature made it susceptible to mischief and misinformation. This potential for mischief was illustrated in 2006 when Stephen Colbert famously encouraged his viewers to vandalize the entry for elephants.

Despite concerns about trustworthiness, the power of crowdsourcing quickly elevated Wikipedia. They became one of the most-visited websites in the world and led to the demise of professionally produced Microsoft Encarta. Encarta was unable to compete against Wikipedia’s far greater volume of information. 

Wikipedia today has more than 6 million English-language articles, and a total of more than 53 million in 309 languages.

Partisan battles over articles about politicians and other controversial subjects lead to the implementation of page protection policies that now restrict who can edit certain entries. Wikipedia has also blacklisted publications it deems unreliable from being used as a source, in order to try to stop the spread of disinformation.

Sanger has continually expressed his thoughts since leaving Wikipedia, about a year after its founding in 2001. In 2014, he penned a lengthy essay on Ballotpedia about the need for neutral writing, and how to achieve it in journalism.

“Neutrality is not some midpoint in between competing options,” Sanger wrote. “A political moderate’s positions are not the ‘neutral positions’: they are positions as well. Neutral writing takes no position, left, right, or middle.”

In that Ballotpedia essay, Sanger said that, “We should expect bias to be the norm, if it isn’t deliberately eradicated.” To do that, Sanger calls for news organizations to implement specific neutrality guidelines and procedures, including the creation of a neutrality editor position to specifically ensure articles are written from a neutral point of view.

“Neutral writing respects the reader. It shows the author is treating us like adults who wish to make up our minds rationally, using reason, logic, and evidence,” Sanger said. “Propagandists aren’t interested in giving readers the tools they need to decide rationally, for themselves; they want to indoctrinate or trick them into believing precisely the way they believe.”

“When you write with bias, you are treating your readers as your pawns, as mere means to your ends. You are not treating them as autonomous agents, capable of making up their own minds rationally. You are not respecting their dignity.” 

Wikipedia’s official neutrality policy states that:

All encyclopedic content on Wikipedia must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), which means representing fairly, proportionately, and, as far as possible, without editorial bias, all the significant views that have been published by reliable sources on a topic.

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