Behind the scenes at Wikipedia, an edit war is being waged on gun control as special interest groups try to influence public debate.
In the days after the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida which saw 17 students and teachers killed, traffic surged for Wikipedia articles about guns.
As noted by The Verge, when visitors searched for “AR-15” they were redirected to the page for the “Colt AR-15”.
Although the Wikipedia article was full of technical details about the weapon, it did not mention mass shootings where the gun had been used – nor the controversy surrounding its availability.
This was not an accident. An expert group of special interest editors, which are common on the open encyclopaedia, have been working under the name “Wikipedia Project: Firearms” to demote content regarding gun control.
The bias in the articles was not explicit, but structural. The project did not insert false information into the articles, but instead purged information that showed the weapons in a bad light – dismissing it as “off topic”.
One of the editors argued: “Mass shootings already have their own articles, all relevant info is, or should be, in that page and not needlessly duplicated on other articles.
“If we start adding info about just one shooting incident to one tenuously connected article, we’ll be opening a literal Pandora’s box (figuratively speaking).”
The Wikimedia Foundation has defended itself and Wikipedia from allegations of being host to these kinds of influence campaigns, arguing that the encyclopaedia is constantly being updated and improved.
It told The Verge that the articles which the WP:Firearms project had been involved in were “actively being discussed and edited by volunteer editors, and will likely continue to change”.
The statement added: “While it will always be a work in progress, Wikipedia is constantly improving as more editors engage and contribute to its articles, leading to a more balanced representation of the facts over time.”
News of the campaign to influence public opinion regarding the gun control debate follows a threat by the National Rifle Association that “time is running out” for A-listers demanding tighter gun control.
The NRA’s video, by spokeswoman Dana Loesch, was addressed to “every lying member of the media, to every Hollywood phoney, to the role model athletes who use their free speech to alter and undermine what our flag represents”.