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Pro-gun Wikipedia users spark fierce editing war

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.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit
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Wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit

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).”

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 13: The Manager of Dave's Guns holds two Colt AR-15's the gun on the right has a Bayonet Mount, Flash Supressor and a Collapsable Stock and can have a magazine high capacity load with more than 30 rounds and be purchased by civilians as of today, the gun on the left was legal to purchase and own with a 10 magazine round during the SAW Ban (Semi Automatic Wepons ban). Between 1994 and September 13, 2004 12:01am the AR-15 with the above items could only be sold to Law Enforcement and Military but today is know legal to civilians to purchase with the Brady Bill being expired. (Photo by Thomas Cooper/Getty Images)
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The AR-15 rifle is widely available in the US

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.”

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch flipped a timer as she said 'your time is running out'. Pic: NRATV
Image:
NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch flipped a timer as she said ‘your time is running out’. Pic: NRATV

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”.

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