"It is widely known that Wikipedia smears and lies about many conservatives (including The Gateway Pundit) and promotes leftist dogma. [...] Only legal action will prevent these far left hacks from censoring truthful news to the public", retorted the owner of The Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that was deprecated by the Wikipedia community as an unreliable source in 2019, one month before his message. "Wikipedia has been and always will be fake news, and they know it. They believe facts are subject to a democratic process, and the only people with a vote are the bubbled leftists who edit Wikipedia", insisted the editor-in-chief of the far-right website Breitbart News shortly after the Wikipedia community deprecated it in 2018.
Is there any merit to these allegations?
A quick search reveals that media outlets tend to respond negatively when they are deprecated, regardless of their political orientation:
All of these deprecated media outlets accuse the Wikipedia community of having a bias that is opposite to the websites' own political orientations. But there is only one English-language Wikipedia. Deprecation is like a mirror: a source's response to being deprecated reflects its own bias more than it says anything about Wikipedia itself.
Recently, The Critic, a "contrarian conservative" magazine, published an article in October titled "The left-wing bias of Wikipedia", in which two pseudonymous authors who identify as American academics criticized Wikipedia editors for deprecating more right-wing sources than left-wing sources. What does this tell us about Wikipedia and its treatment of American media?
In a highly-cited 2017 report from Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, "Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation", researchers Robert M. Faris, Hal Roberts, Bruce Etling, Nikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman, and Yochai Benkler examined the United States media landscape in the context of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Using a corpus of 4.5 million Twitter posts, these researchers measured the "candidate valence" of popular websites, which was determined by comparing the likelihood an article was shared by users who also retweeted posts by either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. (Less than 1% of users in the data set retweeted both Trump and Clinton.) On a scale of -1.0 to 1.0, the candidate valence of a website shows how likely the website was to be aligned with Clinton or Trump supporters in 2016, with a score of -1.0 (left) indicating that it was almost exclusively shared by Clinton supporters, and a score of 1.0 (right) indicating that it was almost exclusively shared by Trump supporters.
The Berkman Klein Center report identified Wikipedia as a "center-right" website on the candidate valence scale throughout the 2016 U.S. elections. Wikipedia was quite lonely – among the top 75 websites, there were only 3 sources with a center-right valence in the American media landscape during this time period: Wikipedia, RealClearPolitics, and the National Review. Based on the number of link shares generated by sources across the left–right valence spectrum, far-right and center-left valence sources dominated public discourse, with far-right valence sources obtaining the highest number of link shares, while center-right valence sources received the lowest amount of attention. In particular, The Wall Street Journal, an acclaimed conservative newspaper with a centrist valence, was usurped in popularity by Breitbart News, an Internet-native far-right publication with a far-right valence.
The dearth of center-right sources is confirmed in the current version of Ad Fontes Media's Media Bias Chart, a graph that shows the political bias and reliability of popular English-language publications as reviewed by Ad Fontes analysts. The Media Bias Chart portrays the American media landscape as a bell curve in which centrist sources tend to be most reliable, while an increase in a source's bias is correlated with a decrease in the source's reliability. In the chart, there is a discontinuity in the center-right region, which has a mere sprinkle of sources, while the center-left and far-right regions are much more densely populated.
The Critic uses the Media Bias Chart to point out that Wikipedia deprecates more right-wing sources than left-wing sources in community discussions. This is true, and results from a feature of the American media landscape: among low-quality sources, the most popular websites are right-wing sources. In December 2018, I compiled a table of all sources rated by Ad Fontes as "Nonsense damaging to public discourse", and compared their political bias ratings to their Alexa ranks. Although there were low-quality sources on both ends of the left–right political spectrum, there was no comparison in terms of popularity. Hyper-partisan right-wing sources were considerably more popular than hyper-partisan left-wing sources, with no left-wing equivalent to sources such as Breitbart News, which had an Alexa rank of 253. The most popular hyper-partisan left-wing source with a low reliability score was AlterNet, which was less popular with an Alexa rank of 14,007.
Almost two years have passed since I posted the December 2018 list, so it is time for an update. The following table details all of the sources with a reliability score under 24.0 on the Media Bias Chart, which includes the following categories: "Contains Inaccurate / Fabricated Info", "Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info", and "Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion":
|Source||Status||Overall source reliability||Political bias||Alexa rank|
|The Gateway Pundit||14.5||Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info||27.8||Hyper-partisan Right||521|
|InfoWars||12.0||Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info||27.5||Hyper-partisan Right||2,413|
|Newsmax||18.0||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||24.4||Hyper-partisan Right||2,621|
|PJ Media||N/A||19.6||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||24.4||Hyper-partisan Right||6,459|
|RedState||N/A||21.3||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||25.1||Hyper-partisan Right||6,577|
|WorldNetDaily||18.8||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||24.1||Hyper-partisan Right||6,680|
|The Federalist||N/A||23.7||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||23.1||Hyper-partisan Right||7,308|
|One America News Network||20.1||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||22.1||Hyper-partisan Right||8,430|
|American Thinker||N/A||19.3||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||29.4||Hyper-partisan Right||11,845|
|Twitchy||N/A||15.4||Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info||22.6||Hyper-partisan Right||12,267|
|Palmer Report||N/A||16.9||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||-27.6||Hyper-partisan Left||13,119|
|Before It's News||4.7||Contains Inaccurate / Fabricated Info||25.8||Hyper-partisan Right||15,728|
|Natural News||8.3||Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info||31.8||Most Extreme Right||17,368|
|American Greatness||N/A||18.7||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||27.2||Hyper-partisan Right||26,521|
|AlterNet||23.2||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||-20.1||Hyper-partisan Left||31,744|
|The American Spectator||N/A||20.0||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||25.6||Hyper-partisan Right||37,759|
|The Right Scoop||N/A||20.2||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||23.7||Hyper-partisan Right||42,248|
|The Daily Signal||N/A||20.0||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||22.0||Hyper-partisan Right||50,975|
|Big League Politics||N/A||19.3||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||29.4||Hyper-partisan Right||51,674|
|NewsPunch||N/A||13.9||Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info||27.2||Hyper-partisan Right||54,839|
|Bill O'Reilly||N/A||21.4||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||26.9||Hyper-partisan Right||55,910|
|LifeZette||N/A||19.0||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||26.1||Hyper-partisan Right||58,147|
|Glenn Beck||N/A||21.7||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||24.9||Hyper-partisan Right||65,138|
|Occupy Democrats||21.6||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||-25.7||Hyper-partisan Left||74,059|
|Wonkette||N/A||15.0||Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info||-29.1||Hyper-partisan Left||77,446|
|WorldTruth.TV||N/A||7.0||Contains Inaccurate / Fabricated Info||11.7||Skews Right||78,653|
|Life News||N/A||23.6||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||23.6||Hyper-partisan Right||96,231|
|Bipartisan Report||N/A||19.0||Selective or Incomplete Story / Unfair Persuasion||-24.6||Hyper-partisan Left||218,772|
|National Enquirer||8.8||Propaganda / Contains Misleading Info||10.8||Skews Right||362,156|
Among the 29 lowest-reliability sources rated by Ad Fontes Media, 5 are "Hyper-partisan Left", 2 "Skew Right", 21 are "Hyper-partisan Right", and 1 is in the "Most Extreme Right". The Critic disapproves of how Wikipedia has not yet deprecated AlterNet, a website classified as "Hyper-partisan Left", but fails to note that there are six "Hyper-partisan Right" sources that are more popular than AlterNet which have also not yet been deprecated or blacklisted. Over the past decade, the prominence of hyper-partisan right-wing sources has been a key feature of the American media landscape. Considering the lack of popular low-reliability sources in the left, it is hardly surprising that a significant proportion of deprecated sources on Wikipedia are right-wing sources.
Wikipedia editors try to apply the verifiability policy and the reliable sources guideline evenly to all sources, regardless of the sources' political orientation. Although a significant subset of political discourse in American politics centers around content published in low-quality, hyper-partisan right-wing sources, Wikipedia cannot use those sources in most cases because they do not meet the encyclopedia's reliability standards. Wikipedia is a reality-based encyclopedia, which means that false and fabricated information is correctly excluded from Wikipedia, even when it is disproportionally published by media outlets with a particular direction of bias.
As the neutral point of view policy states, "Neutrality requires that each article or other page in the mainspace fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources.[a] Giving due weight and avoiding giving undue weight means articles should not give minority views or aspects as much of or as detailed a description as more widely held views or widely supported aspects."
The lack of high-quality center-right sources is a problem in the American media landscape, and you may be wondering how you can fix this issue. Currently, conservative media outlets have a stronger financial incentive to publish content that is less reliable. Look no further than Newsmax, which recently increased its viewership by a factor of nine after it started publishing baseless claims of fraud regarding the 2020 U.S. elections, with most of the new viewers migrating from the more reliable and less partisan Fox News. This apparent preference for disreputable media is sparking a crisis in American journalism.
To correct the situation, the American public can return to prioritizing high-quality information over partisan misinformation. Specifically, Americans who want to see a more balanced media landscape need to:
As an individual, whether you are a Wikipedia editor or reader, it is unlikely that anything you personally do would make a significant difference to the state of the American media landscape. However, all demographic changes are dependent on individuals taking action to support the changes they want to see. What Wikipedia desperately needs is a larger selection of high-quality conservative sources that represent the underserved population of Americans who align with the center-right. Once those sources are available, Wikipedia editors will be able to use them to rebalance articles that could benefit from more content that reflects a conservative perspective.
And only then can we re-right Wikipedia.