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A presidential candidate's team takes on Wikipedia

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By Jules* and Smallbones

On December 28, 2021, Samuel Lafont, the head of digital operations for far-right French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, revealed to Le Parisien that a group of Zemmour supporters were editing the French Wikipedia. Freelance journalist Vincent Bresson had already infiltrated Zemmour's campaign, and had been monitoring the "WikiZedia" group led by Lafont since early November. French Wikipedian Jules*, also the lead author of this article, had taken the first steps toward helping Bresson follow the edits more closely and documenting the effects of the WikiZedia cell.

Zemmour is a candidate in the presidential election to be held on April 10 (with a second round, if needed, held on April 24). Opinion polls currently put him in third or fourth place behind President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. He is roughly tied with the rightwing Valérie Pécresse.[1] Zemmour is also a conservative television commentator by trade. He's been convicted of hate speech three times, and his platform centers on "immigration zero". He is proud to have received the encouragement of former United States President Donald Trump over other right-wing candidates.[2]

On December 21, a journalist and one of the publishers at Éditions Goutte d'Or contacted Jules* through an experienced Wikipedian. The publisher wanted to meet about "a political team that coordinates to direct several Wikipedia pages about its candidate and circumvent the rules of the encyclopedia", which he was investigating with Bresson (the author of the book). He first questioned Jules* about the operation of Wikipedia, then described a team of about ten people, headed by a lieutenant of the candidate, whose aim was to surreptitiously promote its candidate on Wikipedia. He did not name the candidate – or, until later, the investigating journalist.

"By the end of the meeting, it was clear that I could help the author and his editors better analyze the contributions of the members of the WikiZedia team." Beyond the public interest, Jules* had a Wikipedian interest: he had an opportunity to access otherwise inaccessible information, to protect Wikipedia from political manipulation. The conditions for this collaboration were as follows: Jules* promised to keep the information secret in order to protect the author of the investigation, who was infiltrating the group, and to refrain from intervening on Wikipedia against the members of the group until the book was published. "My essential condition for helping the journalist was to be able to transparently detail everything to the community after the investigation – they accepted it."[3]

How WikiZedia worked

The WikiZedia cell did not meet in person, but only through overlapping discussion groups on Telegram and Discord. The Telegram group had about 10 members, and the Discord group about 8, for a total of around a dozen members.

According to the book At the Heart of Z by Bresson. The Discord channel gave the following goals for the group:

The goal of the mission is to make Éric Zemmour, Generation Z and Les Amis d'Éric Zemmour as visible as possible on Wikipedia, in several ways :

  • by referencing Éric Zemmour's page from as many pages as possible (for example by giving Éric Zemmour's opinion on various pages "Éolienne"…);
  • by listing his television/radio appearances on dedicated pages in the event that he is a columnist/host, by mentioning him on the page of the said program if he is invited;
  • by improving Éric Zemmour's page in order to redirect people to our lists from the previous point (so that people can listen to him on this or that subject).

This was followed by the names of articles to be edited.

The book editors regularly gave Jules* copies of the discussions of the cell. A cell leader who did not edit Wikipedia, identified only by the name "Grand Chef" in the meetings, was apparently Samuel Lafont, one of the leaders of Zemmour's campaign. Another important member of the cell had extensive experience editing Wikipedia. He identified himself to other WikiZedians as User:Cheep. Jules* later wrote:

When I saw Cheep's username on the list, I was flabbergasted. Reading the Telegram discussions shows his duplicity: his approach was not at all encyclopedic. It was just like the other members of the cell, except that it is less surprising from single purpose accounts or accounts with around 2,000 contributions than from a Wikipedian active since 2008 with more than 160,000 contributions.

A series of Cheep's edits to the article on Zemmour beginning on December 3 resulted in an edit war, edits hidden by administrators, and very nearly got Cheep a short-term block. He added photos to the article of the two main Vichy leaders with the caption "Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval, whose responsibility in the Holocaust in France is subject to debate". While the caption corresponds to Zemmour's view, it contradicts the broad consensus of historians who consider Pétain and Laval to have been Nazi collaborators in the Holocaust, and traitors to France.

The many other edits by Cheep which pushed Zemmour’s point of view include:

These edits and many others from the WikiZedia cell are documented here, in French. Other WikiZedians edited the targeted articles, but not as successfully as Cheep did.

Book published

On February 17 author Vincent Bresson published his book Au Coeur de Z (At the Heart of Z) and Jules* made an on-Wiki announcement of his findings. These were discussed on the French Wikipedia, at the Bulletin des administrateurs (here, with notes here), and Le Bistro here. They were also discussed on the English Wikipedia, at the village pump (here), and AN/I (here).

Several news articles were also published, including:

Seven editors, including Cheep, were banned on the French Wikipedia.[3] 60 of the 68 French admins !voted to ban the seven editors. Only eight admins preferred the less serious penalty of indefinitely blocking the offenders. Cheep was indefinitely blocked on the English Wikipedia.


There have always been biased edits to Wikipedia articles made by politicians, and by almost all political parties. But the WikiZedia cell shows how far biased political editing has come. This is the first known instance of a party organizing a secret cell to influence Wikipedia articles, and the first time that the operations of such a cell have been so thoroughly documented and connected to top party officials.

The cell made many edits which were contrary to a neutral point of view taking a non-encyclopedic approach, and concealing their intentions. Their results were ultimately fairly poor, their organization too clumsy and inefficient. Wikipedia's method of vetting edits, given enough time, more or less worked – thanks to the vigilance of volunteer Wikipedians. We can only imagine what could happen if we faced a better organized cell.

The duplicity of Cheep is especially hurtful. Mutual trust is needed in a collaborative encyclopedia: it can't function without editors being able to assume good faith. The cell edited in violation of the spirit and the letter of core principles such as the neutral point of view, civility, and Wikipedia being an encyclopedia. Beyond the members of this organized cell, there have been other POV-pushers and single purpose accounts supporting Zemmour. Some have already been blocked, some have not. Organized attempts at political influence may continue, despite the revelations made so far.

It was not an isolated individual who tried to manipulate Wikipedia, but a political party supporting a person who is running for one of the most important positions in all of the democratic countries of the world. Wikipedians must remain vigilant.


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@PAC2: Well, that's a Catch-22, now. The attention brought by coverage of this manipulation — even this article we're reading right now — will itself have the effect of further inflating those pages' view counts. Fortunately, Wikipedia article views don't translate into anything beyond what they are at face value. It's not as though we're multiplying the campaign's advertising dollars or anything. FeRDNYC (talk) 22:20, 28 February 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Nice investigation and thanks for sharing! --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| reply here 12:13, 3 March 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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