Report: “The Hunt for Wikipedia’s Disinformation Moles”
Some researchers believe that Wikipedia could be an overlooked venue for information warfare, and they have been developing technologies and methods similar to the ones used on Facebook and Twitter to uncover it. A team from the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM Technology) published a paper today exploring how to uncover disinformation on Wikipedia. They also believe that the data mapping may have uncovered a strategy that states could use to introduce disinformation. The trick, they say, is playing the long and subtle game.
“We can see what’s happening on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and Telegram, we can see how much effort states are putting into trying to control and maneuver in those spaces,” says Carl Miller, a research director at the CASM under UK public-policy think tank Demos. “There’s nothing to me that suggests that Wikipedia would be immune to as much effort and time and thought as in any of those other areas.”Governments have good reasons to influence Wikipedia: 1.8 billion unique devices are used to visit Wikimedia Foundation sites each month, and its pages are regularly among the top results for Google searches. Rising distrust in institutions and mainstream media have made sources of reliable information all the more coveted.
The research tracked 86 editors who are already banned from Wikipedia. The editors tried to sway narratives on the English-language Wikipedia page for the Russo-Ukrainian war towards pro-Kremlin views, through subtle changes like casting doubt on the objectivity of pro-Western accounts, changing historical context, and adding links from Russian state-owned news and websites.
“Wikipedia has quite a lot of defenses that it’s built up to stop vandals just randomly adding bad information onto the site,” says Miller. “But when you look at the way that states can attack Wikipedia, the kind of threat looks completely different. It would be much like these editors.”
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.