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Wikipedia's neutrality is a 'facade'

An Australian academic has accused Wikipedia of "US-centric bias" over the way the online encyclopaedia's administrators edit user-generated entries.
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Written by Marcus Browne on

An Australian academic has accused Wikipedia of "US-centric bias" over the way the online encyclopaedia's administrators edit user-generated entries.

In an entry published for e-journal The National Forum, Tim Anderson, a senior lecturer in political economy at the University of Sydney, claims Wikipedia displayed a US-centric bias in its administration of user-edits and which sources it considers appropriate for use on the site.

Anderson's claims come after an edit he made on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's entry in the encyclopaedia was deleted by Wikipedia administrators on the basis that it exhibited a "lack of objectivity" and used "illegitimate sources".

"Wikipedia has come to play an important role in informing and also shaping public debates. Yet as a Florida-based, US creation, it brings its own baggage to those debates," said Anderson in the entry.

The academic was outraged after several of the sources he used in his edits -- including Venezuela Analysis and Z Magazine, were deemed not to fall within the encyclopaedia's neutral point of view (NPOV) policy, making them "unusable".

Anderson claims that information attributed to US corporate media conglomerates such as Fox and Time Warner were potentially as biased as any of these sources.

Anderson said the only source that administrators considered legitimate in his edit was the BBC.

The administrator told Anderson that his edit had some "clear POV and sourcing issues" after its content was summarily removed from the site. A statement on Wikipedia's policy page describes NPOV as "an absolute non-negotiable", and contains a set of guidelines instructing users on how to adhere to the policy.

Wikipedia's policy states that "all editors and all sources have biases -- what matters is how we combine them to create a neutral article".

"Many editors believe that bias is not in itself reason to remove text, because in some articles all additions are likely to express bias. Instead, material that balances the bias should be added," said the statement.

Anderson referred to his experience as an "example of the US worldview in Wikipedia" and criticised the administrator's special powers to remove content arbitrarily.

He described the organisation's NPOV policy to ZDNet.com.au as "a facade".

"It hides behind a reliance on corporate media editorials," said Anderson. "They also say they are against independent analysis or research, which seems to mean you cannot re-organise information from a variety of sources," he added.

Anderson does not stand alone in accusing the Web encyclopaedia of not living up to its own objective standards. But historically, criticism of the site has come not from liberals or academics but in fact from conservatives. An alternative to Wikipedia was set up in late 2006, for example, by a group of users under the banner Conservapedia -- aimed against the "liberal bias, deceit and silly gossip" allegedly exhibited on Wikipedia. Conservapedia displays an outright pro-American, pro-Christian bias.

Anderson argues that even "a US 'liberal' view of the world happens to enforce a great exclusion of perspectives from most of the rest of the world".

The academic's comments come after it emerged last year that a graduate student at California Tech devised a tool -- the Wikipedia scanner -- enabling him to track the IP addresses of corporate and institutional contributors to the site.

Virgil Griffith, who built Wikipedia scanner, found that the CIA, the Vatican, Microsoft and even ex-Prime Minister John Howard's office, had edited and in some cases removed, unfavourable content from their entries on the site.

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