Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Biased poisoning the well at Wikipedia

I have noticed that there's a pretty good method for finding out if a Wikipedia article is politically biased and drives a given sociopolitical agenda (something that a true encyclopedia should never do, given that such an encyclopedia should always maintain absolute neutrality): Look at the lede of the article and see how much it "poisons the well" with regards to the topic in question with minor minutiae that doesn't really belong there.

The "lede" is the introductory part before the table of contents, and "poisoning the well" is the dishonest technique of introducing people to a subject in a biased manner, with a clear agenda to make the reader/listener form a biased opinion based on incomplete information about the subject. (This can be done by eg. emphasizing things that support the agenda out of proportion and, conversely, de-emphasizing or even completely skipping things that would go contrary to that agenda.) "Poisoning the well" is most often used to give an unfairly negative preconception of the subject, but the technique can also be used for the opposite effect, ie. to give an unfairly positive view of the subject, based on incomplete information, exaggeration, etc.

I have already mentioned the infamous gamergate Wikipedia article, which is just disgraceful conservapedia-level propaganda. Unsurprisingly, the lede of the article is a full-on barrage against the movement, with everything they can thrown at it, making absolutely sure that somebody who only reads this summary will get the most negative view possible. (The rest of the article isn't any better. Just count how many times the word "harassment" appears in the article. It's amazing. This is truly conservapedia-level propaganda.)

But as another example, compare and contrast the articles about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Just read the ledes of both articles with no preconceptions, and notice which one gives the negative impression and which one the positive. Heck, even the photographs in the lede have been carefully chosen to give those impressions, with one of them smiling and the other being serious.

As an example, it says this (emphasis mine):
On November 8, Trump won the presidential election by gaining a majority of the electoral college, although he received fewer popular votes nationwide than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton
Is that bolded part really necessary in an article lede? Or does it reek of biased political agenda? Likewise in the other article:
On November 8, 2016, Clinton lost to Republican rival Donald Trump, failing to obtain the necessary 270 votes in the electoral college, despite receiving a plurality of the national popular vote.
Compare that to, for example, the article about the 23rd president of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, who likewise won the election even though he received fewer popular votes. No mention of this is made in the article lede. (It is mentioned in passing later in the article, which is reasonable.)

Another example: Milo Yiannopoulos, who has become famous as a caustic critic of the regressive left ideology. Once again we have a poisoning-the-well lede:
Yiannopoulos has been called a spokesperson for the alt-right. He considers himself a reporter of and sympathizer with the movement. He was permanently banned from Twitter in July 2016 for what the company cited as "inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others".
Is "Yiannopoulos has been called a spokesperson for the alt-right" and "He was permanently banned from Twitter in July 2016" really something that belongs to an article lede, or is it biased agenda-driven propaganda?

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