Science

How Elon Musk Hated Wikipedia

“Happy birthday, Wikipedia! So glad you exist.” This Elon Musk tweet commemorating the 20th anniversary of the online encyclopedia is like an old memory full of attic dust. The billionaire published it only two years ago, but today the time for praise is over.

In July 2022, he took on Jimmy Wales, one of the site’s two founders, to denounce the fact that “Wikipedia is losing its objectivity.” What could have happened between these two tweets to cause a wealthy South African to start pointing his finger at a platform he recently wished a happy birthday?

This question probably doesn’t matter much to Larry Sanger. Another co-founder of the most popular encyclopedia on the planet did not hesitate to speak up in the comments to serve his own interests. “Elon, I am the co-founder of Wikipedia (long gone). The new project, a real decentralized network that unites all encyclopedias (“encyclosphere”), is developing successfully and should now be on your radar. Please encourage people to donate.”

After Wikipedia was launched, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger went their separate ways very quickly. Since then, the latter has never missed an opportunity to voice his opposition to Wikipedia… which he nevertheless helped launch. Thus, Elon Musk’s tweet was a great opportunity to advertise his new project. Nice try, but the billionaire won’t promote it.

Divorce in several steps

Elon Musk’s tweet is not an isolated case. In recent months, the billionaire entrepreneur has increasingly expressed doubts about the authenticity of the encyclopedia. After suspending various journalists on Twitter closely following his activities, the social media boss was touched by the fact that the news prompted a Wikipedia article, which has now been removed.

Various fans of the entrepreneur are convinced that the platform is politically biased.

“Suspension for two days of maybe seven doxing accounts spawned a real Wikipedia page!?” he enthused after creating the page. “Wikipedia is controlled by leading journalists. I can no longer trust this site. In the comments, we again find Larry Sanger providing after sales service for his encyclopedia. He insists again and again on its decentralized aspect, which he sees as a guarantee of a better project.

turn around. After the Twitter Files, a series of internal Bluebird docs, the Wikipedia community for once disappointed a billionaire unaccustomed to resistance. After arguing about the relevance of the page dedicated to documents published by the boss of the social network, Wikipedians answered in the negative. The Twitter files are worth mentioning, yes, but not having a full article. The fate is identical to the article on the exclusion of journalists from Twitter … which, however, was condemned by Elon Musk.

“Wikipedia is completely controlled by the mainstream media”

How often Elon Musk can count on the support of his fans. Some, with more or less seriousness, regularly ask him to buy an encyclopedia. Problem: It is not for sale, which does not interfere with the existence of a monetary relationship between the two main characters. According to a Forbes investigation, in 2020 the entrepreneur donated $1 million to the Wikimedia Foundation. But that was earlier, not so long ago, when Elon Musk was still touting the free knowledge project.

Nine months ago, one of his fans took to Reddit to denounce Wikipedia’s treatment of the entrepreneur. “Can we do something?” he asked himself, trying to find a way to change the content of an article he thought was too harsh for a billionaire. Musk’s various fans are more convinced than ever that the platform is politically biased.

This rejection is reminiscent of another: Donald Trump, who, for his part, has repeatedly called the media “enemies of the people.”

“Recently Wiki has been run by the extreme left,” one of them said. “It’s not surprising at all.” The desire to control what they say about the billionaire is not trivial. Elon Musk is the sixth most consulted person in Wikipedia history, followed by Donald Trump.

The vision of a biased encyclopedia is shared by Elon Musk. On December 17, he once again called Jimmy Wales to warn him, ignoring or pretending to ignore that this was a collaborative project and that not even one of the founders could choose his editorial line. “Wikipedia is completely controlled by the mainstream media,” he said on his favorite social network.

Not surprisingly, the “mainstream media” is one of the favorite targets of Elon Musk and his supporters. Enriching the content of an encyclopedia means looking for reliable sources recognized by the Wikipedia community, which is why this type of media is used very often. This rejection is reminiscent of another: Donald Trump, who, for his part, has repeatedly called the media “enemies of the people.”

What is the name of this call?

Elon Musk’s change of heart on the platform he once held dear did not come out of nowhere. This may be due to the fact that Wikipedians have radically changed the way content is created, or even a sudden evolution of the latter due to the “left bias”, at least according to the billionaire. But this ditching of Wikipedia could also be the result of the political ambiguity the Tesla boss espouses.

He keeps pointing the finger at the encyclopedia, which he claims was written by the “losing party” who has “a lot of free time”.

In recent years, Elon Musk has multiplied strange calls from the feet: advice about taking the “red pill”, a concept popular among the far right and conspiracy theorists on the Internet, or a nod to the QAnon movement when he recommends “Follow the White Rabbit” .

The recent Twitter boss is following the same trend as Wikipedia, not really in the spirit of holiness with the conspiracy spheres and the radical right – as again shown by the presidential scene in France, during which a cell of militants from Eric Zemmour changed the content regarding their candidate.

As usual, Elon Musk is trolling. On his social media, he keeps pointing the finger at an encyclopedia he says was written by the “losing party” who would have had “a lot of free time”. “I love Wikipedia, it gets better with time,” Elon Musk tweeted again in 2017. A savvy troll could respond with the famous “Don’t feel old yet?” meme.

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