This article is a summary of a report published by EUvsDISINFO
Wikipedia contained over 55 million articles in 300 languages by its twentieth birthday in 2021 and is one of the most engaged websites globally. While it can be a helpful place to find sources, Wikipedia remains vulnerable to mis- and disinformation websites masquerading as legitimate sources and editing wars.
To better understand the vulnerability of Wikipedia to mis- and disinformation, EUvsDISINFO studied references and citations to four well-known pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets–SouthFront, NewsFront, InfoRos, and Strategic Culture Foundation. The State Department has identified each of these websites as having ties to Russian intelligence.
The scope of the problem is unlikely to be limited to these four websites, but as Wikipedia has already taken action against these four sites, they proved useful case study examples.
Researchers found the four websites had been referenced in at least 625 articles and had at some point appeared in no fewer than 690 articles.
- The bulk of the articles referred to southfront.org (57%), followed by news-front.info (27%).
- The majority of references to a Kremlin-controlled source appeared in one of five language versions of Wikipedia, including Russian (136 articles), Arabic (70 articles), Spanish (52 articles), Portuguese (45 articles), and Vietnamese (32).
- The most common topics with links to Russian sources included conflicts in the Middle East, featuring keywords such as “Syria/Syrian,” “offensive,” “(civil) war,” and also “Russian” or “intervention.” See word cloud.
These findings highlight a common problem with disinformation sources like Russian state-sponsored outlets RT and Sputnik. The websites mainly publish reliable coverage of world events, but they also slip in biased or misleading information on select topics of interest to the Kremlin.
Credible reporting makes the disinformation harder to detect and may make it more effective. RT and Sputnik also employ a cadre of Western authors who regularly author divisive and inflammatory content. Citing state-controlled media when it reports reliably is thus, unwise since it sets up readers to trust outlets that may ultimately mislead them on critical issues.
Wikipedia does not explicitly ban disinformation websites in its article on reliable sources, though it mentions “state-sponsored fake news sites.” The explainer states:
“Some sources are blacklisted, and can not be used at all. Blacklisting is generally reserved for sources which are added abusively, such as state-sponsored fake news sites with a history of addition by troll farms. Specific blacklisted sources can be locally whitelisted; see Wikipedia: Blacklist for other details about blacklisting.”
Citations of disinformation threaten Wikipedia's reputation and the integrity of its service, but Wikipedia can change this.
- A more comprehensive listing of affiliated websites would be an improvement.
- For example, RT and Sputnik are listed as unreliable, but with no mention of SNA, the German version of Sputnik appears.
- Another change that could improve information quality is enforcing guidelines already standard on the English version of Wikipedia in other languages.
- English-language Wikipedia expressly states that state-sponsored disinformation sites are not legitimate sources.
- Still, EUvsDISINFO’s study shows designating sources as illegitimate hasn’t stopped the websites from being cited or referenced in other-language Wikipedia pages.