MARC GAFNI: Wikipedia as a Tool of Internet abuse
In the early days of the Internet we were all convinced that the web would be a momentous advance in democracy: everyone would have a voice and hierarchies would be leveled. But we have since learned that the web can also be abused by those who wish to spread not information but disinformation and that the Internet doesn’t discriminate between the two. How fitting then that the word of the year according to the Oxford dictionary is “post-truth”. The Internet has been essential in fostering this post-truth era. The Internet is driven by clicks, which often drive revenue. People get lost in feeds, which are an echo chamber for their own views. Protection against libel and defamation on the web is rudimentary at best.
One example of the light and shadow side of the web is Wikipedia, which has democratized information gathering but has also opened the door to spreading disinformation and defamation. In this two part article, I will first expose how, by skillfully navigating some of Wikipedia’s biases and mastering the art of editing on Wikipedia, anyone can defame someone’s public image by hijacking their page. In the second part of this article, I will use as an example some snippets from the story of American Philosopher Marc Gafni Wikipedia’ s page, to demonstrate how Wikipedia’s self-serving parties have tried to shape Marc Gafni‘s public image for the sake of their own hidden vendettas.
Ironically, when I asked “Is Wikipedia reliable?” on Google, the highest-ranking results were Wikipedia articles that dispute its own credibility. The Internet abounds with articles that condemn the fact that anyone can write or edit a Wikipedia article by writing anonymously or under a pen name. Most sources across the web agree that while academic articles on Wikipedia are generally reliable, articles about political or cultural matters are much less so and more prone to bias and slander.
In an article entitled “Wikipedia lies, slander continue” journalist Joseph Farah states that Wikipedia “is not only a provider of inaccuracy and bias. It is a wholesale purveyor of lies and slander unlike any other the world has ever known”.
In this article, FrontPage Magazine journalist David Swindle demonstrates how leftist editors have taken over the online encyclopedia; he also discusses the liberal/leftist cultural foundations of Wikipedia. Another strong bias in Wikipedia is the pro-atheist predisposition, which respected biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake denounces here, deploring the fact that “A highly motivated group of activists called Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (…) has already seized control of many Wikipedia pages, deleted entries on subjects they disapprove of, and boosted the biographies of atheists”. “God is one of four most hotly contested topics on Wikipedia’s English-language edition” says BBC news in this article on Wikipedia edit wars.
To understand how it’s possible to take control of a Wikipedia page, it’s necessary to understand the art of editing a Wikipedia page to support not truth but the narrative the editor wants to convey. The editor, when skilled, is able to write seemingly objective statements that will surreptitiously get readers to believe a certain biased perspective of any given story. In theory, any fact that is stated in an article requires that sources be cited. But in practice, the reliability of those sources or the professed expertise of the writers themselves is not always well documented or verified. Unlike academic journals for example, Wikipedia does not require that a second impartial expert verify the information added before it is shown to the public.
More importantly, a Wiki editor can cite an alleged fact out of context and present it as if it were the whole truth. If someone wants to, it is easy to link statements from different articles into a narrative of truth when, in fact, a highly biased perspective is being presented. Through selective cherry picking of ostensible “facts” from articles, someone can intentionally censor views they disagree with, or edit out what they don’t like from an article. This allows active Wiki editors to take complete control of a page and present as a universally accepted truth, views that are actually their own opinion driven by a personal agenda, while making these views appear to be objective by referencing a published article.
Such editors may represent political groups or social activist groups fighting for a particular cause, or individuals acting independently. Any effort to correct something that is factually incorrect on such a page can be systematically edited back out by biased editors: there are no checks and balances to prevent this happening in what is supposed to be a reliable system of information sharing.
Wikipedia Abuse – An Examination of Marc Gafni’ s Wikipedia’s Page
The Wikipedia page I will refer to is the latest version of Dr Marc Gafni’ s Wikipedia page, as of November 4 2016. I will demonstrate how this page’s content was taken over and controlled by individuals representing the liberal left bias, the pro-victim bias, and the pro-feminist bias.
Particularly however, I am referring to the bias which does not distinguish victims from pseudo-victims, and the feminism bias, which is a form of victim feminism in which women are virtually always considered victims and men are virtually always cast as abusers.
A man who is accused of sexual harassment who is also associated with spirituality is especially vulnerable to this kind of manipulation of the truth, and that has been the case for Marc Gafni. Add to that a highly organized smear campaign and smear activists dedicated to taking over his page and we have a classic example of why Wikipedia is not a trusted source of information.
The problem with the post-modern pro-victim stand
Before exposing the wrong facts and hidden biases on Marc Gafni’s Wikipedia page, it’s important that we situate ourselves within the postmodern culture in which this page lives.
For centuries, victims in the world were not heard. Clearly one of the great improvements in the last 50 years is that it is now acceptable in our culture to acknowledge that being a victim of emotional and physical abuse is far more widespread than it was recognized before the 1960s. People have acknowledged this reality and groups of victims (and individuals) have finally received apologies and compensation and it has become more common to take perpetrators to court.
But an unforeseen side effect of this evolution has been the growth of the “victim” role in Western culture.
As a woman, as a feminist and as a mother of three young women (15, 19 and 22 years old) the fact that there are laws against sexual harassment is extremely important to me. As an ex-model who was sexually harassed many times I was outraged by the fact that a man would think he could reach toward my body without my complete consent. And I would be beyond outraged if any a man or woman thought they had a right to touch my daughters sexually, without their full agreement.
Today’s liberal progressive world has seen a growing polarization between the powerful and the victimized. Power in all its forms has become demonized. Worse, the assumption is that power always lies with the man and that the woman (or groups of women) is always telling the truth. We forget that just as groups of men have been known to influence each other and lie, so can groups of women.
In almost all cases, victim claims are generally defended as true, sometimes without investigation or fact checking. In such a cultural climate, male public figures such as political or spiritual leaders are an easy target for accusations of sexual assault. When claims are made against them, more often than not they’re presumed guilty until proven innocent. This presumption of guilt is based on confirmation bias. We have been conditioned to assume that powerful men are bad because deep in our culture, there is an anti-masculine and anti-power assumption that ignores any fair process or careful checking of motive or evidence. This of course is in complete violation of basic human rights, which are the cornerstone of democracy.
To get beyond this kind of thinking we need to remember one of the core insights of postmodern culture: “context matters”. This means that every case and every situation needs to be evaluated on its own merit. Of course it is true that there are legitimate victims of sexual abuse who deserve our full support and compassion. However, it is also true that power exists in complex and distributed ways. Making false complaints about a sexual encounter is paradoxically one of the ways that power is abused.
To understand what really went on in a situation we must have a grasp of the complexity and nuances involved — especially when sex and power are part of the picture. Victims can sometimes have power too, by virtue of their status as victims. The power of a victim stems from their claim to be powerless. And in other cases, the person playing the victim card is actually a perpetrator in disguise. When pseudo-victims levy false charges against someone, using distorted facts as evidence, they, along with their defenders (who might also be driven by personal motives or hidden agendas) can become the actual perpetrators.
Victim or victimizer — how often are the roles easily reversed?
Stop and think for a moment of the consequences of false accusations in someone’s life and for their close ones? Lives and careers have been destroyed in the name of female victim advocacy. As a woman I take a strong stand against all kinds sexual abuse against women. But equally we must also not abuse men through making false accusations. Let’s also remember the spouses; the mothers, the sisters, daughters and partners of falsely accused men. Are they not women too? Does anyone consider the collateral damages inflicted on them when their man, their father, their son is deceitfully attacked on the public square, which in today’s world equals to the Internet space? Isn’t that a form of abuse too? One expression of this is the proliferation, which no one wants to talk about, of false rape accusations.
So while the protection of victims remains a great advance in today’s culture, the systematic ways in which victims are believed, sometimes even against all evidence, are reflective of our post-modern culture. At the same time, we see power as an advantage of men over women, without recognizing that making a false complaint can give a woman the primary power in a relationship. How many professors have been fired without fair process simply because an accusation was made? Finally in the Internet era, facts no longer matter. One has only to look at the Brexit vote in Great Britain to realize that false ‘facts’, which attract clicks, have trumped real facts in our public discourse about both ideas and people.
In the second part of this article , I turn to Marc Gafni’s Wikipedia page to illustrate some of these issues.