“Happy Birthday Wikipedia! So glad you exist.” This tweet from Elon Musk celebrating 20 years of the online encyclopedia is like an old dusty memory from the attic. The billionaire published it barely two years ago, but today, the time for praise is over.
In July 2022, he took Jimmy Wales to taskone of the two founders of the site, to denounce the fact that “Wikipedia loses its objectivity”. What could have happened between these two tweets for the wealthy South African to start pointing a finger at a platform to which he wished a happy birthday a short time ago?
The question probably matters little to Larry Sanger. The other co-founder of the most consulted encyclopedia on the planet did not hesitate to come forward in comment to serve its own interests. “Elon, I’m a co-founder of Wikipedia (long gone). A new project, a true decentralized network bringing together all the encyclopedias (an “encyclosphere”), has progressed well and should now be on your radar. Please encourage people to donate.”
After the launch of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger very quickly took different paths. Since then, the latter has not missed an opportunity to make known his opposition to Wikipedia… which he nevertheless helped to launch. Elon Musk’s tweet was therefore a great opportunity to do some publicity for his new project. Nice try, but the billionaire will not promote it.
A divorce in several acts
Elon Musk’s tweet is not an isolated case. In recent months, the billionaire entrepreneur has increasingly expressed his doubts about the reliability of the encyclopedia. After the suspension on Twitter of various journalists following his activities closely, the boss of the social network was moved by the fact that this news had given rise to the creation of an article on Wikipedia, now deleted.
“The two-day suspension of, maybe, seven accounts for doxxing resulted in an actual Wikipedia page!?”, did he get carried away following the creation of this page. “Wikipedia is controlled by mainstream journalists. I can’t trust this site anymore. In the comments, we find again Larry Sanger providing after-sales service for his encyclopedia. He insists, still and alwayson its decentralized aspect, which he considers to be the guarantee of a better project.
A two day suspension of maybe 7 accounts for doxxing got an actual Wikipedia page!? Wikipedia is controlled by the MSM journalists. Can’t trust that site anymore.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 17, 2022
Turnaround. After the “Twitter Files”, a series of publications of internal documents at the blue bird, the Wikipedian community has, for once, disappointed the billionaire, not really used to being resisted. After debates on the relevance of a page dedicated to the documents published by the boss of the social network, the Wikipedians answered no. The Twitter Files are worth mentioning, yes, but not having a full-fledged article. A fate identical to the article devoted to the exclusion of journalists from Twitter… which had however been denounced by Elon Musk.
“Wikipedia is completely controlled by the mainstream media”
As often, Elon Musk can count on the support of his fans. With more or less seriousness, some regularly ask him to buy the encyclopedia. Problem: it is not for sale, which does not prevent the existence of a pecuniary relationship between the two protagonists. According to a Forbes investigation, in 2020 the entrepreneur donated $1 million to the Wikimedia Foundation. But that was before, at a time not so long ago when Elon Musk was still praising the free knowledge project.
Nine months ago, one of his fans denounced on Reddit the treatment of the entrepreneur by Wikipedia. “Is there anything we can do?”, he wondered, eager to find a way to modify the content of an article that he considered too hard on the billionaire. Various Musk admirers are more convinced than ever that the platform is politically biased.
“Wiki is run by far-left leftists lately”drops one of them. “It’s not at all surprising.” Wanting to control what is said there about the billionaire is not trivial. Elon Musk is the sixth most consulted personality in the history of Wikipedia, Donald Trump monopolizing – by far – the first place.
The vision of a biased encyclopedia is shared by Elon Musk. On December 17, he once again identified Jimmy Wales to alert him, ignoring or pretending to ignore that this is a participatory project and that even one of the founders cannot choose its editorial line. “Wikipedia is completely controlled by the mainstream media”, he denounced on his favorite social network.
It is not surprising to find that the “mainstream media” are one of the favorite targets of Elon Musk and his supporters. Enriching content on the encyclopedia means finding reliable sources recognized by the Wikipedian community, so very often going through this type of media. This rejection is reminiscent of another: that of Donald Trump who, for his part, has repeatedly qualified the media “enemies of the people”.
What is this reversal the name of?
Elon Musk’s change of outlook on the platform he once cherished so much didn’t come out of nowhere. It may be due to the fact that Wikipedians have radically changed the way they create content, or to the sudden evolution of these to “a leftist bias”, at least according to the billionaire. But this rejection of Wikipedia may also be the result of the political ambiguity that the boss of Tesla maintains.
In recent years, Elon Musk has multiplied strange foot calls: advice on taking “the red pill”a popular concept on the far right and among Internet users fond of conspiracy theories, or a nod to the QAnon movement when it recommends of “follow the white rabbit”.
The recent boss of Twitter is surfing on the same trend with Wikipedia, not really in the odor of sanctity with conspiratorial spheres and the radical right – as shown again by the French presidential sequence during which a cell of militants from Éric Zemmour modified the content relating to their candidate.
As usual, Elon Musk is trolling. On his social network, he keeps pointing the finger at an encyclopedia that he claims was written by a “losing party”who would have “a lot of free time”. “I love Wikipedia, it gets better with time», tweeted Elon Musk again in 2017. A savvy troll might respond with a famous “Feel old yet?” meme.