HomeUSGoogle’s Reliance on Wikipedia Helps Communist Party Spread South China Sea Disinformation

Google’s Reliance on Wikipedia Helps Communist Party Spread South China Sea Disinformation

A June 3 post on social marketing website Reddit’s Wikipedia section revealed Google pulled Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Foreign Affairs Ministry propaganda about ownership of the South China Sea from Wikipedia as if it were factual. The results were displayed on the engine’s Featured Snippet function in response to questions about whether the CCP owns the South China Sea. 

In a now-removed post on the r/Wikipedia subreddit, a user posted a screenshot of Google results from the question “Does the South China Sea belong to China?” Google’s top response was “China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island. China’s stand is based on historical facts and international law. China’s sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long…”

The case was reported to the subreddit because the author of the now-removed post was concerned about “Wikipedia entries being distorted for propagandistic purposes” and asked “How can this be resolved?”

The quote in question came from a portion of the South China Sea Wikipedia entry where Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu made the claims, laden with Communist Party establishment rhetoric, in reference to a deal between an Indian and a Vietnamese oil company that involved the Sea. 

As a result of the Reddit controversy, the Wikipedia entry was scrubbed of Jiang’s rhetorical comments. Google’s Featured Snippet for the question of the South China Sea now references an “Explainer” from website The Conversation, which states, more sanitarily, “China’s claim to the sea is based both on the Law of the Sea Convention and its so-called ‘nine-dash’ line. This line extends for 2,000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland, encompassing over half of the sea. … This concept is important: it means that by definition, the South China Sea is a shared maritime space.”

r/Wikipedia moderator “Hands” removed the 801-upvote post, claiming a rule violation because Reddit is “not your personal army,” adding “yes this kind of post encourages people to edit this article as evidenced by the fact that blockquote is already gone.”

The removal of a highly-upvoted and trending post, most notably, prevented it from appearing in prominent user page sortings such as r/All, reducing the traction the story would receive.

Hands also said the screenshot of Google’s Featured Snippet, which cited official propaganda of the world’s most totalitarian regime “lacks enough context about the nature of that quote and the specific reason for its presence in Google search results to promote healthy discussion.”

A man attending the Wikimania 2016 meeting, wears a shirt reading "Wikipedia" in different languages, at Esino Lario near Lecco on June 24, 2016. Google’s reliance on Wikipedia helped the Chinese Communist Party spread official propaganda about the South China Sea to the English speaking world.
A man attending the Wikimania 2016 meeting, wears a shirt reading “Wikipedia” in different languages, at Esino Lario near Lecco on June 24, 2016. Google’s reliance on Wikipedia helped the Chinese Communist Party spread official propaganda about the South China Sea to the English speaking world. (Image: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

“Speculating that state propaganda agents are manipulating Wikipedia itself (or how Google’s search algorithm automatically pulls what it believes is relevant content from wiki articles and how that behavior might also be manipulated to give a misleading impression etc) is a completely valid discussion to have here but this isn’t the way to go about it,” claimed Hands.

In an article for Breitbart, former Wikipedia editor who was banned from the platform, T.D. Adler, an author who now posts under a pseudonym due to cancel culture and online harassment, said “Problems with Google search results prominently repeating biased or false information due to its reliance on Wikipedia are not new.”

“Google regularly prioritizes information from the online encyclopedia and it has sometimes spread false or inflammatory attacks due to vandalism. This has included incidents affecting Google’s knowledge panels, which are often displayed in the sidebar of search results and use the introduction of Wikipedia articles.”

Adler cited several examples of Wikipedia vandalism, such as when Google reported that  the California Republican Party valued “nazism” and portrayed the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference, the GOP’s keynote annual convention, as a gathering of so-called “neo-Nazis” and “rapists.”

Adler says the problem with Wikipedia no longer being a simple public data repository has become systemic, “Wikipedia’s owners have encouraged using the site as a measure against ‘fake news’ after such a strategy was suggested to them in a communications audit by Minassian Media, run by the Communications head at the Clinton Foundation.”

“It has also been criticized for a left-wing bias by its own co-founder with studies and analyses demonstrating such a bias, a problem persisting even as the site reached 20 years old this year.”

Adler specifically noted a 2019 case where Wikipedia editors slandered independent media outlet Epoch Times over its connection to the Falun Gong spiritual practice, breaking the Russiagate hoax, and its decades-long battle in exposing the CCP’s crimes against humanity after NBC ran a series of hit pieces on the outlet.

The primary editor involved in the disinformation campaign was an Australian named Pat Cheng. Adler said Cheng’s “prior history includes pushing negative information about a book extremely critical of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.” 

“Having been inactive since 2006, he returned to editing in June to report an editor for ‘soap-boxing’ in discussions about Falun Gong. In fact, the editor was mainly criticizing various attempts to add poorly-sourced negative information about the spiritual movement to related articles such as edits citing Chinese state media.” 

“Cheng’s report got the editor a warning.”

Adler said Cheng involved two other editors who operate under pseudonyms, “Tsumikiria” and “Simonm223,” who are “both self-identified socialists active on articles related to Antifa where they helped censor the group’s actions such as the assault on Andy Ngo and the terrorist attack on an ICE detention center.”

“Both also mocked victims such as Ngo and, in Simon’s case, praised the attack on ICE. On Twitter, Simon acknowledged China’s actions were an ‘authoritarian over-reaction’ but contrasted it with actions in the United States where there is no violent insurgency.”

The Twitter thread referenced was a May 22, 2019 thread in which Simon astroturfed for the CCP’s suppression of Muslim minorities with diatribe such as “And nevermind all the Hui muslims who live and worship freely and openly in China. Hell, nevermind all the Uighurs who live in parts of China that didn’t have an active religious extremist insurgency and who aren’t being subjected to any of the attrocities [sic] alleged.”

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.

Most Popular