Wikipedia represents the vanguard of the new propaganda model. An astroturfed "people's encyclopedia" that is treated with reverence as a nearly-infallible Fountain of Truth even as it is said to emanate from the fingertips of so many ordinary people, its reputation as the place to find any morsel of information the reader desires has made it the fifth-most popular website on earth.
Wikipedia deliberately fosters the image of the sad-sack editor who despite an unappealing exterior possesses a heart of gold, a desire to share his or her (on Wikipedia, it's almost always "his," but the site is almost comically desperate to draw more women and thus ride the wave of Gender Politics) esoteric knowledge on whatever subject with the benighted populace. But the site’s hard core of full-time editors are not sweaty-palmed hobbyists, unemployed geniuses, or any of the other stereotypes perpetuated by media profiles of Wikipedians. The “people’s encyclopedia” is lousy with PR flacks, intelligence agents, and other professional disinformation merchants. Whether they’re working for multinational corporations or government agencies, the site’s most prolific editors are working to bring Wikipedia’s millions of articles into line with their particular agenda. They can be found memory-holing Monsanto scandals, inventing justifications for massacres of Palestinian civilians by Israel, and sliming anti-war politicians in the US and UK alike as apologists for the Syrian government.
The Wiki-propagandists are not held to the limits of truth - Wikipedia does not pretend to aspire to higher ideals like truth, instead settling for the lower bar of “verifiability.” This merely means if a “reliable source” says something, it can be included in a Wikipedia article. It is child’s play for the CIA, Merck, or Qorvis to have an article published in a reputable outlet; even easier for a Wikipedia editor in their employ to extract the relevant facts from the article and slip them into Wikipedia, where they immediately take on the sheen of established fact. Lazy journalists cement the new facts in reality when they scan Wikipedia articles for background in their work; this process is so common it has a name - citogenesis - and can play havoc with its victims.
Indeed, there are as many ways to smear someone on Wikipedia as there are smears. Beyond merely inventing facts, editors can delete positive information, add negative information, exaggerate, minimize, even add quotes about a person or company from a third party as long as they present the commentator as a relevant expert. More and more often, editors are subjecting sources themselves to this process, banning the sources of “wrongthink” from the encyclopedia while throwing the door wide open to journalists who play the game.
As Dirk Pohlmann and Markus Fiedler of Wikihausen have discovered in their exhaustive research on the German Wikipedia, this problem is not limited to the English language site. Wikipedia has built a scarily effective global propaganda organ, to be controlled by the highest bidders. The site has tentacles in nearly 300 languages, and its parent entity the Wikimedia Foundation has insinuated itself into some of the foundational structures of the internet itself. Artificial intelligence “voice assistants” like Amazon Alexa and Google Home often spout Wikipedia entries in response to users’ queries; condensed Wikipedia entries called Wikidata are used to program other AIs; Wikipedia discussion sections have been used to create “anti-hate” algorithms that censor-happy groups like the ADL hope to use to police speech on the web; and the Foundation was involved in drafting World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee’s Contract for the Web, a set of rules laying out a roadmap toward “fixing” the internet itself.
A better tool for influencing the minds of hundreds of millions of people would be hard to find. Unfortunately, this would-be Oracle of Delphi is more of a pit of Hades, where knowledge goes to die.