Wikipedia doesn’t exactly enjoy a reputation as the most reliable source on the internet. But a report released in June by the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, suggests that the digital encyclopedia’s misinformation woes may run even deeper than many of its English-speaking users realize.
In the report’s summary, the foundation acknowledged that a small network of volunteer administrators of the Croatian-language version of Wikipedia have been abusing their powers and distorting articles “in a way that matched the narratives of political organizations and groups that can broadly be defined as the Croatian radical right.” For almost a decade, the rogue administrators have been altering pages to whitewash crimes committed by Croatia’s Nazi-allied Ustashe regime during World War II and to promote a fascist worldview. For example, it was reported in 2018 that Auschwitz—which English Wikipedia unambiguously deems a concentration camp—was referred to on Croatian Wikipedia as a collection camp, a term that carries fewer negative connotations. The Jasenovac concentration camp, known as Croatia’s Auschwitz, was also referred to as a collection camp.
Croatian Wikipedia users have been calling attention to similar discrepancies since at least 2013, but the Wikimedia Foundation began taking action only last year. That the disinformation campaign went unchecked for so long speaks to a fundamental weakness of Wikipedia’s crowdsourced approach to quality control: It works only if the crowd is large, diverse, and independent enough to reliably weed out assertions that run counter to fact.