Twitter and Facebook repeatedly abused Donald Trump while pushing unsubstantiated claims, including his claim that the US presidential election he lost was rigged, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told AFP.
The two social media giants indefinitely suspended Trump after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, an attack on the seat of democracy that led to Trump’s second impeachment on Wednesday.
Wales told AFP in an interview to mark Wikipedia’s 20th anniversary on Friday that responsibility for the unprecedented events in Washington rested “100 percent at the feet of Donald Trump.”
But he said Twitter and Facebook had “constantly battled misinformation” touted by the former New York real estate mogul who is leaving office next week.
“With Donald Trump, they did a poor job of dealing with him for a long, long time,” Wales said. “He was clearly spreading disinformation, he was clearly abusing people.”
– Eyes and knowledge –
In the 20 years since its founding, Wikipedia is now one of the most popular websites in the world, with more than 55 million articles in 300 languages. It is read more than 15 billion times a month.
It is also, as Wales first envisioned, “a world in which every person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge.”
The Internet entrepreneur’s decision in 2003 to turn the site into a nonprofit is one of the reasons he believes Wikipedia has not faced the same backlash and tough decisions as Twitter or Facebook.
“They (social media platforms) have a business model that says, ‘We need as many eyes as possible, we need as many page views as possible,’” the 54-year-old said.
“Now it’s also bad for your brand. So they have to deal with it. But I think they are going to have difficulties. “
Facebook and Twitter have been closely associated with the deeply divisive culture wars in the United States and the spread of misinformation around the world.
By contrast, Wikipedia is considered one of the last examples of early web utopianism, its supporters say.
However, in the early 2000s, untruths and user vandalism on Wikipedia sparked a debate about web regulation.
But now the online resource is more likely to be presented as an example of the best the Internet has to offer, says the American-British businessman.
“I always say that we were never as bad as they said and we are not as good as they think we are,” he said.
“But we still know that Wikipedia is not perfect. We still have a lot of work to do. “
– ‘Building it to last’ –
Wales is also aware that Wikipedia is fundamentally different from social media platforms.
“We have a very clear mission to create an encyclopedia. So everything we do we judge by that standard, ”he said.
“(That is) a very different mission statement from a social network that says, come and post what you think, post your opinions.
“Because the truth is that a lot of people have really horrible opinions.”
Wales admits that Wikipedia still has challenges to overcome and has faced questions about the diversity of the thousands of “Wikipedians,” the community of editors and administrators who keep the site running.
In 2021, Wikipedia will implement a uniform code of conduct with corresponding sanctions against insults and harassment, which have been targeted at minority groups within the community in the past, in all 300 versions of their different languages.
Wales said the development of the code of conduct “took longer than it should have,” but that was because the community was so large “it takes a long time to work on things and get acceptance and understanding.”
However, the goal for the next 20 years will be remarkably similar during the first two decades.
In 2006, Wales set a goal of having 100,000 Wikipedia entries for each language with over a million speakers.
“We are still at least 20 years away from that,” he said.
Ultimately, he hopes to have created an institution that will endure, such as Britain’s Oxford University, the oldest in the English-speaking world, whose roots go back to the late 11th century.
“We really focused on how to build an institution that can last,” Wales said. “We really want to be that kind of thing in society for a long time.”