The Iranian regime is using Wikipedia to spread disinformation

The Iranian regime is using Wikipedia to spread disinformation. In America, we know that some groups routinely game Wikipedia, but the difference is that, in Iran, it’s not independent actors engaged in this game; it’s the government itself.

Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites worldwide, easily accessible through Google search results. With over 6.7 million articles in English and nearly one million articles in Persian, it’s not something the Iranian propaganda apparatus can ignore.

In an article about Wikipedia’s policies, The London Times recently wrote that the Iranian government is editing Wikipedia entries in both English and Farsi to “downgrade Iranian human rights atrocities and other abuses…” Additionally,

Information has also been changed to discredit Iranian dissident groups, while government publications have been presented as impartial news sources on the free online encyclopaedia.

In one case, key details were removed about the Iranian regime’s mass executions. The fact that current senior officials in the regime were involved in the 1988 death commissions, in which thousands of political prisoners were killed, was also deleted.

A Wikipedia instructional point explains that its policy was once, “The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.” It’s since clarified that “content is determined by previously published information rather than the beliefs or experiences of its editors. Even if you’re sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it.” In other words, all those hyperlinks… Iran’s regime has realized that it can create the illusion of verifiability by using its vast governmental resources to create forged documents and sources and then utilizing them whenever necessary.

The image was made using a screengrab of Wikipedia’s Farsi home page and a YouTube screengrab of Ali Khamenei.

Now, Iran no longer needs to publish a fake story in its state-controlled media and then push it into other nations’ media outlets. Instead, it simply goes straight to Wikipedia, creating the illusion of verifiability and, to many people, truth. It’s a very efficient way to permeate the world of ideas with attacks on its enemies, both domestic and foreign.

In 2022, Khamenei’s page on Persian Wikipedia was censored to exclude any negative reports about him. Erased from the page is his 1988 order to his “Death Commission” to exterminate the Mujahedin. Following that, a mass murder of 30,000 political prisoners, including Mujahedin and other groups, took place.

The government has also used Wikipedia to remove information about those who have protested against the regime. For example, Dr. Aida Rostami, who was helping anti-government protesters, was brutally murdered by security forces. Government-affiliated users heavily edited reports about her, effectively erasing her entirely.

The government has also been using Wikipedia to identify users who write facts that conflict with the government’s official narrative. These users and their families then receive online or physical threats. Writing at Townhall, Bruce McColm explained, “The longer Iran’s network of Wikipedia editors is allowed to operate without repercussions, the more difficult it will become to eradicate the false claims they have spread or to restore the truths they have suppressed.”

Many people in Iran and abroad read Persian Wikipedia, and many from different countries refer to English Wikipedia. Few understand how much of what they read, all of which has the illusion of verifiability, is biased or fake. Perhaps this is something democratic governments should pay attention to, while the Wikimedia Foundation should examine its responsibility for this abuse by dictatorial regimes, such as Iran, on this platform.

Hassan Mahmoudi is an Iran & Middle East political and Economic researcher.

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