Earlier today, the Wessex Regionalists had a tweet from someone who was unconvinced that we had any existence outside of social media. To prove that we actually did contest elections, I pointed him in the direction of our Wikipedia page. However, I had not visited in a while, and what I saw there disturbed me.
The page appeared to have been edited by people hostile to the party, but who knew how far they can push their personal agendas whilst staying within Wikipedia’s neutrality guidelines. Word choices were loaded to emphasise the party’s lack of electoral success, and to inaccurately paint personal statements by party members as representative of current party policy, However, everything was sourced, and all statements were factually correct. For example, the page says that “the party has been described as ethnoterritorial”, providing a link to an academic paper that erroneously describes us as such. Saying that we have been described as ethnoterritorial is not the same thing as saying that the party actually is ethnoterritorial (we have never regarded Wessaxons as a distinct ethnic group). But unless a reader has exceptional critical thinking skills, that is the impression that they are likely to take away.
Unfortunately, the same neutrality guidelines that the editor or editors in question have so ably exploited effectively leave us without a right of reply. I could write a detailed rebuttal on this blog and cite it on the Wikipedia page, but Wiki is picky about what sources it will accept, and self-sourced citations are considered invalid. A section which quoted The Statute of Wessex at length was removed for this very reason. Citations are expected to be from “independent” sources. But as we have seen above, independence does not guarantee accuracy. This means that unless some media outlet decides to run a sympathetic piece on us, we are entirely dependent on how others choose to portray us.
Now, while Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’s personal biases are well-documented, I do not believe that there is any deliberate policy by Wikipedia to discredit us. A look at the page’s edit history shows that obvious trolling/vandalism by some crackpot calling himself Lord Oliver Wessex was dealt with swiftly and efficiently. But more insidious biases can remain unchecked due to rules that are (rightly) designed to stop organisations such as ours from using Wikipedia as a soapbox.
If you want to hear our side of the story, this website (which, to be fair, is linked to from the Wikipedia page) is the place to get it. But how many will take the trouble?