By attacking Wikipedia, Musk is lambasting the nonprofit bastion of hard facts

Wikipedia is the only major platform that operates as a public service, gifting us information for free and staying away from our data. No wonder Elon Musk is now attacking it.

Musk’s own platform – X, formerly known as Twitter – is in deep trouble. The businessman still owes banks billions for his takeover of the social media site but it’s not making him any money.

In fact, the world’s top-spending advertisers are taking their cash elsewhere, the marketing consultancy Ebiquity has said.

Majority of large advertisers have stopped spending on X, data from Ebiquity shows. Courtesy of Ebiquity.

X has also shed its important content moderation and verification teams. Musk, who has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” probably doesn’t care but the platform has – unsurprisingly – turned into a safe space for misinformation and propaganda.

Despite credible research showing that X is rapidly becoming a cesspool of fake news and agendas pushed by state-owned and state-affiliated accounts, Musk keeps insisting his ailing baby has the potential to be the most reliable source of news and diverse opinions.

Musk has beef

And probably because Wikipedia has been such a source for quite a while now, it’s being targeted by Musk. The billionaire is now taking swipes at the online encyclopedia site and its operator, the Wikimedia Foundation.

“Have you ever wondered why the Wikimedia Foundation wants so much money? It certainly isn’t needed to operate Wikipedia. You can literally fit a copy of the entire text on your phone!” Musk tweeted on Sunday.

Imagining he’s oh-so funny, Musk then offered to give Wikipedia a billion dollars if they changed the encyclopedia’s name to Dickipedia, and explained: “Wikipedia is inherently hierarchical and therefore subject to the biases of higher ranking editors, independent of their merits.”

According to Musk, Community Notes on X that are supposedly empowering the platform’s users to add context to potentially misleading posts, are much better – even though it’s quite ironic that precisely one of such contributors helpfully explained where Wikipedia’s expenses go in a note under Musk’s post.

The numbers are truly easy to find because the Wikimedia Foundation is remarkably transparent. In 2022, the organization reported (PDF) earning $154 million in revenue while paying $146 million in expenses.

The foundation also explains on its page that 43% of the expenses go toward engineering improvements and product development, while another 32% pays for grants, projects, and tools to support Wikipedia communities.

It’s everything X isn’t

“Wikipedia is the only website in the top-ten most-visited global websites to be run by a nonprofit – and at a fraction of the budget and staffing. We are not funded by advertising, we don’t charge a subscription fee, and we don’t sell your data,” the Wikimedia Foundation wrote on its website.

And even though all of around 22GB worth of text stored on Wikipedia really could fit in a modern smartphone, the platform also preserves years of edits and arguments over those edits. There are copyleft images and audio files as well.

Plus, Wikipedia is ad-free, available in multiple languages, and mostly works without issue – the same is not true for X or other major social media platforms. Finally, it’s mostly factual – volunteering editors quickly shoot down controversial takes.

People donate to Wikipedia because they like the experiment (it’s among the 10 most visited websites in the world, according to Similarweb, a website traffic analytics firm), and nobody forces them: there’s no subscription fee.

In short, Wikipedia is everything that X pretends, or wants to be. However, for Musk, the attack on the online encyclopedia could be a way to get back at Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia.

Wales advises NewsGuard, an anti-misinformation outfit, that recently published a damning report saying that much of the top misinformation on X about the Israel-Hamas war comes from verified accounts.

“A NewsGuard analysis found that ‘verified’ accounts on X are superspreaders of misinformation about the conflict, boosting falsehoods while displaying a ‘verification’ blue checkmark that verifies nothing,” the outfit said.