Nishant Kauntia, The Caravan Magazine

“It might be awkward, but please don’t scroll past this.” In July this year, the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation launched a donation campaign in India. A banner pinned at the top of every Wikipedia article noted that fewer than two percent of users made donations and that, if those who saw the banner would contribute Rs 150 each, the online encyclopedia “could keep thriving for years.”

For an open-source collaborative website that does not carry any advertising, the appeal was business as usual. The Wikimedia Foundation relies on contributions to maintain the website and its servers, as well as to pay its employees. According to the foundation’s financial statement for 2018–19, it raised nearly $111 million in donations and contributions, accounting for over ninety percent of its total revenue in the fiscal year. The campaign, however, was met with stiff opposition from right-wing figures in India. Accusing the website of being “full of editors who are biased, anti-Hindu and anti-India,” the columnist Shefali Vaidya tweeted to her half a million followers, “#StopFundingHate do NOT donate to @Wikipedia or @PetaIndia. They use YOUR money against you—to peddle Hindu hatred.”

“Wikipedia has published many questionable statements about Hindu writers, leaders, causes and historical issues,” David Frawley, the founder of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, tweeted, adding that it was “not an unbiased forum. Hindus should protest against its anti-Hindu views.” The filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri tweeted that “Wikipedia has #UrbanNaxals editors.” The author Rajiv Malhotra, who claimed to have first criticised Wikipedia during the 1990s—he clarified, after people made fun of him by pointing out the encyclopedia was founded in 2001, that he meant its predecessors in the collaborative-encyclopedia space—argued that it stood for the gamification, rather than the democratisation, of knowledge. “Those with better gaming skills overrule others with lower privilege level,” he tweeted, comparing Wikipedia’s hierarchy of editors to a caste system.

Over two decades of its existence, Wikipedia has been seen in India as a relatively uncontroversial source of information, providing a surface-level introduction to just about everything. The Hindu Right, however, has long been harbouring frustrations against the encyclopedia. In the past year, those frustrations found a voice. Once perceived as an apolitical platform, Wikipedia has now turned into a new front in India’s culture wars.

The story begins in the national capital, on 24 February. What Wikipedia would later call the 2020 Delhi riots were only just starting. Television screens played videos of wanton violence. Arnab Goswami was angry. “If they wanted a headline on the day that Trump comes to India,” the anchor shouted at the start of the primetime debate that night on the pro-government news channel Republic TV, “if they wanted a headline to feed to some global lobby, they should not have done it at the cost of human lives.”

Peaceful protests against the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act had been taking place in Delhi for over two months. Goswami was alleging, without providing any evidence, that anti-CAA protesters had instigated the violence in search of publicity. He did not mention that, a day before the violence started, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra had made an incendiary speech threatening protesters who were blocking a street in northeastern Delhi. “Till the US president is in India, we are leaving the area peacefully,” Mishra had said. “After that we won’t listen to you”—the police—“if the roads are not vacated.”

The Hindu Right has long been harbouring frustrations against Wikipedia. Once perceived as an apolitical platform, the encyclopedia has now turned into a new front in India’s culture wars.

On the morning of 25 February, with the violence showing no signs of abating, a Wikipedia editor with the username DBigXRay created an entry for the “North East Delhi Riots.” For DBigXRay, this was a routine practice. Since 2012, the editor has created dozens of articles on Indian subjects, including the Patna railway station and the catchphrase “Main Bhi Chowkidar.”

“Start article using templates from 1927 Nagpur riots and 2002 Gujarat riots,” DBigXRay wrote in the edit summary for the first iteration of the article, published at 9.51 am. He began adding details and sources in subsequent revisions over the next few hours, updating casualty figures and providing a background section on the anti-CAA protests. In the afternoon, he added a section called “Threats by Kapil Mishra,” which included details of the complaints filed against the BJP leader and the fact that no action had been taken against him.

By then, other editors had also begun making changes to the article. Most of these interventions were minor edits, correcting formatting errors and improving the quality of the prose. As new information was published by the media, they expanded the article. (By the time Goswami’s next show began at 9 pm, it was twelve hundred words long, with 33 references.) However, the contest to control the narrative had started.

An anonymous user, identified only by their IP address, replaced Mishra’s name in the “Lead Figures” section with that of Waris Pathan, a former Maharashtra legislator who had been accused of making a communally charged comment at an anti-CAA protest in Mumbai on 20 February. DBigXRay undid the change ten minutes later—“because Waris’s comment is related to CAA, not related to Delhi riots,” he later explained. Another anonymous user claimed to have fixed a typo by replacing “peaceful” with “violent resistance” while describing the sit-in at Shaheen Bagh. This was changed after thirteen minutes. A user named Vipin3432 tried to change the “goals” of the riots from “Preventing Citizenship Amendment Act protests” to “Bringing international attention during US president visit” on the anti-CAA protests. DBigXRay reversed the change within a minute.

Meanwhile, a user called Generaliized, who is a member of WikiProject Pakistan, replaced the section on “Clashes” with one titled “Muslim’s Suffrage,” citing “very viral videos” that showed Hindus torturing Muslims and desecrating mosques. “Another reason violence occurred was because Trump was supporting Pakistan and its Muslims,” Generaliized wrote. “This therefore angered many Hindus and they decided to kill Muslims.” DBigXRay undid this edit a minute later, writing that “Twitter is not a reliable source, stop adding your personal comentary [sic].” Generaliized tried to include the section six times that day, before a Wikipedia administrator with the username Vanamonde93 changed the status of the article to protected, citing “persistent vandalism.” This action prevented unregistered or new users from editing the article.

The disputes continued the following day. “Kapil Mishra has not been proved Guilty, so Don’t make him a Scapegoat for your Anti Hindu Hatred,” an anonymous user wrote on the article’s Talk page in the early hours of 26 February. “The article nowhere states that he is guilty,” DBigXRay replied. “What are you talking about.” A user named Bbtheorist began removing all references to Mishra as well as a photograph of the union home minister, Amit Shah, who supervises the Delhi police. They also removed a paragraph describing the vandalism of a mosque in Ashok Nagar. After DBigXRay twice warned them about making disruptive edits, a Wikipedia administrator blocked Bbtheorist from making further changes to the page. A few minutes later, another user, Jerrydnotty, replaced the introductory paragraph with the line “Sabka hisaab hoga”—Everything will be avenged.

This situation was not alien to Wikipedia. Back-and-forth edits by groups of people, with no dialogue or attempt to collaborate, are known as “edit wars.” QEDK, an administrator who participated in the article on the Delhi riots, told me that this is a frequent phenomenon. “Whenever there are a lot of disruptive edits during a short period of time, we generally assume it’s a coordinated group, like on WhatsApp or Facebook,” they said.

On the afternoon of 26 February, the right-wing website OpIndia published an article about how leftists were using Wikipedia to write the first draft of biased history. The article outlined a conspiracy in which “senior editors” of Wikipedia had coordinated with administrators to get certain users blocked and portray an anti-Hindu view of the riots. “The Wiki page, which is being actively moderated by the user DBigXRay portrays only Hindus and pro-CAA crowd as violent,” the article said.

The article was shared over five thousand times on Facebook and Twitter. A few tweets singled out DBigXRay, calling him a “pro Congress editor” and “a serial vandal” whose “sole AGENDA is to always tarnish wiki pages … to defame the country/government or the right wing.” Some called it “digital jihad,” some tagged the minister for information technology, while others suggested creating a nationalist alternative called Bharatpedia. More people tried their hand at editing the article. The edit war raged on.

WHEN JIMMY WALES AND LARRY SANGER founded Wikipedia, their central idea was to build an encyclopedia that was edited through community consensus. The English edition of Wikipedia has over 40 million registered accounts, of whom around a hundred and thirty thousand users made an edit in the past month. These editors, most of whom are unpaid volunteers, work together to create content for the encyclopedia, discuss changes to existing pages and debate what standards and rules to follow. Through their collaboration, and occasional contestation, they create an archive not just of history but of historiography—all edits ever made to Wikipedia articles, and all discussions between editors regarding Wikipedia’s content policy, are available on the website.

As Wikipedia is a completely decentralised platform, any rules imposed from the top, even by Wales or Sanger, have been controversial. One policy, however, has been non-negotiable from the beginning: Neutral Point of View.

In the Wikipedia community, NPOV is upheld as gospel. One editor called it a work of art. The NPOV policy was written by Sanger, who had just completed a doctorate in philosophy. (His dissertation focussed on epistemological questions regarding how beliefs are justified.) Sanger was always bothered whenever he encountered bias. “I remember reading something in my high-school textbook, and it was saying things I knew were disputed,” he told me. “It didn’t matter if I agreed with the things being said—it just struck me as being manipulative.”

“A general purpose encyclopedia is a collection of synthesized knowledge presented from a neutral point of view,” Sanger wrote in an early version of the policy, published on 27 December 2001. NPOV, he wrote,

attempts to present ideas and facts in such a fashion that both supporters and opponents can agree. Of course, 100% agreement is not possible; there are ideologues in the world who will not concede to any presentation other than a forceful statement of their own point of view. We can only seek a type of writing that is agreeable to essentially rational people who may differ on particular points.

“Perhaps the easiest way to make your writing more encyclopedic,” Wales added, “is to write about what people believe, rather than what is so.” He invited those who found such a policy “somehow subjectivist or collectivist or imperialist” to ask him for clarification so that he could disabuse them of the notion. “What people believe is a matter of objective fact, and we can present that quite easily from the neutral point of view,” he added.

Sanger articulated two reasons why Wikipedia should be neutral. The first was obvious: as a repository of human knowledge, it should include all points of view. “We should, both individually and collectively, make an effort to present these conflicting theories fairly, without advocating any one of them,” he wrote. The second reason was less intuitive and perhaps more interesting. Neutrality, he added, “is conducive to our readers’ feeling free to make up their own minds for themselves, and thus to encourage in them intellectual independence.” Sanger told me that neutrality respects, and even facilitates, our personal autonomy. “People need to have the ability to deliberate about what they’re going to believe, because what they believe impacts what they do.” Abandoning neutrality, he said, “is not very different from totalitarianism.” His passion was evident in his voice. “When people lose the ability to deliberate about believing certain facts, or supporting certain candidates, that’s not a democracy. That’s a different process.”

In his book Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia, Joseph Michael Reagle Jr, an associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, writes that NPOV was a novel concept for encyclopedic writing and a consequence of Wikipedia’s collaborative nature. “Historically, reference works have made few claims about neutrality as a stance of collaboration, or as an end result,” he writes. “While other reference works have had contributions from thousands of people, they were still controlled by a few persons of a relatively homogenous worldview.” NPOV and its related policies—an insistence on verifiability and a prohibition on adding original, uncited research—are a substitute for asserting Wikipedia’s authority as an arbiter of truth. They also help the Wikipedia community avoid getting caught up in philosophical debates about what is true.

The NPOV policy was the subject of intense debate in Wikipedia’s early years. (An analysis of the policy’s Talk page—which the authors called just as important for the study of Wikipedia “as the Federalist Papers are for the U.S. constitutional theory”—calculated that, by the end of February 2007, the NPOV debate comprised 27 archived discussion pages, 413 discussion threads and over 2.1 million characters.) “The current NPOV article makes Wikipedia’s mission out not to be a summation of human knowledge, but rather only a much less worthwhile task—it will be merely a summation of human arguments,” a user called Bensaccount wrote in December 2005, arguing that reputed scientists and historians would not be willing to contribute to such a project. “That, you can be sure, will not be the case for the millions of deluded and sometimes mean-spirited people who promote and push pseudo-science and pseudo-history,” Bensaccount added. “They will take advantage of this project. This may become more apparent as the project progresses.”

Other users raised concerns about moral relativism (“Take World War II: neutral POV in its basic form would not make any distinction between who was right and wrong”), about lending credibility to discredited phenomena such as alien abductions (“Obviously, the majority of people, here on Wikipedia and elsewhere, would say that the claims are false. However, saying that on the page would actually be POV”), about the policy’s effect on controversial articles (“The Armenian genocide article is already hopelessly lost because every argument has become an opinion and vice versa”), about how much weight should be given to minority views (“It seems to me that the current exception, if it were followed to the letter, would force us to actually give a lot of space at the evolution article to creationists—after all, creationists form a pretty large percentage of people, so their view is not simply a ‘small minority’ view”). These concerns were met with explanations on how the policy addressed such questions and arguments over whether it required changes. Edit wars occasionally broke out.

On 16 October 2006, an administrator named SlimVirgin “tweaked” the first sentence of the policy text. “All Wikipedia articles must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), representing significant views fairly and without bias,” it had said for nearly two years. SlimVirgin changed the subordinate clause to “representing fairly and without bias all significant views that have been published by a reliable source.” Over the years, following further debate, the clause was amended to “representing fairly, proportionately, and, as far as possible, without editorial bias, all the significant views that have been published by reliable sources on a topic.”

Wikipedia’s standard for publishing information—what it calls its “threshold for inclusion”—has always been verifiability rather than truth. “Even if you are sure something is true, it must be verifiable before you can add it,” the Verifiability policy states. SlimVirgin’s change to the NPOV text clarified that, much like how Wikipedia is not an arbiter of truth, it is not in the business of assigning legitimacy to views. Any information that passed the standards of peer-reviewed journals, publishers or news organisations could be included, as long as a citation was provided.

This does not mean that verifiability guarantees inclusion. The adverbs in the NPOV clause are key. Fairness implies that an editor must seek to include all published points of view that exist on a particular issue. However, they must also seek to ensure that they accurately represent the state of consensus, based on the preponderance of published sources on the issue. They must not let their personal biases reflect which sources they include and, more importantly, which sources they exclude. Implicit in the definition, and explicit in several Wikipedia policies, is that sound editorial judgement and good-faith collaboration are necessary for this process to work.

The question of reliable sources played a major part in the row over the article on the Delhi riots. Having gone through almost two thousand edits, it currently begins with the line: “The 2020 Delhi riots, or North East Delhi riots, were multiple waves of bloodshed, property destruction, and rioting in North East Delhi, beginning on 23 February and caused chiefly by Hindu mobs attacking Muslims.” Several users on the Talk page complained, often in all caps, about the phrase “caused chiefly by Hindu mobs attacking Muslims.” The phrase is sourced from an article published in The Guardian. Responding to complaints, the editor who wrote the sentence stood by the phrase, arguing that it comes from a reliable source. If reliable sources say that the riots were caused by “Hindu mobs attacking Muslims,” Wikipedia will say so. In doing this, Wikipedia excludes the view, pushed by supporters of the Narendra Modi government, that Muslims started the riots or that most of the casualties were Hindus. (The second sentence of the article says that two-thirds of the 53 people killed were Muslims, citing the New York Times and the Washington Post.) If there are no reliable sources backing a view, it will not find a place on Wikipedia, no matter how popular it is.

This approach has been criticised for years by conservatives who believe that academia and the mainstream media have an inherent bias against right-wing views. Sanger, who left Wikipedia soon after its founding, has been one of the most trenchant critics. Earlier this year, he published a blog post titled, “Wikipedia is Badly Biased.” He claimed that Wikipedia had abandoned the NPOV policy and was now clearly in the business of taking sides. “Wikipedia can be counted on to cover not just political figures, but political issues as well from a left-liberal point of view,” he wrote.

“Wikipedia’s bias is a policy-level problem,” Sanger told me. “The policy is now written in a way that allows extremely biased people to defend their views.” He argued that the current version of the NPOV policy promotes credibility, not neutrality. “People disagree on which sources are reliable,” he said. “It’s wrong to expect people to accept a list of sources as the reliable sources.” He added that Wikipedia should accept that it has abandoned neutrality, and that the sources the encyclopedia considers reliable have biased it against conservatism and religious traditions.

The Wikipedia community takes doxing very seriously. OpIndia and other publications that had carried its investigation were added to the website’s spam blacklist for “privacy concerns.”

THE OPINDIA ARTICLE and the attention from Twitter did not deter DBigXRay and the other editors working on the article about the Delhi riots from continuing their task. They were able to do this fearlessly because their pseudonymous identities, for the most part, shielded them from real-life consequences. “When you are editing, you are not thinking about who will be offended by the information you’re adding,” one editor told me. “You are just adding information. That is why anonymity is important.” According to another editor, contributing to Wikipedia at times requires taking sensitive stances that might not align with one’s personal politics—what the NPOV policy describes as “writing for the enemy.” “It’s about what you do, not who you are,” Vanamonde93 told me.

If reliable sources say that the riots were caused by “Hindu mobs attacking Muslims,” Wikipedia will say so. In doing this, Wikipedia excludes the view, pushed by supporters of the Narendra Modi government, that Muslims started the riots or that most of the casualties were Hindus.

The protected status of the page had created a sense of calm, with editors no longer having to keep scanning for vandalism, but there was a steady stream of posts on the article’s Talk page. Users kept debating the content of the article, ranging from more trivial issues, such as whether to call the page “North East Delhi Riots” or “Delhi Riots 2020,” to more controversial matters, such as whether to add in the Aam Aadmi Party counsellor Tahir Hussain’s alleged role in the violence. Kapil Mishra’s photograph was eventually removed from the article.

Most of the comments, however, did not follow the prescribed format. The Talk page is not a forum but a discussion space for prospective edits, which “should be accompanied by a clear and specific description of the requested change,” according to Wikipedia guidelines. Faced with a deluge of comments, the editors stopped engaging with rants about the article’s alleged bias, especially when they contained complaints that had already been addressed.

Sometimes, the interventions helped make the article more comprehensive. When presented with credible reports, DBigXRay added details about anti-CAA protesters hurling stones. However, he refused to name a Muslim man who had been caught on camera waving a pistol at the police, citing Wikipedia’s guidelines on notability. When one user, S. M. Nazmus Shakib, asked why their inclusion of the incident, the focus of much media attention, had been reverted, DBigXRay replied, “All he did was wave a gun and fire in the air. There is no evidence he killed or [injured] anyone.”

“Yes he did not kill or injure anybody,” Shakib replied. “But, his video went on viral. And directly firing to police is not a common thing. If we should not mention his name as he is not notable can the incident be added in the article?”

DBigXRay pointed out that the international media had not covered the video, “because it was not a major incident.” Another user explained elsewhere that, since “there were several shooters”—many people, after all, were shot during the riots—“how can an article give importance to just one shooter just because he was captured in video and talked about … we cannot include everything that is included in news articles.”

On 2 March, an anonymous member of the Hindutva subreddit r/Chodi, which has frequently been flagged for spreading hate against Muslims and other minorities, posted that they had managed to find out DBigXRay’s real name and personal details. The same day, OpIndia published a piece, written by its editor-in-chief, Nupur J Sharma, titled “Who is DBigXRay, the man who has been altering history using Wikipedia, including the recent article on Delhi Riots: An investigation.” Expanding on the Reddit post, the article exposed DBigXRay’s real name, the college he had attended, and the city and organisation he worked in. It did concede, however, that it could not independently verify that he was a supporter of the Aam Aadmi Party, as people had been claiming after digging through his old Facebook posts.

In an email response to a questionnaire I sent her, which OpIndia published in full, Sharma took exception to my reference to the exposure of DBigXRay’s identity as an act of doxing. “Some of the information, like the Editor’s real name, was already published in a Reddit thread at the time,” Sharma wrote. “OpIndia embarked on a journey to verify publicly available information, much of it, was already in the Wikipedia archive and his Facebook profile.” Sharma also took issue with the idea that Wikipedia editors should be entitled to anonymity. “OpIndia believes that any editor, whether on Wikipedia or otherwise, who decides which fact is worth communicating to the public and which isn’t, based on their own world-view and narrative, does not deserve the shield of anonymity,” she wrote.

Sharma’s article had claimed that DBigXRay had “special privileges as a Master Editor III” with the power to decide “what information is included and what is not on the page.” This was not true. According to the Wikipedia page on Service Awards, a Master Editor III—alternatively called a Most Plusquamperfect Looshpah Laureate—is simply any editor who has made at least sixty thousand edits over at least eight years. The only privilege service awards confer is the right to display a special badge on one’s user page. Wikipedia is clear that “service awards do not indicate any level of authority whatsoever; ‘master’ editors are not bestowed with more authority through this award than ‘novice’ editors.” DBigXRay’s “special privileges” merely amounted to being able to make changes to a protected page, which any user with a preexisting account could do. If any such user wished to debate or revert changes, they could do so. Therefore, DBigXRay was not “directly responsible for the poor chronicle of facts that the Wikipedia article was,” as Sharma claimed in her response to my questions.

The researchers Prashanth Bhat and Kalyani Chadha recently published a theoretical analysis of OpIndia’s articles criticising India’s mainstream media, linking the website to a global tendency of anti-media populism. Among the themes they consistently found in OpIndia articles were “Naming and Shaming Journalists,” “Media as Partisan and Elite-Oriented,” and “Media Biased Against India and Hindus.” The story about DBigXRay checked all these boxes. It named and shamed a Wikipedia editor. It characterised Wikipedia editors as a partisan cartel that was silencing ordinary users. As a result, OpIndia claimed, Wikipedia was structurally biased against India and Hindus. “The claims are the same—anti-Hindu, anti-India,” Chadha told me. “The allegations made against liberal media are now being made against platforms.”

“It’s a tactic that creates loyalty,” Bhat said. “Your audience stays intact, because the claim is, ‘If you don’t support us, the establishment will eat us.’” Under the current government, OpIndia’s editorial position puts it in a position of strength, but the website finds it useful to play the victim card. It currently has a fundraising banner soliciting donations to fight outlets such as NDTV and The Wire, which “never have to worry about funds” since they keep raising money in the “name of saving democracy.” Twitter threads on OpIndia articles frequently feature screenshots of supporters having made donations. “They position themselves as outsiders and claim that everyone else is trying to suppress their voices,” Bhat said.

Sharma disagreed with how Bhat and Chadha characterised their work, but stood by OpIndia’s critical stance on the media. “We plead guilty to treating journalists the same way journalists treat others,” she told me. “Celebrity journalists are often the object of our articles, which upsets the Omertà that exists in the media where they don’t take pot shots at each other.”

OpIndia’s article doxing DBigXRay was shared over thirty thousand times. Other right-wing publications, such as Swarajya and TFIPost—as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s mouthpiece Organiser—followed suit by either directly republishing or writing about the investigation. On Twitter, users called DBigXRay “an information terrorist.” Others tagged his employer, demanding that he be fired for spreading hatred against Hindus.

DBigXRay deleted his nine-year-old Wikipedia account. He tried to delete as much of his online presence as possible. For a while, there was a perverse race to violate what little remained of his privacy. “I’m being told he’s deleting all his posts. Here is one,” Sharma tweeted, with a screenshot of a 2015 Facebook post.

Supporters of OpIndia began tagging Jimmy Wales in tweets, forcing the Wikipedia co-founder to enter the fray. One of the tweets referred to DBigXRay as a moderator. “DBigXRay is not a moderator or admin,” Wales replied.

Other people chimed in with instances of alleged bias. On 15 April, one user accused Wikipedia of accepting a bribe to delete a page titled “2020 Tablighi Jamaat coronavirus hotspot in Delhi.” “Wikipedia doesn’t work that way,” Wales replied the next day. “We don’t accept payment to include things, nor to delete them.” He added a link to Wikipedia’s Deletion Review page and asked her to join the discussion there. “In actual fact, the article was incredibly poorly written and has zero sources,” he tweeted. “This isn’t about religious sentiments, it’s about not putting junk into Wikipedia.” In response to another user, he asked them to read the article “and then try to tell me with a straight face that it was quality. Wikipedia is not about ‘lefts propaganda’—that’s just a slur by people who haven’t bothered to actually look into it.” By 18 April, however, the Deletion Review debate had developed a consensus to restore the page.

Sharma would later share a screenshot of direct messages Wales sent her in response to the outcry. “Seriously, it would be extremely helpful if you didn’t fan the angry mob,” he wrote. “That’s not helping anything. If there is a problem, I am a great ally in sorting it out—the only thing that matters to me is that Wikipedia is neutral.” He told her about the Wikipedia maxim of assuming good faith. “Assuming that I’m some kind of jihadi sympathizer or anti-Hindu bigot, as many of the screaming mob seem to think—is boring.”

DBigXRay deleted his nine-year-old Wikipedia account. He tried to delete as much of his online presence as possible. For a while, there was a perverse race to violate what little remained of his privacy.

Sharma assured Wales that she would “help assuage feelings” and send him a detailed report about her grievances. She claimed that she had sent him a five-thousand-word email, a partial screenshot of which she shared on Twitter. According to the screenshot, she began the email with a “brief background of the issue,” in which she claimed that “domestic politics and extremely provocative statements misled the Muslims of the Nation” about the CAA. “This led to widespread protests and even riots, initiated by the radical Islamists. The Riots started in the second week of December, and the current riots in Delhi have to be seen in that context.”

As of 26 August, when Sharma shared the screenshots and called Wales “manipulative scum,” she had not received a response. She told me that she has still not heard back from him.

THE DOXING OF DBIGXRAY created an atmosphere of fear among Wikipedia editors and was the reason that none of them were willing to let me use their real names. “We were all very worried,” one of the editors of the Delhi riots article told me. “Some of us contacted each other, just warning each other to stay safe.” The editor said that they took a two-month “hiatus” from Wikipedia. “When they don’t quiet down, stay low.” Another editor told me that they resumed editing only after deleting all evidence linking their real name to Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia community takes doxing very seriously. OpIndia and other publications that had carried its investigation were added to the website’s spam blacklist for “privacy concerns.” On 6 March, four days after the article appeared, a Wikipedia administrator named Newslinger started a discussion on the Reliable Sources noticeboard. “OpIndia is currently cited in 23 articles,” they wrote. “It is on the spam blacklist due to its practice of doxing, which has negatively affected at least one Wikipedia editor. However, there has never been an extensive discussion on this noticeboard that focused exclusively on OpIndia.” Linking to two previous discussions about the website, Newslinger asked, “Is OpIndia a reliable or unreliable source for Indian politics, fact checks, or other topics?” They started a similar discussion about Swarajya. Newslinger told me that the decision to start the discussions “was a practical action, not a retaliatory one.”

Of the 27 Wikipedia users who responded to Newslinger’s question over the next 19 days, 26 voted to deem OpIndia unreliable. Many users argued that the doxing of DBigXRay was sufficient to either “deprecate”—flag as unreliable and require special permissions to link to the source—or blacklist the website. One user called OpIndia’s articles “partisan hackery” and the website “a reactionary dumping ground for mankind’s worst natural tendencies on a level surpassing even Breitbart.” Others cited the website’s failed 2019 attempt to have itself accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network. A user named SamHolt6 noted that “the IFCN rejected the site’s request for accreditation, noting that while OpIndia performed some fact-checking, it rarely relied on data and often employed quotes or information from the India government to disprove claims made by opposition parties. OpIndia was also criticized for primarily following up claims of misinformation related to its ideological opponents and for failing to have a clear corrections policy in place.”

“When OpIndia gets called out for publishing fake news, they sometimes respond by marking the article as ‘satirical,’” Newslinger wrote, citing an observation made by the IFCN. “OpIndia is an Indian version of The Gateway Pundit”—a far-right US website that was deprecated for “publishing hoax articles and reporting conspiracy theories as fact”—“that pretends to be The Onion when others catch them publishing false and misleading information.”

OpIndia had responded to the IFCN’s rejection with an article insisting that its application had actually been an investigation into whether the IFCN itself was biased. The article defended OpIndia’s “disdain towards the ‘left-liberal narrative’” as the website’s “ontological positions on the basis of which we operate.” Newslinger pointed out that these ontological positions were not the problem:

Nupur J Sharma had a chance to make Opindia a responsible publication. Wikipedia does not exclude publications for being biased or opinionated; the fact that OpIndia is far-right and pro-Hindutva does not, by itself, disqualify them from being a reliable source. However, what do make OpIndia a questionable source are their unbreakable habit of publishing false and misleading information, and their tendency to attack any entity who questions their reporting, instead of making error corrections like a respectable publication. The presence of bias does not excuse unreliability.

When Sharma found out about the discussion, she posted a screenshot on Twitter. She claimed she knew the identity of several other editors but had chosen not to out them just yet. “You want to go to war @Wikipedia?” she tweeted. “I will gladly go to war. I might lose, but fight I shall.” Since then, OpIndia has made Wikipedia a regular part of its coverage. The website has published a dozen articles about Wikipedia in the past five months, informing readers about the encyclopedia referring to “Jai Shri Ram” as a “war cry” or refusing to blame Muslims for instigating communal riots in Bengaluru. Sharma told me that, “if we feel that other editors need to be investigated, we will take that decision on a case to case basis.”

The decision of Wikipedia editors to deprecate OpIndia and Swarajya—the deprecation is not yet official, since they did not include a formal request for comment, which invites outside editors to weigh in on the discussion—will not harm the publications much. Wikipedia is not, by any means, a major driver of traffic. The change is significant for the encyclopedia, though. When considering an article’s neutrality, Wikipedia editors will not be bound, or even allowed, to present OpIndia’s view on the subject. In the case of the Bengaluru riots, for instance, Wikipedia did not mention for a long time that the rioters were primarily Muslim because no reliable source supported the claim. OpIndia did, but that no longer counted. In the version of history recorded by Wikipedia, OpIndia would no longer have a say.

Editors of the Delhi riots article remain firm on the phrase “caused chiefly by Hindu mobs attacking Muslims.” The article is currently under arbitration, with international editors—who are more protected from harassment than their Indian counterparts—overseeing any further changes. The presence of international peacekeepers, however, does not mean that the post-bellum status quo will endure. Wikipedia articles are always works in progress. An editor who contributed significantly to the Delhi Riots article remained open to change. “Maybe it doesn’t feel right to have the religions of the rioters at the top,” they told me. “People can have a discussion about it. Nobody is arguing that it is perfect.”

A COUPLE OF MONTHS after Wikipedia declared OpIndia and Swarajya unreliable, the Indian government went in the opposite direction. A fact-finding report accepted by the union home ministry, which the fact-checking website AltNews wrote contained a “torrent of misinformation,” cited OpIndia articles on at least ten occasions. It wholeheartedly embraced the universe of alternative facts that Wikipedia had rejected. Echoing Arnab Goswami’s thoughts on the night of 24 February—Wikipedia users are currently debating whether Republic should also be deprecated—the report concluded that the riots were a pre-planned conspiracy by Muslims against a “totally unaware” Hindu community. Since then, activists and students involved in the anti-CAA protests have been booked for various charges, including the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Several of them remain in jail. Kapil Mishra, meanwhile, has still faced no repercussions.

For Wikipedia, the public controversy could not have come at a worse time. The Indian government is finalising amendments to the Information Technology Act. Draft amendments circulated in December 2018 propose that platforms must maintain automated filters to remove unlawful content, hand over information to the government when requested and even block access to certain pages. In a letter to the former IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Wikimedia Foundation wrote that fulfilling mandatory content-removal requirements in India “would leave problematic gaps in Wikipedia for the whole world, break apart highly context-specific encyclopedic articles, and prevent people from accessing information that may be legal in their country.”

In early September, Sanger agreed to be interviewed by Sharma on a video call, a recording of which would be published on OpIndia’s YouTube channel. The interview series had previously included Goswami, as well as the author Robert Spencer, who calls himself a key figure in the “counter-jihad movement.” Sanger told me that his interview with OpIndia was not meant to signal any kind of ideological alliance. “I didn’t even know OpIndia had an ideological position when I agreed to the interview,” he said, adding that someone on Twitter later informed him about OpIndia’s politics.

An editor who contributed to the article remained open to change. “People can have a discussion about it,” they said. “Nobody is arguing that it is perfect.”

At one point during the interview, Sharma said, “I promised you I wouldn’t ask you about domestic politics, so I’m not going to get into the details of what happened during the Delhi riots. But, if you take me on face value, for example, and I tell you that a lot of essential facts of what happened during the Delhi riots were simply whitewashed and were not even mentioned on the Wikipedia page … do you recommend any sort of government intervention in different countries?”

Sharma was echoing what OpIndia readers had been demanding when they tagged Prasad in tweets calling for Wikipedia to be banned or censored in India. If the amendments to the IT Act are finalised, those demands may just be fulfilled. But the possibility of a censored Wikipedia is no longer surprising. In the Hindu Right’s vision for a new India that does not tolerate platforms that stray outside of its universe of alternative facts, it is merely another detail, a soft brushstroke that would bring the project of a Hindu nation one step closer to completion.

“I’m sorry, no,” Sanger replied to Sharma’s question. “Basically, you do not want the government in control of propaganda, okay? We’ve learned our lesson. Didn’t we learn that lesson from the twentieth century? I hope so.”

Nishant Kauntia is a writer and freelance journalist based in Delhi.
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