Wikipedia Is Covering the War in Israel and Gaza Better Than X

The concerned faces of Jimmy Wales and Elon Musk on a blue background with the Wikipedia logo.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Nathan Howard/Getty Images.
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Welcome to Source Notes, a Future Tense column about the internet’s information ecosystem.

Since the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which killed over 1,400 Israelis—mostly civilians—the world’s attention has turned to the mounting tragedies unfolding in the region. Israel has pledged to crush Hamas as a terrorist group and political entity, and the Israel Defense Forces’ air attacks on the Gaza Strip have so far killed thousands and displaced an additional 1 million, according to the United Nations.

As the conflict rages on, X (formerly Twitter) has become a hotbed of misinformation. A report by NewsGuard identified seven accounts as “blue check-verified misinformation superspreaders” that have posted false videos earning millions of views. In April, X’s owner, Elon Musk, abolished the system of verification for established journalists and news organizations, allowing anyone to get a blue check mark for $8 a month. One such blue-check account, by the name of Farida Khan, falsely claimed to be a journalist for Al Jazeera and promised evidence about the cause of the tragic and highly contested bombing of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza; it turned out that the account had no affiliation with Al Jazeera, but the post and “verified” account status deceived countless users before X took it down.

Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of Wikipedia and well-known wiki guy, was one of many voices calling for Musk to take responsibility for his role in the spread of misinformation on X. “Fast moving claims and counter claims, and @elonmusk has removed the core features that made it even remotely possible to tell real journalists from fakes,” Wales tweeted, referring to the new pay-to-play model for blue check marks. With his usual sarcasm, Musk replied: “Please fix wokipedia.”

Musk continued lashing out against Wikipedia on Sunday, tweeting, “I will give them a billion dollars if they change their name to Dickipedia”—an insult that has received over 17 million views to date. It is worth noting that Musk declined to address Wales’ specific criticism: Instead of trying to defend his record, Musk chose trolling.

But as is often the case when Musk tweets, his fans piled on, with one responder claiming that less misinformation is actually spread on X than on Wikipedia. “That’s just obviously false, I don’t even know where to begin in responding to something so silly,” Wales replied. “Wikipedia is not perfect. But this is not a competition.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wikipedia is a better place to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than X, TikTok, and other social media platforms are. Some of this is a function of its design: Wikipedia is an editable wiki, meaning that if one user posts wrong information to an article, other users have the technical capability to remove or correct it. As one Wikipedia editor told me, “A rebuttal on Wikipedia doesn’t exist alongside the misinformation—the rebuttal erases the misinformation.” That’s a fundamental difference from X, where a post with flagrant misinformation tends to linger; other users can try to push back in rebuttal posts or with the flailing Community Notes process, but the initial post with false information almost always sticks around and, sadly, attracts more eyeballs than any correction.

Instead of allowing users to post whatever they want, mostly without consequences, Wikipedia’s content about Israel and Gaza is collectively curated and pruned by hundreds of editors with the power to check one another’s work. For current events, Wikipedia has become a news aggregator of mainstream media sources, which can be very useful for readers around the world who are looking for a summary based on a breadth of sources.

But although Wikipedia allows a wide variety of sources, it’s not a free-for-all. The site also retains the seemingly traditional policy of requiring that most its information derive from reliable secondary sources such as newspapers, not primary sources like an individual’s social media posts. On the one hand, this might seem like an outdated stance at a time when so many Israelis and Palestinians can document the fighting in real time with their phones. Then again, this old-school rule—requiring vetting and publication from a traditional media outlet—seems to have shielded Wikipedia from some of the latest social media disinformation campaigns.

The articles in the Israeli-Palestinian topic area differ from ordinary Wikipedia pages in that the site’s volunteer administrators have tagged them with what’s known as extended confirmed protection, which means that only editors with more than 30 days of experience and 500-plus edits can change them. This might look like “censorship” to the self-proclaimed free speech absolutists on X, but it’s really designed to prevent vandalism by anonymous new accounts. Those who have yet to hit the 500 mark can still suggest changes to experienced users—and many have.

At press time, the biggest controversy in this area of English Wikipedia is over a proposal to retitle the article about the current war from “2023 Israel-Hamas war” to “2023 Israel-Gaza war.” The stakes are huge: whichever option Wikipedia chooses will be the title displayed by Google in its search results. Beyond that, the nomenclature could affect how the general public frames the conflict. (There’s historical precedent for this—academic Heather Ford has written about how the decision to title the Wikipedia article “2011 Egyptian revolution,” as opposed to “2011 Egyptian protests,” influenced how international media covered the conflict for years.)

Proponents of the “Israel-Gaza war” title argue that it is more in line with Wikipedia’s other coverage of the conflict, that civilians have been injured in Palestine who are not affiliated with Hamas, and that other militant groups besides Hamas have attacked Israel throughout the war. On the other side, supporters of keeping the existing title, “Israel-Hamas war,” point to Wikipedia’s common name policy, collecting evidence that “Israel-Hamas” is more commonly used by media around the world. During the discussions, a few Wikipedia editors have signaled their disapproval—“It is a bit rich to imply by article title that the war is solely with Hamas,” one user sniped. But for the most part, this behind-the-scenes editorial discussion has been civil and reasonable. “You’d suspect such discussions on the internet to be absolute dumpster fires, but instead they read like heated faculty debates,” said one Wikipedian. “Frankly, this might be Wikipedia at its best.”

Other Wikipedia articles reflect how the site’s editors are struggling to neutrally present the competing claims of warring parties. The page for the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital explosion states that the “cause of the explosion is contested.” Hamas has claimed that Israel carried out an airstrike on the hospital, while Israel, the United States, France, and Canada have said that their intelligence sources indicate that the cause of the explosion was a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad from within Gaza.

Wikipedia editors frequently raise the project’s policy of neutral point of view in discussions about labels. For instance, the article about the Supernova Music Festival, where Hamas attacked and killed 260 Israeli civilians, states that the attack was conducted by Hamas “militants” rather than “terrorists,” a decision that Wikipedia editors reached based on the site’s guidance against contentious labels. On the other hand, editors have decided to refer to what happened at the music festival as a “massacre,” noting that this specific word commonly appears in mainstream sources.

For the most part, Wikipedia editors told me that they thought the crowdsourced editing process was working as it should. But there are a few important caveats: Given its audience, Slate has focused its reporting on the English-language version of Wikipedia, yet Hebrew Wikipedia and Arabic Wikipedia each has its own version of these articles, and there can be striking dissonances between them. Moreover, there are numerous English Wikipedia articles about the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict that vary in quality, partly because they have not received as much attention as the current violence has.

Again, the impact of Wikipedia’s description of this and other current events cannot be overstated. Even those who do not routinely visit Wikipedia proper are indirectly influenced by its content—journalists often turn to its pages for guidance, A.I. tools like ChatGPT rely on the site for training data, and major tech companies often leverage its information for their decisionmaking. Take, for example, Airbnb’s 2018 policy to exclude rental-home listings in Jewish settlements within the West Bank; the company relied on data from Google Maps to distinguish Palestinian and Israeli communities. And how does Google Maps determine which is which? The language that’s on Wikipedia.

Although the discourse on X has devolved into combative binary opposition and fact-free cheerleading for one’s team, Wikipedia is emerging as a superior place to learn about the conflict. But even with its higher quality of information, one can’t help but feel a certain chill when reading about these disturbing events on Wikipedia. Take, for example, such lines as the Gaza Strip suffering “heavy civilian casualties from Israeli bombardment,” or a reference to Israeli children who were “found tied up and burned alive.” The wording by design is clinical, dispassionate—the language of horrors summarized, not personally observed.