In the middle of a wave of rampant misinformation, excessive hate speech, and endless harassment, X owner Elon Musk set his sights on Wikipedia. On Sunday, Musk aimed a series of tweets at Wikipedia and its co-founder Jimmy Wales, mocking a call for more funding before immediately implying that the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation was mismanaging its funds. Not to be outdone by his own tweet, Musk immediately followed it up with a challenge: “I will give them a billion dollars if they change their name to Dickipedia.”
Beyond its status as the largest and “most-read reference work in history,” Wikipedia has long been heralded as a product of both massive fundraising and an internet full of people obsessed with very specific things. The site has full-time employees but has a veritable army of volunteers to thank for its detailed and extremely rule-oriented database. But much of Musk’s consternation with the popular site appears to be less about its features and more about his inability to control what it says about him. Rauwerda, creator of Depths of Wikipedia, one of the most popular Wikipedia-focused accounts online, tells Rolling Stone that Musk’s focus seems to be coming from a man obsessed with encyclopedias — who’s still unable to bend the world’s most popular one towards his will.
“[Musk] always talks about how as a kid, he read the entire encyclopedia back to back,” Rauwerda says. “Sometimes he’ll say that he did it twice. So I do think he has this, like, lifelong interest in encyclopedias. And he always has all these demands about [Wikipedia]. He’s so obsessed.”
For the past three years, Rauwerda has been a dedicated Wikipedia editor and the mind behind Depths of Wikipedia, an account that shares some of the oddest and funniest entries of Wikipedia to its 1.5 million followers over Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and TikTok. She began editing casually about 10 years ago, but in 2020 dove headfirst into the community, eventually being named the 2022 Media Contributor of the Year at the foundation’s annual conference. Rauwerda tells Rolling Stone that some of Musk’s frustration might stem from his long beef with Wikipedia, most of which has been over the information on his own Wikipedia page.
“You can’t buy [Wikipedia]. I feel like a lot of the things that Elon Musk does are, ‘You have this like crazy vision, and then you use the markets to make it happen,’” Rauwerda says. “But with Wikipedia, it just doesn’t really respond to money.”
In May 2022, journalist Stephen Harrison reported that Musk’s Wikipedia page, which was created in 2004, was a source of constant debate after Musk made several public calls for his page to be changed. “Just looked at my wiki for 1st time in years. It’s insane! Btw, can someone please delete ‘investor’. I do basically zero investing,” Musk wrote in 2019. “They say history is written by the victors, but not on Wikipedia if the losing party is still alive & has lots of time on their hands!” he said in April 2022, seemingly referring to Martin Eberhard, who is still listed on Wikipedia as a co-founder of Tesla in spite of Musk’s assertions that he alone created and built his billion-dollar company. Earlier this month, Musk called the internet encyclopedia “wokipedia,” after co-founder Wales criticized rampant misinformation on X. And he claims the new X feature “Community Notes,” which allows paying users to fact check tweets, allows X to bypass any editor bias that Wikipedia might have. (An October report from NBC found that the Community Notes program has allowed known war misinformation to thrive on the platform unchecked for hours.)
But beyond Musk’s clear fixation on Wikipedia, Rauwerda says another thing the X owner hasn’t understood yet is how Wikipedia’s format creates a barrier to entry for basic trolls, and allows fanatics to share free information about bizarre history they’re most interested in at the moment. For Rauwerda’s own purposes, right now that includes the description of zoo animals as celebrities in 19th-century American news and a serial defecator in Colorado nicknamed the Mad Pooper.
“The famous quote about [Wikipedia] that’s been repeated a lot of times in the last 20 years is that ‘Wikipedia does not work in theory, but it does work in practice,’” Rauwerda says. “It’s all these bizarre zealots that spend hours every day correcting each other and debating things, and it’s for free. This is just like a group of people that love explaining stuff.”
And as for Musk’s preoccupation, perhaps the official rules for editing his Wikipedia page say it best. “Wikipedia doesn’t have to do what Musk says”