Wikipedia ruled by 'Lord of the Universe'

When is a cult not a cult?


Exclusive Think of it as Wikipedia’s police department hotline. The "encyclopedia anyone can edit" includes a page where you can instantly alert the site’s brain trust to foul play. It’s called the "Conflict of Interest Noticeboard." If you suspect someone has rigged the system, using the encyclopedia to push their own agenda, this is where you turn.

But there's a catch. One of the site’s leading administrators bears an extreme conflict of interest, but you can’t expose him from the Conflict of Interest Noticeboard. He created the Conflict of Interest Noticeboard.

This administrator, Jossi Fresco, is a longtime student of Prem Rawat - formerly Guru Maharaj Ji - the India-born spiritual leader who styled himself as the "Perfect Master" and fostered a worldwide religious movement encouraging followers to call him "Lord of the Universe."

Jossi Fresco openly acknowledges he's employed by an organization "related" to Prem Rawat, and according to an ex-Rawat-follower and former friend, he served on the guru's personal staff and built the guru's first web site. Nonetheless, Fresco maintains strict control over Wikipedia’s Prem Rawat article and countless related articles, keeping criticism of his guru to a bare minimum.

Fresco denies any conflict of interest. He argues that his contributions to Wikipedia's Rawat-related articles do not violate the site's conflict of interest policy, which allows such conflicts if editors disclose them and continue to edit "neutrally." "I have acted in a transparent and straightforward manner with regard to Wikipedia", he told us over email.

In a way, he has acted in a transparent and straightforward manner. He edits Wikipedia under his real name. And he acknowledges a connection to Rawat on his Wikipedia user page. But he won't say how deep this connection goes, and as part of Wikipedia's inner circle, or "ruling clique", he has the power to shape site policies - including the conflict of interest policy.

Fresco also denies he has the power shape site policies, even though he is the third most frequent contributor to the conflict of interest policy - even though he removed the clause that forbade guru followers from editing articles about their gurus.

So why is Wikipedia's treatment of Prem Rawat so one-sided?

Jossi Fresco

Jossie Fresco, in an image from his Wikipedia page1

The inspirational speaker formerly known as...

Prem Rawat's religious movement is widely recognized as a cult or former cult - by independent academics and the mainstream media as well as ex-Rawat-followers. And such sources say that within the movement, Rawat is or was regarded as a divine being.

For example, in their 1982 book Strange Cults: The Great American Cult Scare - well reviewed by The New York Times - David Bromley and Anson Shupe Jr. profiled Rawat's Divine Light Mission alongside the Unification Church, the Children of God, the Hare Krishnas, the Church of Scientology, and the People's Temple. "At one point, Ji was referred to by [Mission] members as Lord of the Universe and was regarded as a living avatar," wrote Bromley, the chairman of sociology at the University of Hartford, and Shupe, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas.

And yet the word "cult" does not appear in the guru's Wikipedia biography.

Wikipedia bills itself as an encyclopedia with a "neutral point of view." And co-founder Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales has publicly said that neutrality can't be maintained where there's an obvious conflict of interest, coming down hard on outsiders who've dared cross the line, including Microsoft and the ill-fated MyWikiBiz. But clearly, within the site's inner circle, such conflicts are allowed - even when it comes to editing site policy.

Next page: The Knowledge

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022