Wikimedia's independence is illusory

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Noto Emoji Pie 1f4c4.svg This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

It is commonly argued that WMF needs to stay independent by not using advertising as a revenue source. That way, it will be free enough from pressure that it can continue to adhere to its principles, including the neutral point of view policy.

This does not make much sense, since unless WMF comes to rely solely on the interest from endowments, WMF will never be fully independent of financial benefactors. It is unclear how it would have a different effect on WMF's integrity for, say, Google to be a major advertising client rather than a major donor. Either way, Google has the ability to pull the rug out from under us if we displease them.

No matter who is bankrolling WMF's projects, or whether they do so as donors or as customers, WMF will be influenced by a need to please those funders. If WMF is funded mostly by a bunch of private citizens who like WMF projects' article to be biased in favor of mainstream viewpoints, then that provides an incentive for WMF to cater to that demand by enforcing a policy of bias in favor of mainstream viewpoints. WMF volunteers can also be considered gifts in kind "donors" in that they provide a service needed for the project's success; if large numbers of them threaten to leave because of disgruntlement over some WMF policy, then the WMF will feel under pressure to accommodate them.

When those people upon whom the wiki depends say, "We want this user's head on a platter," he must be offered up; if they say, "This page must be changed to no longer say x," it must be so changed. The history of the wikisphere reveals what happens when an active wiki's site owner bucks people's demands to ban someone or remove content (whether in mainspace or elsewhere) they deem objectionable. Usually, almost everyone leaves and it becomes a dead wiki. The wikis that survive are those whose leaders go whichever way the wind is blowing. Jimbo Wales survived as leader of Wikipedia largely because when he clashed with the community, and people raised a fuss, he was willing to yield to their demands.

There isn't really any way for WMF to ever be truly independent. There is generally the need to do what will be at least somewhat popular, so as to avoid alienating too many people. That often means banishing divergent opinions, if influential funders and volunteers want those opinions banished. It comes down to a choice of, Either acquiesce to the will of the public, or lose your users, funders and readers to other sites.

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