The difference between propaganda and information is cloudy—that’s the point. When a church, a political movement or a government disseminates information, its representatives would not consider it propaganda, of course. Yet, each has a point of view it wants the world to adopt: its own.
So, when MormonWiki.com appeared on the Web in 2005, it was more than a little perplexing. Modeled after the open-source and collaborative Web encyclopedia Wikipedia, MormonWiki seemed an ill-suited platform for a hierarchical religious group that wants to maintain control over its message and has no shortage of its own officially sanctioned sites.
MormonWiki.com may look like Wikipedia and use the same open-source software, but on several important levels, it differs. Wikipedia’s aim is to create neutral point-of-view content based on sources that can be checked and counterchecked by users. MormonWiki, by contrast, aims to put only positive articles about Mormonism on the Internet. While either site can be edited by anyone, MormonWiki has a staff of one and several volunteer editors who monitor content. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is completely edited by the public at large.
The sites’ philosophies differ, too: Wikipedia’s goal is to “imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.” But MormonWiki’s policy page illustrates a different goal: “In general, content needs to be supportive of the church and the faith claims of Mormonism.”
Nathan Gwilliam, president of MormonWiki.com’s sponsor, The More Good Foundation, says the foundation’s intent is not to misinform or control information. “I believe that Mormonism is true and as I share that, I am sharing truth. I am not hiding truth to benefit Mormonism. I am proclaiming truth,” he says.
MormonWiki’s claim of a “collaborative environment” is accurate, so long as a user keeps the correct point of view. The site’s policies state, “MormonWiki.com policies are decided upon by the staff of The More Good Foundation.” Foundation members can also affect the site’s policies. But before being allowed to join MormonWiki, prospective members are asked whether or not they are members of the LDS Church.
The More Good Foundation claims to derive its name from a translation of the word Mormon, meaning “more good.” JetBlue founder David Neeleman and Utah businessman Ken Woolley are its money source. In 2005, it received $400,000 from these two men, according to tax forms.
The Orem-based nonprofit was founded by a group of businessmen concerned with negative and misleading information on the Internet about Mormonism. The foundation operates more than 40 Websites to achieve this goal, says Gwilliam.
“I think the Mormon church is pretty misunderstood,” says Neeleman, who lives in New York. “So, all we are trying to do is create some good content that shines good light on the church.”
This “good light” is meant to outshine Websites like ExMormon.org and WayOfLife.com. ExMormon.com is filled with testimonials by former Mormons about alleged falsehoods perpetuated by the church. WayOfLife.com is a Baptist site that alleges Mormons are not Christians.
While The More Good Foundation and its many Websites are not official sites of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they share the goal of countering Mormonism’s often-controversial public image. MormonWiki.com explains that “church personnel are aware of the foundation and the foundation’s mission.”
LDS Church spokesman Rob Howell did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.
Sites like Conservapedia.com and TheCatholicWiki.com have also modeled themselves after Wikipedia. But, unlike MormonWiki, they seem to have maintained Wikipedia’s hands-off editorial policy.
The proliferation of Wikipedia-like sites has sparked discussion at the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, on how to differentiate Wikimedia sites from those whose intent differs from their philosophy of open, collaboratively created information for all.
It is fairly common for people to confuse other sites that use the Wiki platform with Wikimedia sites because the software looks so similar, says Wikimedia’s spokeswoman Sandra Ordonez. Since it’s open-source, anyone can use it for free.
But, says Sue Gardner, a media consultant for Wikimedia, there is a distinct difference between the Wikimedia Foundation’s projects and some other Wiki sites. “We do not control editorial content. It’s a self-moderating, self-correcting community. Wikipedia doesn’t have an editorial board.”
At MormonWiki, The More Good Foundation has the final say. “The More Good Foundation,” says Gwilliam, “reserves editorial right.”