OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has once again provoked a battle on Twitter, this time over a recent controversy involving Wikipedia.
Late last month, the Biden White House twisted itself into knots attempting to explain away a bad second-quarter report showing that the economy had contracted for two consecutive quarters. For decades, that negative two-quarter growth benchmark has typically been used to define a recession.
It wasn’t really much of a close call, given that economists were predicting another negative growth quarter even before the official government figure was released, given the direction of inflation and interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.
“The big headwinds for consumers are price inflation and higher interest rates. And inflation could erode the excess savings consumers accumulated through the pandemic, especially if price increases continue to run ahead of wage growth,” Capital One CEO Richard Fairbank said on July 22, according to CNN.
“We’re seeing an increase in bad debt to slightly higher than pre-pandemic levels as well as extended cash collection cycles,” AT&T CEO John Stankey noted the same day.
The Biden administration attempted to get ahead of what officials likely knew was going to be a negative economic report with what appeared to be a redefinition on July 21 of the two-quarter benchmark:
What is a recession? While some maintain that two consecutive quarters of falling real GDP constitute a recession, that is neither the official definition nor the way economists evaluate the state of the business cycle. Instead, both official determinations of recessions and economists’ assessment of economic activity are based on a holistic look at the data—including the labor market, consumer and business spending, industrial production, and incomes. Based on these data, it is unlikely that the decline in GDP in the first quarter of this year—even if followed by another GDP decline in the second quarter—indicates a recession.
Around the same time, per the Western Journal, “a blue checkmark Twitter account which offers news on commodities markets noted” that a line was added to Wikipedia’s definition of a recession: “There is no global consensus on the definition of a recession.”
That led Musk to get involved by calling out Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales.
“Wikipedia has changed the definition of recession. Wayback’s last capture was July 11, 2022. Based on Wiki’s changelog, the line: “There is no global consensus on the definition of a recession” was added on July 27. The page is now locked,” noted the Unusual Whales Twitter account, adding screenshots to the post.
Wikipedia has changed the definition of recession.
Wayback's last capture was July 11, 2022.
Based on Wiki's changelog, the line: "There is no global consensus on the definition of a recession" was added on July 27.
The page is now locked. pic.twitter.com/6tx1vPHEPM
— unusual_whales (@unusual_whales) July 28, 2022
The same account then posted a clip of National Economic Council Director Brian Deese also claiming that the two-quarter definition is not the standard.
White House Economic Advisor, Brian Christopher Dees has said:
Two negative quarters of GDP growth is not the technical definition of recession. It is not the definition economists have relied on. pic.twitter.com/4gRFIJKvyQ
— unusual_whales (@unusual_whales) July 26, 2022
Another Twitter user posted a video clip of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen making the same redefinition claim.
Janet Yellen redefining the word "Recession". Basically moving the goalposts! pic.twitter.com/Z5PfGpuXlb
— TickedOffOfLibs (@TickedOffOfLibs) July 26, 2022
As for Wikipedia, an edit made in the late hours of July 26 U.S. time added the following to the first paragraph of the definition of “recession”: “While national definitions may vary, ‘Most commentators and analysts use, as a practical definition of recession, two consecutive quarters of decline in a country’s real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP)…’” and linked to an International Monetary Fund publication.”
The Western Journal noted further:
Then, on the afternoon of July 27, another editor deleted that and added the paragraph about there being “no global consensus” regarding what a recession was. To explain why they deleted the previously added definition of a recession, the editor left the comment, “‘commentators and analysts?’ how about economists?”
All of this led one Twitter user to declare that “Wikipedia is now a weapon,” which drew a five-word response from Musk, and a snippy reply from co-founder Jimmy Wales.
“Wikipedia is losing its objectivity,” Musk wrote, tagging Wales in his post.
Wikipedia is losing its objectivity @jimmy_wales
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 29, 2022
In response, Wales linked Musk to the “Talk” page regarding the recession post, a place designed to debate edits, and wrote: “Reading too much Twitter nonsense is making you stupid. Call me next week if you want a real discussion.”
Elon kindly take a moment to read this: https://t.co/8MydQ8SNyW
Reading too much Twitter nonsense is making you stupid. Call me next week if you want a real discussion. @elonmusk
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) July 29, 2022