What is a recession? Wikipedia can't decide
Wikipedia has frozen edits to its page for "recession," halting a frenzy of changes to the entry after the Biden administration insisted that the U.S. economy has not entered a economic downturn.
The website's definition of recession was altered dozens of times over the course of 24 hours, in an apparent reaction to the White House's resistance to calling the current economy a recession.
New and unregistered users are no longer allowed to edit the page, which is currently "semi-protected" until Aug. 3, according to Wikipedia.
Top Biden administration officials dismiss recession talk
On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that the economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.9%in April-June quarter, marking the second consecutive quarter of negative GDP, or gross domestic product. A back-to-back drop in GDP is considered by many to be an unofficial barometer for a recession.
Days ahead of the release of the latest numbers gauging economic health, President Biden had insisted that low unemployment numbers, record job growth and foreign business investment signaled a strong economy.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also avoided clinging to the R-word in a recent appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. Although two consecutive quarters of negative growth generally defines a recession, she said, "When you're creating almost 400,000 jobs a month, that is not a recession."
The National Bureau of Economic Research says the traditional definition of a recession is "a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and that lasts more than a few months," a fact noted in a July 21 memo from the White House that cited the NBER as the "official recession scorekeeper."
A flurry of Wikipedia edits reflected administration assurances
The GDP report had been expected to show a negative number. In the days preceding the release of the data, revisions made to Wikipedia's definition reflected an alignment with the Biden administration's stance denying a recession.
A user named "Soibangla," many of whose recent edits to the page were downvoted and rejected by other users, made a significant edit to the introductory paragraphs on Tuesday, adding the line: "There is no global consensus on the definition of a recession."
It previously read: "While national definitions vary, two consecutive quarters of decline in a country's [real gross domestic product] is commonly used as a practical definition of a recession."
That language was more similar to its current iteration, a version that is currently locked on Wikipedia: "Although the definition of a recession varies between different countries and scholars, two consecutive quarters of decline in a country's real gross domestic product (real GDP) is commonly used as a practical definition of a recession."
Now, a disclaimer heading the page warns viewers that the "recession" page may be subject to quick updates, citing "increased political debate in the United States."
"An outdated version of this article has been widely circulated," the entry states. "Please check if claims or screenshots you've seen are consistent with what's currently here."
As with all Wikipedia pages, previous versions of the "recession" entry show up in the revision history.
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