Editor Suppression on Wikipedia
By Rome Viharo
Editor suppression is defined as online behaviors performed “on the sly” by Wikipedia editors to remove dissenting or opposing points of view from editing a Wikipedia article.
Editor suppression does not appear to be acknowledged much by either the WikiMedia Foundation or the Wikipedia community. While Wikipedia does have guidelines towards user behavior and does define certain behaviors as Wikipedia “hounding” or harassment, editor suppression appears to be a stepchild no one wants to talk about.
While GamerGate brought massive online awareness to Wikipedia harassment and abuses (amongst other things), how Wikipedia influenced the GamerGate reality is often too complex for many to wrap their heads around.
While WikiMedia promotes the utilitarian “anyone can edit!” message for fundraising, Wikipedia silently enforces the “but not everyone should” practical reality, running contrary to both the spirit and the letter of Wikipedia’s “Five Pillars”.
What’s more, on contentious articles, protagonists and antagonists often come head to head, and usually, either one side or another will dominate the article through gaming the Wikipedia consensus building process.
Ironically, Wikipedia’s only mention of this is a joke article called “How to ban a POV you don’t like, in 9 easy steps.” It is intended to be humor, but I can tell you it was not funny when I experienced personally each and every single one of those points being applied to me when I found myself naively targeted in a wiki war.
MediaWiki, We Have a Problem
MediaWiki’s are one of the few last artifacts of the early, idealistic web – so it is not surprising that the zeal mentioned in many early TED talks (my own included) opined on the great value of software that “anyone could edit” would easily overlook the social reality that occurs, a silent policy of “not everyone should”.
Before we even address the inherent flaws of the software itself, there apparently is a very high appeal of MediaWikis by those who are “on the spectrum” with autism, Aspergers, or social anxiety disorders. Within Wikipedia’s own editing culture, Wikipedia itself is referred to as a “honey pot” for editors on the spectrum.
“Autistics” can be remarkable editors who are incredibly diligent. The result of this, however, is a community that is unlikely to have much social empathy, a trait often lacking in those with the condition.
This naturally exasperates the problem that MediaWikis carry with them. All MediaWiki’s empower the users to restrict or police other users activities, within certain boundaries. This means the software that anyone can edit is synonymous with the software that “anyone can police”, and MediaWiki’s give users tools which block, ban, or restrict other users participation.
Therefore, MediaWiki software’s core design flaw lay in how it creates competition instead of collaboration.
This makes MediaWiki’s even more problematic – while the software design increases user competition, the rules that govern the community usually instruct collaboration, a contradiction that makes it impossible for a community to responsibly manage itself without a high degree of social empathy.
WikiWars create copies of MediaWiki software on the web.
Thus, we have MetaPedia, Conservapedia, Infogalactic, EncyclopediaDramatica, KiwiFarms, Uncyclopedia, and of course RationalWiki. Ideological wiki off-shoots of edit wars initiating on Wikipedia.
I believe we need to have more mainstream awareness of how abusive these types of communities can be, and how much influence they can have on global education, public awareness, and election politics.
Wikipedia and all WikiMedia software projects, like Google and Facebook, need a good overhaul and social review of the damage, influence, impact, and reach they have in shaping our current media climate.