Don’t be a dick was once an actual Wikipedia page essay for editing behavior, but a few males out of the 84% male dominated community of Wikipedia editors felt it was “insensitive to men”, so it has been kindly changed to “Dont be a jerk”.
Why not “Don’t be an asshole”? Everyone has one – but perhaps the “d*ck” is what needs to be applied to Wikipedia to fix it. I’ll get to that at the end of my rant.
I’m a bit late to the game in commentary regarding Buzzfeed’s tech reporter Joe Bernstein’s “The Culture War Has Finally Come to Wikipedia” .
Honestly, I was a bit perplexed by Joe’s article, I usually enjoy some of his viewpoints, but here he seemed out of step and perhaps in a bubble about Wikipedia and WikiMedia.
His article read as if a judgement on WikiMedia Foundation for the banning of a notable Wikipedia administrator Fram for a year regarding harassment. Using Wikipedia’s own editor guideline language, WikiMedia basically told Fram “Don’t be a d*ck”.
Joe’s article was clear that Wikipedia admin and editor Fram is actually known for being an asshole, but that’s not the point according to Buzzfeed’s editorial.
Joe’s point is that Fram is Wikipedia’s asshole, not WikiMedia’s, and because of this, WikiMedia is giving in somehow to “cultural pressures” and by doing so, being just another silicon valley media giant to enter the cultural fray.
WikiMedia hardly ever blocks, bans, or interfers in anyway with governance on Wikipedia itself. This action has led to such a strong response from the community that Slate calls it “Wikipedia’s constitutional crisis.” So this was news, and according to Joe, it’s disappointing news.
I believe Joe is mistaken. This isn’t disappointing news.
This is progress.
Its progress because the Wikipedia community cannot govern itself responsibly, and banning them is the only responsible thing to do under the circumstances.
The idea of a Wikipedia Admin who is known for his toxic and aggressive interactions with new or minority voice editors getting banned by the WikiMedia Foundation because Wikipedia can’t manage it responsibly themselves actually sounds great to me, and perhaps Joe Bernstein and Buzzfeed is not fully yet aware of what a significant vulnerability Wikipedia and MediaWiki’s in general are.
Joe Bernstein failed to note that it was specifically the Wikipedia community that helped to widen the cultural divide during the Gamergate controversy years ago in 2015, which in part led to the emergence of the alt-right movement, which Joe is also frequently critical of, as well as Buzzfeed.
If WikiMedia jumped in and banned editors or admins involved then, perhaps something far worse may not have happened later.
The Wikipedia community cannot govern itself, it is known.
Truly, and anyone and everyone on the inside and some on the outside know this to be the case.
The Wikipedia community is horribly toxic, by which I mean it is comprised of a predominantly white male culture in competition with itself, and this bizarre convergence of identity and ideology has a bit more negative influence than can be easily measured, or even noticed in many cases (like mine, but I digress).
From my direct experience developing this case study, senior Wikipedia admins, including Floquenbeam who was involved with the Fram incident, have allowed extreme harassment to occur and often participate in it. When anonymous admins who have all the power participate in abuse or agenda based editing and then prevent reasonable pathways to recourse to address that abuse (such as in my case, but again I digress) this creates a scenario where there is no technical solution at all.
The power of Wikipedia’s global audience reach has not given power as much to WikiMedia as to the actual Wikipedia admins. WikiMedia can be held accountable, Wikipedia admins cannot.
That power too has unintended consequences, and in this case, we may never know how bad some of those consequences ever are.
Almost 20 years since its inception, Wikipedia and a host of MediaWiki’s on the web, under current governance and standardization being employed, have given the web a problem that literally has no solution unless WikiMedia jumps back in from the outside.
Unintended consequences apply to WikiMedia in software design, now they have to fix it the hard way.
WikiMedia is responsible for the tools editors have, they are responsible for the environment for curation.
There are significant unintended consequences of using MediaWiki and assigning governance over to a community who can game the tools that WikiMedia gave them.
Here is where WikiMedia must face honestly the inherent contradiction of a non profit that promotes collaboration where the software platform promotes competition.
The medium is the message; access to information, education, and collaboration.
Katherine Maher declares a commitment to “information and education”, but she must not limit it to just that, because when it comes to Wikipedia, it truly is collaboration which makes it all work.
Collaboration is embedded into the message of Wikipedia, and Wikipedia has a toxic and abusive community responsible for governance; this creates a unqiue plot twist that makes the whole experience and reality of Wikipedia editing that much darker than harassment on “normal” social media platforms where engagement is not centered around who controls the message, just who gets to distribute it.
Therefore, collaboration should, must even, become a key integrity with any Wikipedia editor, and especially Wikipedia Admins.
Therefore, any admin or editor who is not collaborative and uses abusive speech or any form of aggression should indeed not be given permissions to contribute.
There is literally no other way to do it.
As a community of editors, Wikipedia is tiny tiny small in comparison to the size of its readership.
Often, I read even senior Wikipedia Admins confuse the difference between the scale of audience reach with the scale of the incredibly small in comparison social community providing content.
I believe in the English speaking version of the encyclopedia, there are roughly 130,000 registered Wikipedia editors, with only 1,200 contributing any given month, or basically 1% of that amount edits 77% of all pages on Wikipedia, according to Vice Media.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere where the content creators are in multiples of millions daily, requiring a machine to run scale, Wikipedia’s community of content editors are actually manageable the old fashion way.
Wikipedia’s community is small, only its influence and reach is global.
Overide their non-consensus, replace the platform with a better set of tools that they have no say in governance, retract the commitment made decades ago to the community (one of the core flaws and original “sins”) and along with it all of the unintended consequences of what was to follow, and fix Wikipedia for good.
With a $50M fundraise per year, spending $5M on a paid and responsible staff to manage proper Wikipedia editing and clean up platform wide harassment is a drop in the bucket.
So Katherine Maher, you might not be the dick Wikipedia wants, but please be the dick that Wikipedia needs, and ban, block and weed out the bad actors without apologies.