Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wikipedians are not neutral

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia only ArbCom can edit?

Are we working on a neutral encyclopedia, or aren't we? Sometimes I wonder.

Time and again, the question comes up. Usually it's asked in the context of outside influences "pushing" a point of view on some page or another; all too often, a POV is pushed from inside our community, subverting the neutrality content for our own ends.

In February, after questions arose regarding the relationship between the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and for-profit Wikia, Wikimedia UK chair Alison Wheeler created a template called "Wikia is not Wikipedia," a large banner linking the WMF's official press release on the matter,
and placed it atop Wikipedia's article on Wikia while making other "corrections" to footnotes. It's worth noting the template included lots of scare text insisting it couldn't be removed from any article without approval from the WMF Communications Committee. Several users questioned this, pointing out that it was hardly a neutral content decision and that no other article subject would ever be allowed such latitude. The template was removed and nominated for deletion, as it should have been. Alison's response? Rolled back the edit as vandalism and issued block warnings so stern the user was scared off the project. It took an angry mob at TfD to get the template deleted. She claimed to be acting on behalf of the Foundation itself, and ominously threatened to take the issue "higher up."

Not to worry, even though the template was deleted, Alison kept trying to insert it. Fortunately she dropped the ridiculous block threats, in later episodes.

Eventually, WMF chair Florence Devouard had a try at it.

This isn't the only time the Wikimedians have interfered with article content for their own ends. Take as another example the never-ending "sole founder" debate at the article on Jimmy Wales. Jimbo also appears to have successfully agitated to have his date of birth removed from the article about him. It's not clear to me whether WMF deputy director Erik Möller had a hand in anything similar, but it may be worth noting his date of birth is likewise absent at that article.

More recently, in March, advertising firm Modernista! implemented a rather minimalist website, one which simply placed their main menu around the page currently being viewed. One "about" link from this menu likewise sends readers to Wikipedia's article on the firm. Some readers apparently were confused by this, and thought Modernista somehow controlled the article. Initially, Jimbo asked them to stop, but soon enough other solutions were in the works: a technical solution might break out of the frame and subtly solve the problem; a big red banner would explain what was going on, but would get us into the business of trying to embarrass companies into doing what we want by leaving nasty notes on articles about them. Guess what happened? Alison Wheeler returned again to toss up another banner.

The latest episode I find troubling is at the freshly recreated Encyclopedia Dramatica article. There's a big hubbub about whether or not the ED website should be linked from the ED article. Never mind that we regularly link to a whole variety of websites with hateful content, as in articles on Stormfront or the Westboro Baptist Church, or iffy copyright status, as in articles on Pirate Bay, Youtube, or 4chan, apparently we plan on diverging from the common-sense rule applied at pretty much every article on the site because ED and Wikipedia don't get along well. What does this accomplish, exactly? We won't stop anybody from finding the site, we won't even deny them a PageRank boost, we'll just look incredibly petty by refusing to place a blatantly relevant link right where it so obviously belongs. What message are we sending, here? It's okay to break the law, but not WP policy. It's okay to harass people, as long as they're not Wikipedians. Way to establish our priorities.

A bit of explanation, the editors who want the link excluded are claiming that prior decisions of the arbitration committee in the MONGO and Attack sites cases support their position (they don't). They're also citing WP:BADSITES a lot, even though the "policy" was quite clearly rejected after a very long and painful argument. They'll just keep pushing until people are tired of arguing about it, I guess. Currently there's a painfully redundant request for clarification: can we link to ED at the ED article? Thank the heavens that arbitrator Kirill Lokshin displayed a hefty amount of clue when suggesting the prohibition on links to ED made a lot more sense when there wasn't an ED article. Too bad Wikipedians aren't listening to him. Administrators MBisanz, Hu12, and Sandstein have worked to keep the link out of the article. Even David Levy, who supports inclusion of the link and is doing his best to mediate the discussion fairly, seems to insist we cannot add the link without approval.

As you might expect, the article was put up for deletion the moment it saw daylight. I could go either way as far as having an article or not, but if we're going to have an article at all, we should be doing it right. We're after NPOV, not WPOV.

So I ask again: are we working on a neutral encyclopedia, or aren't we?

--

Edit 1, 2008-05-15: Had posted this, the other day, but apparently it got lost somewhere along the line, for reasons I don't quite follow. Worth noting the link is currently present but still being argued over.

Edit 2, 2008-05-16: NonvocalScream is not currently an administrator. He is a former admin. Pointed out by a few readers, thank you.

Edit 3, 2008-06-01: NonvocalScream contacted me to let me know I'd misstated his position, when I said he opposed the ED link. He did strongly advocate waiting for a go-ahead from Arbcom, but he also supported inclusion of the link. I've removed the brief mention of him above. My apologies once more, NVS.

2 comments:

Gregory Kohs said...

You are not working on a neutral encyclopedia. Ask Taner Akcam.

Anyway, to add another nugget o' knowledge to the whole "Wikia is not related to Wikipedia" nonsense. What do you expect? The Wikimedia Foundation filed -- two years running -- Form 990 documents with the Internal Revenue Service that obfuscated the business relationships that existed between board members. THREE OUT OF FIVE of the WMF Board at the time were WIKIA EMPLOYEES! I suspect that Jimbo wouldn't let the "Yes" boxes be checked because he didn't want to have to report his earnings, which would have otherwise been required. So, instead, they lied to the government. Nobody seems to be up in arms about this, though. It's "water under the bridge", no? Figures. A convicted felon signed off on one of the 990 forms.

Sigh...

fdlkj said...
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