The 6 Most Epically Pointless Arguments on Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a massive collection of information put together by hardcore information fans (read: nerds). Unfortunately, not all entries are as straightforward as "here is a description of a penis and a picture of an Asian elephant's penis." Sometimes editors have disagreements on citations, accuracy, or which type of flopping dong to use as an illustration. Editors accept some of these battles as the natural cost that comes with ensuring that only the best penis information emerges from the crucible of academic debate. However, some of the battles fought on Wikipedia are pointless, insane, or both. Actually, it's almost always both.
An Economist Named "Guy Standing" Inspired A Fight Over An Accidental Joke
The Wikipedia page for a 70-year-old British economist doesn't seem like it'd be a hot spot for controversy. That is, until the site met ... GUY STANDING.
Guy had a short, extremely straightforward Wikipedia entry explaining his (sorry, Guy) barely interesting career as an educator and author. However, his entry also included this photo and caption:
Yep. It's the same joke poor Guy has certainly heard every day of his life, and some people found it in bad taste. Some editors changed the caption, arguing that "Guy Standing sitting" was a pointless, discursive joke. Other editors changed it back, arguing they were just literally describing what was happening, and that deliberately avoiding the phrase or changing the pic was needlessly confusing. It seemed like a classic battle between the philosophies of "One should never be cute, even by accident" and "Relax, that guy is sitting."
The comments got heated. One user from Team Relax said, "It's accurate, though. The photo is of Guy Standing, sitting, so it isn't really vandalism." A rival from Team Never Cute countered, "It's still just a pointless joke. There's no actual reason for it really being there. I suggest changing the picture to him not sitting." But this argument would not be solved by finding a picture of Guy Standing standing. It would be solved with WAR.
The volunteer Wikipedia editors battled back and forth like this ... for three years.
"There's no reason for his picture to be of him pointing with both hands at a computer monitor, looking like a computer-befuddled godfather, either. Not only is it utterly harmless to have his picture be of him sitting, but the sitting picture is finely posed as an introductory photo of him - actually choosing a poorer-posed photo just to avoid the joke actually draws attention to it."
This person warns of the dangers of drawing attention to how Guy Standing sometimes sits should they replace the photo with one of him "looking like a computer-befuddled godfather." It takes a certain amount of crazy to engage in an argument like this to begin with, but it's becoming clear that some of these participants are crazier than necessary.
"Just a stupid joke. Back to /r/me_irl with your perennial reposts, folks."
This snap requires such a specific and sad hobby to conceive that it does more damage to the deliverer of the insult than the target.
"We can keep the picture without stating the joke and people will see it anyways. They will see a guy sitting and read the name Standing and maybe chuckle a bit. There's no need to write the joke if people don't want it and there are plenty of editors ready to take away the word sitting."
This comedy critic from Team Never Cute advised that pointing out how Guy Standing is sitting is hamfisted when you could simply imply he was sitting with a picture of him in a chair. He believes plays on words work best when they are so subtle they don't involve words. For instance:
"Reinstate the sitting photo, it is both factual and amusing. Humor in education is a well known and endorsed method of increasing learning, arguably the mission of popflock.com resource is improved by a factual play on words which does not detract at all from the topic. http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/learning.aspx for instance or many other papers would back up the inclusion of Guy Standing, sitting as a positive enhancement to this article."
This user from Team Relax is a realist. They know comedy is inevitable, and that only a fool would try to hide from it. They even cited an article about how laughter can help lead to learning. It's an overwhelming argument. And since this is a person arguing for a specific picture on a relatively inconsequential economist's Wikipedia page, they needed a win. Unfortunately, Team Never Cute was not so easily defeated.
"It makes me sad about humankind to learn that people keep removing the picture of Guy Standing sitting. Can we at least have a labelled photo of Guy Standing standing if you're that determined not to have him sitting?"
Wait, maybe this one came from Team Relax? Maybe sitting or standing are irrelevant when the tragedy of humankind's fall looms over the very discussion of such a thing? In the end, aren't we all specks on a dot floating in a cosmos that will never know we were here? Nothing matters, and in the end, Wikipedia agreed. Guy Standing is no longer sitting. He simply is. They ended up zooming in on the photo so no chairs can be seen. His caption is now simply "Standing in 2012."
B-but he's still technically sitting, even though you can't see the chair, right? So in a way, "Standing in 2012" overcorrects from a bad joke to almost misleading information. It sounds like they better restart this argument ASAP. BACK TO THE GUY STANDING SITTING DRAWING BOARD FOR THREE MORE YEARS!
Should "Arachnophobia" Have A Picture Of A Giant Spider?
Between 2005 and 2007, the Wikipedia page for arachnophobia (the phenomenon that makes your leg itch when you read the words THERE IS A SPIDER ON YOUR LEG YOU CAN FEEL IT, IT'S REALLY FUCKING THERE) was the site of a relentless edit war about whether or not it should feature a picture of a giant tarantula.
It does seem informative to put a big picture of the cause of the affliction the reader is researching. And in this case it may be an incredible time-saver, since arachnophobia sufferers will immediately know exactly what the symptoms are. The entire entry could be:
Users fought ceaselessly about the picture. Some thought it was helpful, while others thought it could be cruel to arachnophobes. And since it's the internet, some people heard the words "cruel to ..." and staunchly defended that side, no more information needed. Soon enough, the admins had to get involved. Let's see some of the comments that inspired them to swoop in:
"Considering the nature of the article, maybe there shouldn't be spider pictures in this discussion section. Just a thought."
This plays at being both thoughtful and condescending, but seems to land on the side of "no spiders."
"Umm.. yes please. I am not aware of how things work on discussion pages (and in editing wikipedia in general) so I won't try it. If this causes problems because encyclopedic content should have pictures, wouldn't a link to spiders with "see images here" somewhere do the job? Are there pictures of murdered people in the murder article/discussion?"
This person started out confused, admitted they have no idea what's going on, then ended with more confusion. The crux of their argument, aside from their own befuddlement, seems to be that spiders are something close to murder and corpses. This person obviously has some issues, and one of them is almost certainly arachnophobia. So we'll call it another vote for "no spiders."
"Um, totally agree here. Why exactly is there a picture of a spider (a large, threatening-looking one at that) on a page which a lot of arachnaphobes are likely to visit? It seems rather counter-intuitive."
This is a decent point from Team No Spiders. And I'll even add to it: It seems unlikely anyone able to spell "arachnophobia" would be hearing about spiders for the first time. They probably don't need a picture of one looming above as they read about their own crippling fear of them. But on the other hand ...
"The image will stay. Censorship will not be allowed. If we start doing this on slight whims, we will end in deletion half of articles."
You see, arachnophobes!? Spider censorship will kick us down a slippery slope, to the point that experts estimate half of all articles would be deleted. Do you want to wake up some morning and Wikipedia Jim Varney, only to find a wall of text? Are you prepared to read about the critical reception of Ernest Goes To Camp without a picture of Jim Varney from the 1994 film The Expert? Thanks for the communism, spider cowards.
"I have strong impression that all this about picture is trolling. An acute arachnophobe shoul seek medical attention, not to keep peeking into this page to remove the image. I think the person who is doing this is not an archnophobe but an arachnomasochist or troll."
Most mental health experts say you shouldn't make a psychological diagnosis from afar. But fuck that. This is, without overstating the dangers to you and your loved ones, 100 percent certainly the work of an arachnomasochist, possibly a serial arachnomasochist.
"Mild arachnaphobe with some common sense and consideration, mostly. The picture does not serve as an illustration of arachnaphobia any more than a picture of skydiving would serve as an illustration of acrophobia, though I'm sure it does an excellent job of deterring or otherwise making uncomfortable true arachnaphobes without presenting any tangible benefit."
This person helped frame the argument in a way you can understand. It's like when you're studying a fear of heights and you see a picture of skydiving. There is nothing more that needs to be said about this common, universal experience.
So which side did you land on? Spider or no spider? Irrational fear or desperate compassion? Here's how the final decision went:
"The image will not stay, and you can live without it. There is absoluteley no need for it, and it isn't a good example of arachnophobia. All that it is is a picture of a tarantula with a description of the type of spider it is. It isn't "censorship", Some people have severe arachnophobia and may want to read about it here, and they dont deserve to see an image like that on this page. Image deleted."
That's right. Eleven years ago, spiders were CENSORED from the page about the fear they themselves cause. What's next, skydivers can't post pictures of Jim Varney? Where is your outrage, skydivers!?
The Poor Palestinian Viper Ignites A War Over What Palestine Is
You're likely aware that every issue halfway related to the Middle East goes through a process of heavy political filtering before reaching American shores. Apparently that includes the basic identification of snakes. The Palestinian viper, a reptile interested in eating mice and nothing else, somehow got pulled into a full on political war on Wikipedia. You see, its neighborhood of origin, and which people recognize that place as an independent state, is a bit of a touchy subject.
To put things into context, the battle on this page started long ago, back when the Iraq War was still on and there was not yet an ISIS. The fight is ostensibly about whether or not "Palestine" should be included in the territory description of the Palestinian viper, but this is a wild guess at best, since it immediately went off the rails.
"I'm going to ignore users who have proven incapable of collaborating civilly without personal attacks. To anyone interested in maintaining an accurate and policy compliant encyclopedia, I encourage you to look at this source, already in the article. It lists "Palestinian Territory" as the geographic location. I am not going to breach WP:3RR by correcting the mistake."
This person is named Bree, and they did not get into a political fight on a snake's Wikipedia page to be treated in an uncivil manner. Let's see how that worked out for them.
"Oh Bree. You're so noble (in-line sarcasm-tag). One of these days you'll understand that disagreement isn't incivility. If anything, running around willy nilly crying "incivility" is in itself, incivil."
Bree's opponent in this snake debate seems to have forgotten about snakes completely. They likely have a thoughtful opinion on what a Palestinian viper's habitat should be called, but on the other hand, FUCK YOU, BREE.
"I will repeat for what feels like the hundredth time: it does not make sense to say that this snake is found in both Israel and "Palestine". If the author of that source said "Palestine" as in the geographic region, then it includes Israel and is superfluous. It is not encyclopedic of us to blindly follow his error and have misleading, erroneous wording in our article."
Imagine telling someone you were inside their momma. Obviously, you were inside her many eager holes, but that's a needlessly incendiary way to put it, right? This user feels the same way about the Palestine/Israel issue. Well, not the "same" way, since they are a miserable asshole screaming at strangers in a snake's taxonomic citations, and you're simply happy that your momma is happy.
"Darling, I understand it is hard for some Israelis to accept the notion that there is a place called Palestine, but your personal difficulties do not amount to an "error" on the part of others."
As you can already tell, "darling" in this case means "bitch."
"It's a stupid dispute -- but I'll point out the ridiculousness of believing that the "Palestine viper" is not found in Palestine, particularly when a perfectly reliable source asserts that that is exactly where it is found."
Like all online arguments, someone eventually comes in to explain how truly simple everything is. It's like, come on, snake experts asserted where the snake is found. How are you still not getting this? The Palestine thing is solved! Well, strangely enough, this tactic did not work. Stubborn lunatics from both sides are still arguing after over a decade, and have since been joined in battle by the even more stubborn lunatics who are only there to talk about snakes.
The Mad Dash To Pick A New Photo For "Bathrobe"
It seemed a simple enough mission: Find a picture to go with the article "Bathrobe." Someone did. But someone else didn't like the picture, because the bathrobe model's goofy expression was too distracting from the subject. The bathrobe subject. Name higher stakes, ever, about anything. We'll wait.
Sad, lonely internet users around the world saw this as an opportunity. They began vying for the starring role as the featured image of a Wikipedia article, and it was dog eat dog. With everyone trying to pull down the other photos in order to get their own installed, the battle of nitpickery was savage. Every tiny thing wrong with any new bathrobe picture was a hill to die on.
So many people chased the fantasy of online bathrobe model that they formed a group called "The Illustrious and Honourable Bathrobe Cabal of Wikipedia" where they could show themselves off, free from the judgement of crowdsourced encyclopedias.
In the end, it could only be solved by finding a bathrobe without any goofballs in it. It doesn't look much like you'd expect a bathrobe to look, and might just be a photo of a Victorian woman's ghost, but it was a compromise every bathrobe scholar could live with.
A "Language Jihadist" Changes Every "Comprised Of" To "Composed Of"
This list is comprised of a lot of interesting incidents from Wikipedia's history. Or at least it would be, if mega-contributor Giraffedata (real name Bryan Henderson) wasn't on a mission from God to rid every single Wikipedia article of the phrase "comprised of."
Henderson has made it his raison d'etre to fix a common issue: mixing up "comprise" and "compose," which are technically very different. A whole is composed of its parts, such as "the alphabet is composed of 26 letters," but a whole comprises its parts, as in "the alphabet comprises 26 letters." But you knew that already, of course.
Because of this minor syntax error (which has probably never caused a misunderstanding in the history of English), Henderson has more than 67,000 Wikipedia edits. Sixty fucking seven THOUSAND, and nearly all of them are focused on correcting that one mistake. He's even written a magnum opus on his user page detailing the process, his linguistic philosophy, and a history of his edits -- which comprises more than 6,000 words at this time. It's fair to speculate that it would take far fewer words to describe what his personal life is composed of.
Most fellow editors accepted the short grammar lesson and moved on. But this is the internet; somebody is willing to die on this hill. Giraffedata has attracted cyber stalkers who revert all of his edits and fanatics who beg admins to stop his crusade. There was even a turf war in which vandals inserted "comprised of" into hundreds of random articles all over the site. And it's tough to win a war when the only thing your enemies know about you is your one crippling weakness.
In early 2015, Henderson's mission started receiving media attention. Several writers, journalists, and editors had something to say about it, labeling him a stickler, a pain in the ass, "the world's most pedantic man," and even a language jihadist.
Absolutely none of this managed to bother Henderson, though, because he's essentially a Clara Barton / angel hybrid sent to save us from ourselves. Just read his mission statement: "As one who subscribes to the anti-comprised-of doctrine . . . I can tell you it triggers the same 'what an idiot' neurons in us as 'could of' and 'could care less.' If I can spare any readers that discomfort without hurting anyone else, why wouldn't I?" It's as if someone told him there was a Congressional Medal of Pedantry, and that it was an honor to win it, and he believed them.
Related: Celebrated Composer Hans Zimmer Now Apparently Makes Ringtones, Likely Delighting Telemarketers
The Ten-Year Turd War
In an article entirely devoted to people having shitty prolonged arguments with each other over pointless disputes, it's only fitting to have a whole entry dedicated to a lengthy debate over actual shit. Human feces, to be precise. One might say that starting a Wikipedia entry for human poop ... is when the shit hit the fan.
The article led to a multi-branched, ten-year war. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on it, and not a single one of them seemed to ... have their shit together.
The fight went back and forth for far longer than any poop argument deserved, as is evident from the 53-TOPIC-LONG TABLE OF CONTENTS. One is called "The Turd is a Fraud." Another is called "Quote from the Bible." This is not the work of well-adjusted people with healthy diets.
A lot of the fight was about whether or not shit should be displayed graphically or not. And if so, how!? The conservative view was to avoid an open display of feces, while the liberal-minded wanted ... a total shit show.
Poop centrists agreed that an entry on poop should have some kind of picture, but only if the representative poop was solid enough in its form to be dignified and presentable. The discussion page is a melee of people passionately attacking each other over the texture, color, and size of poop. "We should have a picture, but not if it's going to look like soft-serve ice cream. We need a more realistic picture," one passionate user and almost definite pervert said.
And buried within the piles and piles of bullshit are a few legitimate questions which are genuinely baffling, such as why brown feces (being the most popular color) has not been represented when green, red, and black variants have. And of course there were a lot of people full of shit themselves, who left comments like "I personally cannot poo and the sight of it would help me bring the article into context. It is not often that I am able to view human feces, do to my condition. I would appreciate the inclusion of images. thanks"
If the topic sounds awful to you, good. Never, ever visit the Wikipedia discussion for the entry on human feces. But for those of you courageous enough to face the disgusting and stupid head on, we'll leave you with the inspiring words of a pro-poop-picture commenter, left on the page in 2009: "Poo especially human poo is extremely important. You may want to live in the dark ages, but dont drag the knowedge of poo back their with you." In other words, we all need to ... get our shit together.
Taylor Daine is a Midwest-based writer and comedian who makes bad tweets at @turtledovejones.
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