Wikipedia Is Shockingly Biased: 5 Lessons From An Admin
Unless you're one of those freaks with attentive parents and a good education, Wikipedia has probably taught you more than school and family combined. It's society's go-to source for knowledge, from settling disputes at the bar to cranking out term papers hours before they're due. But as Chris, a veteran Wikipedia administrator explained to us, this is a problem. That's because ...
The Lack Of Diversity Skews What Information Is Available
The Wikipedia community often has a bad vibe to it. Chris cited Sue Gardner, former director of the Wikimedia Foundation, who rattled off nine reasons women don't edit Wikipedia, including "a lack of user-friendliness," "an unwillingness to participate in lengthy edit wars," and a sexual culture and misogynistic atmosphere. Those are valid issues, but at least part of the hostile culture may be down to simple, outdated tech. This is what editing Wikipedia looks like:
Citing Wikipedia Is A Bigger Issue Than Mere Personal Inaccuracy
Depending on when you went to school, your teachers either gave you stern lectures on Wikipedia's many flaws, or they built their lesson plans with it. But those teachers you ignored so you could pound out your essay quickly and get back to video games were right: Wikipedia's greatest strength (the fact that anyone can access it) is also its biggest flaw. And so it's locked in an eternal war against inaccuracy that will last until there's a mass extinction event, and the handful of survivors argue about what to call it on Wikipedia.
"Anyone can edit. Even a student thinking 'You know what, a coati looks like an aardvark. Let's call it the Brazilian aardvark.' Most of the obvious stuff is reverted quickly. Someone changing the genre for AC/DC to classical will be reverted in minutes. But mistakes that originate from the sources themselves may last a while, and cannot readily be fixed within Wikipedia guidelines. There are cases of Lord Byron suddenly obtaining a pet crocodile, or Muhammad Ali somehow having a rose named after him. Such vandalism is insidious, because it can last for years or decades."
"Walt Whitman invented beer pong? Sounds about right."
This creates a bizarre ouroboros of inaccuracy. "One shouldn't cite Wikipedia. You have no guarantee . If a journalist sees information in an article and reports it without fact-checking, we suddenly have a source for the incorrect claim. Citogenesis is real."
For example, someone once inaccurately edited Sacha Baron Cohen's Wikipedia page to say that he worked for Goldman Sachs prior to supplying your least-funny friends with terrible impressions. Three days later, The Independent included that "fact" in an article about Cohen, which was then cited by Wikipedia as proof that Cohen was once a banker. It's like a game of telephone, only at the end of the game, the garbled nonsense gets published in a newspaper.
Grudges And Petty Arguments Derail The Site All The Time
Like your own workplace, the biggest problem with Wikipedia is that some people are happy dedicating all of their time to arguments about pointless bullshit. "Sega Genesis or Sega Mega Drive? Star Trek Into Darkness or Star Trek into Darkness (before the film was released, obviously)? Some of the worst have historically been the debates between American and British spelling. Is it 'color' or 'colour?'"
If you've ever looked at the front page of Wikipedia, you may have noticed this box:
It changes daily. It's simply a fun little widget meant to attract readers to obscure articles, but some are willing to start generational vendettas over them. "Some people were concerned that the quality of the articles being promoted was too low. Debates over this box, which most readers probably ignore, ended up spanning three months. There are sometimes paragraphs and paragraphs of debate over the wording of individual sentences in the box, or whether or not they should be included at all."
"How dare we belittle the site that hosts a list of animals with college degrees by including a fun fact about mushrooms!"
Okay, but as ridiculous as the depth of these discussions can get, they're all professional, right? Ha, no. "There are those who'll stalk and vandalize everything an editor has written. my edits for several months, and appears to have directed others to do so as well. There are editors who have followed other editors, nominating articles they write for deletion within hours of the articles being written."
"Article nominated for deletion: Punic Wars. Reasoning: Fuck Greg."
There are also vandals who go way beyond renaming Queen Latifah "Queen Laqueefah." "There are long-term vandals. One spent years making sock puppet accounts, prominent articles to ' on Wheels.' Not just one or two accounts. Thousands. Another vandal has been vandalizing Wikipedia for so long that the Wikimedia Foundation has contacted both his internet provider and his family. There are those who'll spend years slipping in and out of articles, changing heights, weights, or musical genres. We've got countermeasures in place: blacklists of images that can only be used on certain pages (the autofellatio one, for instance), robots, filters, etc. But we're always on the defensive."
You have to wonder what drives people like that, beyond the incessant screeching noise in their brain.
There's An Entire Website Dedicated To Destroying Wikipedia
It's called Wikipediocracy, and their only goal in life is to call out Wikipedia's flaws. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but between a pretentious slogan -- "The tragedy of Wikimedia Commons" -- and an overblown description, they seem less like a public service and more like a bunch of Mensa wannabes trying to high five, only to awkwardly smack each other in the nose.
Oh, and their methods run the gamut from extreme ...
"Wikipediocracy, though obviously biased, has been instrumental in identifying hoaxes and some problematic editors. dox editors active in areas that they disapprove of. One editor wrote extensively on early pornography ... when he was doxxed by Wikipediocracy back in April 2012, he left."
... to self-destructive ...
"Gregory Kohs, who was blocked for his paid editing activities through MyWikiBiz, ran an experiment in which he inserted deliberate misinformation into 30 different articles to see how long they would last. Not only did 63 percent of the edits last for weeks or months, but some edits to revert the misinformation were later reverted themselves. Deliberately spreading misinformation to make a point (no matter how important) is reprehensible, but I have to admit that his criticism of Wikipedia's 'immune system' of self-regulation hits the nail on the head."
Luckily, Wikipedia knows how to deal with hoaxes: meticulous cataloging.
... to plain mean.
"Some people there are reasonable. Others are spiteful banned Wikipedia editors who just want to see the world burn. I've seen Wikipediocracy members say I should accept that I'm a teacher and focus on grading papers, and criticize me for citing a journal article I wrote (the post calls it a "term paper" and claims it's written in Sanskrit, which is ridiculous). They also called me a sock of a banned editor known as Benjiboi (a prolific editor of articles about gay porn movies and performers), and insulted my appearance."
When you start calling people ugly for disagreeing with you, that's about the time your argument stops qualifying as "academic."
Wikipedia Is Dying
Wikipedia feels like a service that's magically going to exist forever. But while it's doing well financially, it's bleeding away users. "The number of 'very active' editors (defined as more than 100 edits in a month) dropped from nearly 5,000 to about 3,200 between 2006 and 2014. The number of 'active' users (at least five edits per month) dropped from 50,000 to 30,000. One of my friends dropped out of editing several times because things were too contentious. Admin statistics are worse. We only have 551 active admins. We're not replacing admins at a fast enough rate. is horrible and broken. It was not an experience I'd wish on anyone else."
Apparently, the long string of "How To Not Be A Dick On Wikipedia" articles haven't quite sunken in yet.
Wikipedia faces other issues too, including the risk of restrictive copyright and web legislation. But the biggest issue is that people have to volunteer their time and money, and some guy (we can't remember who ... if only there were a place to look it up) once said that those two things were one and the same.
"People might not realize how much of a investment a lot of editors make. I have personally invested several thousand dollars in a variety of materials. The camera equipment I have is worth a good $2,000. I don't sell any of the results. I just use the photographs to illustrate articles. The books I've used have also set me back a pretty penny, particularly the older magazines that I've used as references. Factor in travel expenses for taking photographs, a decent internet connection for uploads, and a laptop and software capable of processing everything I need..."
The fact that it's all free for the reader makes it easy to forget that article on steam-driven vibrators (NSFW) cost actual resources.
Wikipedia is humanity's main font of knowledge now, and the vast majority of it is created by a slowly dwindling number of obsessive volunteers. That's an amazing accomplishment, right up until that number dwindles too much and there's suddenly no one to provide us with an exhaustive list of every Mario game in existence. Is that really a world you want to live in?
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