Reactions to Chelsea Manning's Wikipedia bio being renamed, again
After media praise for Wikipedia's decision to move the Bradley Manning article to Chelsea Manning (see last week's Signpost), the reversion of that page move on August 31, after a discussion in which several hundred Wikipedians participated, has so far triggered less favourable feedback, as well as a blog post from Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner expressing her disappointment with the decision.
The Daily Dotreported on the decision to move Chelsea Manning back to Bradley Manning on the same day, asking: "Can a website vote on a person's gender transition?" The article stated, "On Wikipedia, Chelsea has been sentenced to remain Bradley", and went on to quote Jimmy Wales, who responded to complaints from Josh Gorand on his user page by saying:
I'd like to suggest that rhetoric that using the name 'Bradley' rather than 'Chelsea' is a 'form of violence' against that person is completely false, and it not something that is even remotely 'generally considered' to be violence.
The Daily Dot article was picked up by Slate in France on September 2. Slate expressed the opinion that Wikipedia had "put its foot in it".
The admins are keen to stress that the reversion is not, technically, moving the page back to "Bradley Manning" so much as it is undoing the move from "Bradley Manning". The difference is ostensibly that the former would require consensus that Bradley Manning is a better title than Chelsea Manning, while the latter merely requires a lack of consensus that Chelsea Manning is a better title than Bradley Manning. In addition, the article itself still refers to Manning as "Chelsea" and uses the female pronoun.
That distinction hasn't gone down particularly well in the wider world, where [the] fact that a group of people held a vote on whether or not to call a trans woman by her preferred name, and then lost that vote, is seen as yet more evidence of a painful lack of diversity of experience amongst active Wikipedia editors.
The New Statesman went on to quote excerpts from a blog post Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner had published earlier that day, in which she argued:
Here's what's normal: When Pluto was declared to not be a planet, Wikipedia deferred to the experts, and reflected what they said in the article.
Here's what's not normal: When Dominique Strauss Kahn was accused of having raped a hotel cleaner, and when Todd Akin made pseudo-scientific claims about rape and pregnancy, many Wikipedians' discussions were (I thought) remarkably ill-informed. Some editors seemed to believe that false accusations of rape were common. Some didn't seem to realize that rape is seriously underreported. They didn't recognize that there's a body of knowledge on rape that's well-sourced and reliable.
It took me a while to connect this to systemic bias—to realize that rather than Wikipedians being unusually lacking in knowledge about what rape is and how it works, I might better understand it as me being more-knowledgeable-than-the-average-Wikipedian on the topic. Because I'm a woman, and also a journalist, I've followed rape issues pretty closely in the media, I've talked about it a fair bit with my female friends, and I've read a couple of dozen books and studies on it and related topics. It took me a while to realize that that level of interest, and therefore expertise, is unusual on Wikipedia, presumably at least partly because our editor community skews so heavily male.
The same is true for transgender issues. A number of editors have made truly ignorant comments over the past week or so, comparing Chelsea Manning to someone who woke up one morning believing herself to be a dog, a cat, a Vulcan, Jesus Christ, a golden retriever, a genius, a black person, a Martian, a dolphin, Minnie Mouse, a broomstick or a banana. In saying those things, they revealed themselves to be people who've never thought seriously about trans issues—who have never read a single first-person account of growing up transgendered, or a scholarly study or medical text, or maybe even the Wikipedia article itself. That in itself is perfectly okay: different things are interesting to different people, and I for one know nothing about trigonometry or antisemitism in the 19th century or how a planet is determined to actually be a planet. But I don't deny that there is stuff on those topics worth knowing, nor do I mock the knowledge of others, nor accuse them of bias and POV-pushing.
Gardner and the New Statesman both noted that an arbitration request had been filed. Gardner commented on her blog,
My hope is that ArbCom will clarify Wikipedia policy, and affirm that we have a responsibility to respect the basic human dignity of article subjects, to not mock or disparage them, and to attempt to avoid doing them harm. That we must not participate in or prolong their victimization.
I also hope ArbCom will weigh in on how Wikipedia handles trans issues in general. I'd be particularly interested in an examination of the role that subject-matter expertise is playing in our current discussions, and an exploration of how editors might choose to conduct themselves in disputes in which they have little expertise, and in which systemic bias risks skewing outcomes. In the Manning situation, for a variety of reasons that almost certainly include systemic bias, discussion didn't achieve a result consistent with our desire to protect the dignity of an article subject.
It remains to be seen whether Gardner's hope that ArbCom "clarify policy" is at odds with ArbCom's constitutional role, as defined in Arbitration Policy:
The arbitration process is not a vehicle for creating new policy by fiat. The Committee's decisions may interpret existing policy and guidelines, recognise and call attention to standards of user conduct, or create procedures through which policy and guidelines may be enforced. The Committee does not rule on content, but may propose means by which community resolution of a content dispute can be facilitated.
The New Statesman meanwhile noted that any ArbCom decision would take at least a month. "But it's the best chance yet for Wikipedia's editing community to take some time for the introspection it apparently needs."
Gardner clarified in her blog post that she had written the post in her capacity as a volunteer editor. She added, "everything I say here, I say with lots of respect for the Wikipedia community. This is a rare misstep: an unusual and unfortunate blind spot." HASTAC also had an analysis of the naming dispute, by Wikipedians Adrianne Wadewitz and Phoebe Ayers.
Azerbaijan government's involvement in its language's Wikipedia expansion
The Azerbaijani news portal abc.az reported on September 6 that the Azerbaijani Ministry of Communications and Information is creating a "social movement for expansion of the information about the country in online encyclopedia Wikipedia". The Ministry said it was collaborating with the Azerbaijan Association of Young Translators (AGTA) to create a wiki movement in the country. The website of VikiHərəkat, the Azerbaijani wiki movement, is here. Jimmy Wales said on his talk page, "I know nothing about it." According to Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan has a deteriorating human rights record. Under the heading "Azerbaijan: Crackdown on Civil Society", Human Rights Watch summarises the most recent developments in the country as follows:
The Azerbaijani government engaged in a deliberate, abusive strategy to limit dissent. The strategy is designed to curtail opposition political activity, limit public criticism of the government, and exercise greater control over nongovernmental organizations. The clampdown on freedom of expression, assembly, and association have accelerated in the months preceding the presidential elections, scheduled for October 9, 2013.
This makes Azerbaijan, after Kazakhstan (see earlier Signpost report), the second state with a dismal record on human rights and free speech to take an active interest in the expansion of the local language version of Wikipedia.
The Wikipediafication of fine art: Glendon Mellow's blog on the Scientific American website had some nice things to say about Wikipedia on August 29, speaking of "the wonder that Wikipedia and its contributors and donors gives us: a richness of topic and visual cues to lead us down a myriad of paths instead of one-note shocker headline images."
Hive mind: On August 30, Science News featured a belated report on a study of cooperative behavior in Wikipedia published by Simon DeDeo in December 2012.
Interest in Syria: A report published in Der Spiegel on August 31 noted increased page views for Syrian topics in the German Wikipedia, triggered by Syria's ongoing troubles.
WikiTube: On September 1, ghacks.net covered WikiTube, a Chrome extension that adds videos to the top of Wikipedia articles.
Portrait of a Philadelphia Wikipedian: The philly.com website had a portrait of David Thomsen (Dthomsen8), one of the top 200 Wikipedians by edit count, on September 2. The story was picked up by the Philadelphia Business Journal, and Thomsen had a further mention in Swarthmore College's Daily Gazette, which featured a profile of Google employee and Wikipedian Will Hopkins on September 4.
Wikipedia lies: Musician Example and comedian Chris Ramseydiscussed Twitter and Wikipedia on the website of the Daily Express on September 3. Comparing notes about inaccuracies in their respective Wikipedia entries, Ramsey said, "There's something on Wikipedia that says I have this thing called the Geordie flick. And it says that I won a competition for the best haircut in Newcastle, but it's utter b*****t." The unsourced addition (removed after the article appeared) was made in December 2012.