User:Belchfire/essays/Identity politics and Wikipedia

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Because Wikipedia aims to be a neutral compilation of verifiable, established facts, editors are called upon - and are expected - to ensure their work complies with Wikipedia's core content policies. First among those policies is that all Wikipedia content must be written from a neutral point of view. Because editors are human beings, each with their own individual bias, achieving a neutral point of view often requires a conscious effort. However, some editors make a conscious effort to do the opposite, and intentionally edit with a specific, focused bias. This essay will discuss a particular type of biased editing, that which is based on identity politics.

The spirit and the intent of this essay is drawn from the Neutral point of view/FAQ:

Defining the problem[edit]

Special interest editing is special[edit]

"Identity politics" can be defined as "political arguments that focus on the self-interest and perspectives of self-identified special interest groups". Because adherents are both self-identified and self-interested, identity politics on Wikipedia creates a conflict of interest, and there can be no credible claim to generally altruistic motives when a special interest bias is present.

Many editors work more or less openly from the standpoint of a particular political philosophy or political viewpoint, but this does not necessarily mean that their editing is non-neutral (although, it often does). However, a general political bias is inherently different from a bias based on identity politics, in that those holding a political bias are self-selecting and may change their opinions over time, whereas identity politics is usually grounded in immutable characteristics and tends to be permanently aligned in a single direction. One result of this difference is that special interest editors are not interested in discussion that may not lead to their preferred result, and are generally not reasonable in their approach to editing Wikipedia.

Special interest groups and their agendas[edit]

Special interest groups are most often based on:

Those pursuing the agenda of special interest groups may engage in biased editing of articles concerning:

Ways to spot editing motivated by identity politics[edit]

Special interest editors are often single purpose accounts, or fall just outside the criteria for single purpose accounts. They tend to spend an inordinate amount of time editing controversial articles. Sometimes their editing stays within behavioral guidelines, but often it does not. Special interest editors will often take a long-term interest in articles that are near and dear to their cause. They will often give themselves away by their inability to disengage or their unwillingness to recognize that there may be valid opinions differing from their own.

Editors motivated by identity politics frequently:

Editors motivated by identity politics sometimes:

Editors motivated by identity politics seldom:

Assessing the damage[edit]

How identity politics disrupts Wikipedia[edit]

The number of active editors and long-term editor retention are both decreasing.

Special interest editors are not concerned with the quality of the encyclopedia, seeking instead to use Wikipedia as a platform to further their own agendas. Because special interest editing is inherently contrary to Wikipedia's goals, it is disruptive by its very definition.

Wikipedia already has a recognized problem with editor retention,[1] and both disruptive editing and commandeering of articles are recognized causes of editor retention issues.[2]

How identity politics damages Wikipedia's credibility[edit]

Wikipedia already has a well-documented problem with low credibility and lack of authority, and the actions of egregiously biased editors increase this problem out of proportion to their numbers. In particular, conflict of interest in political topics on Wikipedia is an issue that has been well-documented in the media. The damage done to Wikipedia by a public perception of unreliability in one area spills over to the rest of the encyclopedia, and the value of the work done by all contributors is diminished as a result.

Remedial action[edit]

Strategies for editors[edit]

Recommendations for administrators[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Decline of Wikipedia, and more, The Signpost, November 23, 2009 
  2. ^ Former Contributors Survey Results, Wikimedia Foundation, April 2010, Around half of editors leave solely for personal reasons; Other half left for 'community' or 'complexity' reasons, in roughly equal parts; 'Community critics' felt that other editors harmed their experience; Bad interactions with editors who were stubborn, biased, reckless, etc.