A bit of a kerfuffle over at Wikipedia over the summer got my attention: an editor with an agenda against Pagans was caught doing all sorts of abusive things on the site. The story inspired me to lead discussions at a couple of Pagan events about the importance of there being Wikipedia editors in our community, which lead directly to this post. But let’s start out with why the editor known as Qworty was, and was not, such a big deal to Pagans.
As a Wikipedia editor, Qworty was an all-around ass. He didn’t like Pagans, it’s true, but he also didn’t like more successful authors, outspoken critics of any number of topics, and, so far as I can tell, the Wikipedia bureaucracy itself. He skillfully gamed the system to push his agenda, editing articles, nominating many for deletion, and frequently participating in the ensuing discussion from multiple accounts, which is a big no-no. Critics of Wikipedia consider him to be the poster child of the site’s problems.
Qworty’s abuses went well beyond attacks on the entries of notable Pagans, but it’s those attacks that made me realize that there is safety in numbers. Numbers of editors, that is. Articles about Pagans tend to receive a little bit less traffic than, for example, the entry on Barack Obama, and the crowdsourcing model works less well as a result. Erroneous information may last far longer, and deletion discussions — in which participating editors must reach consensus about whether or not a given article is notable, or should be given the axe — tend to have fewer informed participants.
In short, without more editors familiar with Pagan topics on the site, articles about Pagan topics are more likely to go awry.
The English language Wikipedia does have a systemic bias: most of the editors are middle-aged white guys, likely with a bit of a paunch and short hair. It also has a bureaucratic bias: even getting one’s first edits to stick around can be difficult, and figuring out how to participate in the various processes involves wading through pages of policies, confusing shorthand, and slick logical fallacies.
On the other hand, it’s the sixth-largest site on the internet, and information on Wikipedia is copies (“mirrored”) on many sites, and referenced by countless others. So just because no one who is informed about Pagan topics and Wikipedia policies is there in the discussion doesn’t mean it isn’t being seen by millions of people who don’t know any better.
Pagans need to participate in Wikipedia, because Wikipedia is one of the first places people turn to when they have questions they want answered on any topic. Its crowdsourcing model tends to be skewed by the low number of editors familiar with Paganism, and the high number of editors familiar with dismissive skepticism. I asked for input about this question in Wikipedia’s Wikiproject Neopaganism back in July, but as a testament to the low number of participating Pagans, I still have yet to receive a response to that request for feedback.
Wikipedia for Pagans
While I had intended on this post being a distillation of my lecture/discussion, I realize that there’s not enough room for that in a well-crafted blog entry. What we really need is a tutorial. So, gods willing, I am spending more time on the site after some months of inactivity, so that I might guide my Pagan brethren through the site.