Editor's Note: Wikipedia Wars
Just this last week, Business Manager Navin Kadaba and I discovered that a Wikipedia user scheduled the article on our newspaper for deletion. The user, who maintains membership in a Wikipedia “Counter-Propaganda Unit,” asserted that the article about The Stanford Review was “non-notable” and part of a collection of self-serving articles only intended to promote World Ahead Publishing, a company started by a Review alumnus.
Wikipedia is often cited as one of the most important and significant developments on the web. The project, created by a philosophy lecturer and futures and options trader in 2001, allows any person on the web to create and edit encyclopedia articles. The internet encyclopedia now boasts articles on over 5 million different subjects in 229 different languages.
In addition to allowing web users to create and edit articles, Wikipedia also allows anyone to nominate a particular article for deletion. Once nominated, a discussion page is created to collect input from users on whether or not the page should actually be deleted. After a week or so of discussion, a separate user makes a final decision based on the discussion.
The Wikipedia deletion process greatly mimics its article generation and edit procedures. Anyone can contribute to the deletion discussion, with little administration or oversight. Despite its open nature, however, the existence of a deletion policy on Wikipedia seems counterintuitive to its purpose. In an organization that strives to “bring knowledge to everyone,” does it make sense to sustain an active and easy process to eliminate information?
Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a strong consensus on Wikipedia that elimination is often in the best interest of the community. In the discussion for the deletion of The Review and related articles, one particular British Wikipedian provided a fairly alarming summary of his view of deletion of articles: “I’m not American, but I do know the First Amendment and that it starts with the words ‘Congress shall not.’ Wikipedia is not Congress, so delete away.”
At first, Navin and I thought the “counter-propaganda unit” targeted World Ahead Publishing and The Stanford Review for deletion because of political differences. Nevertheless, a little investigation revealed the instigator of the deletion process is an avowed Republican—a revelation that did not necessarily make me feel any better.
The truth is, however, that Wikipedia and similar communities on the internet allow people to occupy themselves with seemingly useless tasks, such as researching and recommending random Wikipedia articles for deletion. It’s unbelievable to me that a person with no connection or self-interest in an article on The Review goes to such effort to compile reasons to delete it.
Sadly, these veteran “Wikipedians” are impossible to beat if you actually have an occupation. As Navin mentions in his contribution to the deletion discussion, “as a college student [, I] don’t currently have time to edit a lot of articles.” You need significant amounts of time to respond to their claims—which are often remarkably good. Several Wikipedians who supported the deletion of The Stanford Review from Wikipedia went so far as to research the editing history of users opposing the deletion, making the argument that opponents to the deletion were inexperienced, and probably only contributing because of self interest (which was actually the case).
The growing exclusivity of the Wikipedia community is not just apparent in the existence of the deletion process. The language used amongst Wikipedians is intimidating and bewildering to outsiders. Words like “walled garden” and “spamvertisement” are used to degrade articles. Inexperienced users are called “SPAs” or “single purpose accounts” as an attack on the credibility of anything they write on Wikipedia.
The Stanford Review and World Ahead Publishing recently gained an ally in their war against Wikipedian deleters. The user, Turkey2020, put forth some solid claims for the retention of the articles—and also went to the trouble of improving the articles with citations. Of course, then Turkey2020 was accused of being an “SPA” and accused of using “misleading” arguments. In the end, thankfully, we were spared from deletion, although World Ahead Publishing and several other related articles got the axe.
Honestly, all of this does not mean a whole lot to me—it’s actually really silly. The entire article on The Stanford Review is only four lines long. I just remember thinking it was neat when I first realized the publication I worked for was included in Wikipedia. In some ways, the article helps legitimize our paper as a source for news and commentary. It’s disturbing that strangers would do so much work to undermine this legitimization. Just let us have our fun and find something else to do!