March 15, 2015
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Over The Precipice

Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee, ever a font of hilarity, has formally responded to my Request For Clarification and unanimously decided that “Campus Rape” does indeed fall under Gamergate discretionary sanctions. (Link updated) So, apparently, does the biography of Lena Dunham, and sections of NFL pages that deal with abusive players, sexual assaults by players.

From here on out, every biography of a living woman who is disliked by the American Right will be subject to the Gamergate discretionary sanctions. Male biographies would only be involved if the men have notable gender controversies: a doctor who conducts abortions, say, or who defends the right of women. Any woman can be involved in a gender-related controversy at any time: just get people to talk about her appearance, or her sex life, or her abortion, and Bob’s your uncle.

Every biography of a lesbian, gay, transgender, or gender-queer person is apparently subject to Gamergate discretionary sanctions, since it’s obvious that these are potentially controversial and gender is involved somehow. Of course, people in heterosexual relationships are not covered as there’s no potential for controversy there, right?

This mess stems, ultimately, from Wikipedia’s anti-intellectual tradition. The Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit™ can easily become the encyclopedia where everyone is an expert with no need to seek advice or to look stuff up. Hetero-normative? Androcentic? Oblivious?

Research needs to look more closely at Wikipedia’s capture by the right. I’ve been focusing here on sexism and Wikipedia, but Wikipedia’s roots lie in Libertarian techno-utopianism and I suspect it’s increasingly dominated by an alliance of libertarians and tea partiers. It’s a tricky question: Wikipedia is also plagued by right-wing zealots from Israel, Ukraine, and the Balkans. Of course, these aren’t separate in the way they used to be: Netanyahu’s big donor is also the big money behind Newt Gingrich.

Last week, a pair of Gamergaters attempted to out a software developer on a Wikipedia talk page. Their canard was published for eight hours before someone finally obliterated it. The perpetrators have not been sanctioned.

Meanwhile, I'm being read out of meeting for having the temerity – can you imagine? – to allude, during a discussion of an article about collusive editing of Wikipedia’s Gamergate page, to (get this) collusive editing of Wikipedia Gamergate page. I wrote:

“It is fascinating that the particular group of editors who recently were so eager to cite Gamergate wikis, weblogs, and Breitbart are reluctant to inform newcomers to this article of this important new essay. Why would that be?

No doubt this was a very wicked thing to say, though I’m not sure how. I repeat it and the Wikipedians all gasp, grow pale and flutter their handkerchiefs. It might violate WP:MOMHESLOOKINGATMEFUNNY, except that's not an actual Wikipedia policy.

There are worse things: One of those worse things is outing -- the real thing, not the Wikipedia thing. It can ruin careers and cost lives. This is not a mere content dispute or a fight about infoboxes.

You can’t make this stuff up.

At yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, I had a brief chat with my Representative, Katherine Clark (D-MA), who recently spoke out about Gamergate and internet harassment (Mother Jones ❧ . Tech CrunchJezebelThe Hill). She makes an excellent point: it’s not just games, and accomplished women get this all the time. Even the Congresswoman was surprised at the Twitterfed vitriol heaped on her for asserting that the government ought to protect the rights of women to be software developers if that's what they want to do.

The NY Police tried to edit Wikipedia to remove criticism of police shootings. (I’m inclined to suspect that someone tied to the Aaron Swartz prosecution did the same thing last year, incidentally.) This was only caught because the police were lazy, incompetent, and edited from work; if they'd done the work at home or at the NY Public Library, they'd have been praised.

Last week, Katherine Clark was at Selma. We are all at Selma again.