January 19, 2015


Part 3 of a series: InfamousThoughtless ❧ Careless ❧ Reckless

The real crime and most serious mistake in Wikipedia’s infamous draft decision on GamerGate was not that it sanctions every GamerGate target, nor that it gave no thought to the consequences that may have been suffered by the handful of editors who sought to preserve Wikipedia from the coordinated and systematic attack.

Worse than this, the draft decision shows no care for the victims of GamerGate harassment and no concern for the use of Wikipedia as a weapons platform against them.

How It’s Done

GamerGate seeks to drive women out of computing by choosing some targets, harassing them until they go into hiding, and warning the remaining women (and the declining number of women pursuing computer science degrees) that they might be next. Methods for achieving this include:

At an early date, GamerGate identified Wikipedia, “the encyclopedia anyone can edit,” as ideal for their purposes. It’s conspicuous. Google loves it: for most everyday people, Google will make Wikipedia its first or second hit. No one admits it, but reporters use Wikipedia as a crib all the time. It’s anonymous, and it’s rich enough to make that anonymity stick.

Note to Google folk: it’s time to think seriously about turning Wikipedia’s page rank down, at least until it finds a way to prevent this stuff. That might help Wikipedia too, by making it less attractive for use as a weapons platform.

The problem for GamerGate is that Wikipedia has rules against inserting libels into people’s pages. When GamerGate started to add stuff about female developers’ sex lives to various Wikipedia pages, experienced editors removed it. That led in turn to plan B:

  1. Try to put the sexy story into the article.
  2. After it's removed, argue on the talk page – repeating the sexy stories there.
  3. When people object, argue that some weblog or student newspaper or political columnist somewhere alluded to that sexy story, so it's got to be there.
  4. When people object, argue about the wording. Can we say “they fucked?” How about “blow job?” How about “exchanged sexual favors?”
  5. When people object to that, try it again on against a different woman
  6. A couple of weeks later, repeat step 1 again.


To make this stick, you need three separate editors working together.

You need this complexity to evade Wikipedia rules developed to protect against cultists and cranks. These rules work adequately against casual vandals and isolated zealots; GamerGate turned into a debacle because here the cultists and cranks were just sophisticated enough to work the levers, though too short of resources (and seeking too awful a result) to escape detection.

What Wikipedia Should Have Done

The key issue here has always been clear: Wikipedia systematically is being used to publicize the sexual history of women in computing in order to drive them out of the field. This is central: whether or not someone said something intemperate on December 13 is not.


It now looks like some of the worst elements of the infamous draft proposal won’t pass. It’s possible that almost nothing of consequence will pass.

That doesn’t matter. If you start with an infamous document and delete some paragraphs, are you likely to end up with a good result? Is doing nothing of consequence a good response?

Wikipedia should have cared for and about its victims, about people who did nothing worse than gain employment in the computer industry.

Wikipedia should have shown its care. Having been used shamefully, and not having a clear and immediate path toward a remedy, Wikipedia should be filled with care and contrition.

Wikipedia has lost an opportunity, our respect, and our trust. It may have permanently damaged the open Web because it just didn’t seem to care.

Instead, Wikipedia’s ArbCom took a superficial look at the evidence, found a few largely-technical rule infractions, and carelessly tried to give GamerGate the keys by banning all their targeted critics. Now, they propose to merely sanction some of the defenders (as well as one GamerGate Provocateur and maybe a Pal) and they want everyone to cheer.

Doing less harm isn’t good enough; it’s time for Wikipedia to care, to show its care, and to take care of its victims and of the volunteers who have worked to save it.