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Wikipedia's Manual of Style marches into Manning's coming out as transgender

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By Neotarf, Emily Temple-Wood and Jayen466

In one of the more surprising turns of events surrounding the WikiLeaks saga, after receiving a 35-year jail sentence for her role in disseminating classified documents to the organization, last Thursday U.S. soldier Bradley Manning announced a change in her sexual identity with a statement read by their attorney on the Today show:

Manning in 2012
As soon as the statement was read, the interviewer seamlessly referred to Manning as "she". "A few moments later," writes a Los Angeles Times reporter, "I looked up 'Bradley Manning' in Wikipedia, and was redirected to a page called 'Chelsea Manning'. All the pronouns had already been switched." Her Wikipedia entry now begins, "Chelsea E. Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning, December 17, 1987) is a United States Army soldier ..."

The media was quick to note Wikipedia's actions: Slate Wikipedia beats major news organizations, perfectly reflects Chelsea Manning's new gender, Buzzfeed, Truthdig ("How Wikipedia edited Pvt. Manning's gender without spectacle", New Statesman "Behind the Wikipedia wars: what happened when Bradley Manning became Chelsea", the Daily Dot, Market Watch ("Bradley Manning: 'I am a female'")—all took note of Wikipedia's lead.

Wikipedia's use of gender pronouns is straightforward. The choice of pronouns is governed by the identity section of Wikipedia's Manual of Style (MOS): "the term most commonly used for a person will be the one that person uses for himself or herself", and specifically, "pronouns, and possessive adjectives that reflect that person's latest expressed gender self-identification".

After Manning's declaration, there was rapid editing on both the related article and the MOS. At the MOS, one editor tried to insert the same change four times and was reverted. A formal warning was threatened on the editor's talk page; but in the end, the page was merely protected, which allows editing only by administrators. The Manning article itself was moved from Chelsea Manning back to Bradley Manning, and then back again, after a cordial talk-page discussion revealed that the editor moving the article was not aware of the announcement. Eventually, that page was also protected.

Three blocks, then ANI

The earlier cordial editor behavior on the Chelsea Manning talk page quickly evaporated as administrator and arbitrator Risker blocked administrators Mark Arsten, Jimfbleak and Zzyzx11 for edit warring. The blocks were protested vigorously at the Administrator incidents noticeboard.

All three users were unblocked in short order. Black Kite, who unblocked Zzyzx11 and Jimfbleak, called the blocks "completely farcical": "Zzyzx11 was fixing a date formatting issue, Jimfbleak a MOS issue, and Mark Arsten reinstating a category that had previous[ly] been removed by mistake (and had been edit requested), ... That's one of the most ridiculous and bone-headed blocking actions I've ever seen on Wikipedia. … WP:PROTECT says that pages that are protected because of content disputes should not be edited except to make changes which are uncontroversial, or absent an edit-request. Two of the edits were the former, and one the latter."

Risker did not agree that the edits were uncontroversial: "I'd expect just about every admin to realise that date formatting remains a highly controversial area in just about every article where it is raised… there's hardly an edit that could be made to this article right now that will be completely uncontroversial, and that goes for categories, markup, MOS fixes and typos."

Editing through protection

2012 photo of Bradley Manning, now identifying as female.

It quickly became clear that there was a difference of opinion on editing through protection. "Doing maintenance edits like correcting typos, fixing categories and such are allowed by policy and any admin can feel free to do them on any protected page," explained Hahc21 (ΛΧΣ). "Terrible, terrible blocks," said tariqabjotu. "If absolutely zero editing on protected articles were allowed, we wouldn't have an {{editprotected}} template."

Others indicated that even if it is not spelled out in policy, that with the exception of BLP violations or copyvios, administrators should not make changes without full consensus on the talk page. While it "may not be an abuse of the letter of our protection policy," Kww said, "I sympathize with desire to block: it's apparently the only thing that will get some admins to respect full-protection." "I would support blocking," said ItsZippy. "They can and should be blocked" said Beeblebrox. "Even if it's not in the rules that they can't," said The Bushranger, they shouldn't edit, "because that's a good way of feeding the 'admins are more equal than others' arguments that we see so often." "If the protection policy doesn't make that clear, then I think we should fix it," wrote SlimVirgin. "I'd personally just say reblock," said Jamesofur, "it seems we have too many admins pissy about their 'rights'".

Hidden warnings

"Has the world gone mad? I didn't even read the talk page, and I find that I've been blocked for not doing so!" said Jimfbleak after being unblocked, pointing out that he had made "one unsuspecting edit to a page with a warning hidden on a talk page". The warning, against editing "absent a clear-cut edit request," was made on the Chelsea Manning talk page, and has now been automatically archived.

Risker's reply: "Jimfbleak. If you can't bother reading the talk page of a protected article and getting stuck in to understand why it's protected and what the issues are, you shouldn't be editing that page at all." Jauersock thought differently, though, writing "You can't put a warning on talk page like that and expect anyone to see it, it's now mixed up somewhere in the middle of the page like any other thread ... If a user who outright vandalizes an article is 'warned' like that and then gets reported to AIV, it would get declined in a heartbeat for insufficient warnings."

"If we don't axe single-edit anonymous vandals, we shouldn't do the same to other editors," said Joy [shallot], adding, "If this was my first block ever, as it appears to have been the case for Mark Arsten, I would actually find such a block to be an explicitly insensitive act of destroying a previously clean block log."

The role of talk pages

The one unanswered question is why no effort was made to engage any of the editors on their talk pages. "If you went to each of those admins," wrote tariqabjotu, "and said, 'hey, [link to discussion], that wasn't as uncontroversial as you thought,' I doubt any of them wouldn't have acceded to reverting." Zzyzx11 recommended that the protection policy be changed, "knowing that admins like me will less likely respond to {{edit protected}} or any other similar admin assistance requests for fear of getting blocked by other admins.", while another editor, UltraExactZZ, commented:

In brief

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  • Mike Wood's piece is very good, but I think that he omitted one of the more crucial points, only addressing it in a reply in the comments section, and even then only partially. If you POV push or whitewash the article on your company, and you're caught, not only is the article going to be heavily monitored in the future, but the people that try to bring the article back towards neutral will often go too far in the opposite direction, creating an article that is more negative that it was before the whitewashing. In rare cases, the whitewashing even gets picked up in the media (usually tech blogs rather than major newspapers). While I haven't seen it happen regularly, that media coverage means that the whitewashing can be written about in the article that was whitewashed. Viewers then will not only will see the 'bad information', but will then also see that you tried to hide it. Sven Manguard Wha? 08:32, 26 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I'm surprised there's no mention of the extremely active and extremely contentious move request on Chelsea Manning. Powers T 11:52, 26 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Just so you know, the caption "Bradley Manning ... now female" is actually pretty offensive. It's like saying someone that comes out of the closet wasn't homosexual until they did so. --TKK! bark with me if you're my dog! 14:04, 26 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Now female as a public preference or decision. Seems OK to me. Tony (talk) 14:33, 26 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I think we should hold off on using the obviously fair-use photo in this article until the deletion discussion is completed. Maybe comment it out? Marcus Qwertyus (talk)
  • This paper doesn't comment at all the fact that Wikipedia de, es, fr, ko, it, pl, etc. are using Bradley Manning as of now. Anything to say about that? Pldx1 (talk) 17:14, 27 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • I am, frankly, shocked at Risker's behavior. Her over-defensive treatment of an article under dispute, claiming that "even typos" are controversial, is absurd. We have always permitted minor housekeeping edits to full-protected articles by administrators without prior approval, and it is part of their regular duties, not a flaunting of their authority. Without this ability, it is impossible to make systematic edits affecting many articles (e.g. file or template renames) in an efficient and comprehensive manner. I certainly hope this doesn't set a precedent. Dcoetzee 09:27, 28 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • The article mentions that Wikipedia Weekly 98 is now available, but I can't find the recording on the link given to the episode, only a description of the episode. Could someone please either clarify the link or fix the reference? effeietsanders 12:43, 28 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • You know, I get tired when everyone talks about the gender gap, and how this is a huge problem, but noone seems to ever discuss any possible solutions. We could do a lot about the gender gap - such as asking female Wikipedians what could be done to improve things - but, instead, we seem to fall into this idea that just saying there's a gender gap, and this is a problem, absolves us of any further responsibility. It's circular discussion at its worst. Adam Cuerden (talk) 18:42, 28 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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