Gangs of bullies and trolls rove the internet and make life difficult for the rest of us. We get our share of them on Wikipedia. As a website that invites everybody to edit as long as they follow our rules, there’s little we can do to prevent them from coming here. Last week’s article in The Atlantic by Emma Paling, "Wikipedia's Hostility to Women”, shows that incivility and harassment of women has become common here. But we don’t have to accept that state of affairs.
How can we stop this incivility and harassment? A key role has to be played by the Arbitration Committee, who can ban or otherwise sanction the harassers. Unfortunately they have not done so. The three arbitration cases on the Gender Gap Task Force (GGTF), Gamergate, and Lightbreather show that heavier sanctions are given to women and men who stand up to the harasser than to the actual harasser. The problem now is less the fault of the bullies than with ArbCom.
I’ve never really considered myself to be a feminist – it just hasn’t been my personal fight. But I do strongly believe that everybody should be able to contribute to Wikipedia without being harassed, regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or gender. And maybe I’m just a bit old-fashioned. Bandying about the word “cunt” in a mixed conversation, as one well-known editor has done, insults not only the woman targeted, but every woman who sees the discussion. Indeed it insults the entire community. Most importantly, I just hate seeing people being bullied.
Fortunately, there is one direct way that we can change ArbCom and make a change in how we handle the bullying problem. In a few weeks elections for two-year terms will be held for eight out of the fifteen arbitrators.
First there needs to be at least eight candidates standing for election who are solidly committed to stopping the bullying. They
don’t need to all be women, although that would send a loud and clear message to all concerned. They don’t need to all be feminists. All they need is to be committed to stopping the bullying.
The formal requirements to be a candidate are few. You need to be at least 18 years old, have registered for a Wikipedia account before November 1 and have at least 500 mainspace edits before then. You’ll need to disclose your identity to the Wikimedia Foundation and sign a confidentiality agreement if you win. You do not need to be an administrator. You can nominate yourself from November 8 to November 17.
Finding good candidates is the most important step. If at least eight candidates don’t nominate themselves, we can’t elect them. Nobody should worry about there being too many good candidates; the election mechanics simply do not disadvantage those viewpoints with “extra candidates”. It’s time for you to step up to the plate.
The formal requirements to vote are also fairly minimal. You need to have an account by October 28 and have made at least 150 mainspace edits by November 1. You cannot be currently blocked. Voting takes place from November 23 to December 6.
How can you tell who to vote for? All candidates are asked questions before the election and they all have editing histories. The first thing you should check is whether they fully commit to stopping the bullying, or just say a few fluffy phrases about it. Otherwise you might have to read and investigate for a long time. There will be voter guides to help you decide, put out by whoever thinks voters will listen to them. There may actually be more voter guides than candidates, so I’ll suggest just finding one guide written by an editor you know and trust, if you can’t sort through all the information on your own.
The mechanics of the election are unusual. You can support as many of the candidates as you like, oppose as many as you like, or vote “neutral.” Please don’t vote neutral, it is just throwing away your vote. But please do support every candidate who meets your standards, and oppose every candidate who does not.
After throwing away the neutral votes, the eight winners are those who have the highest percentage of support votes. Taking last year as a guide, the winners will need about 60% supports. That’s somewhere between 210 and 250 support votes. In short, a couple hundred well placed votes can decide the election. It’s a sure thing that ArbCom’s decisions have offended that many editors. And it is almost as easy to elect 8 arbitrators as it is to elect one.
ArbCom can be changed, Wikipedia can be changed. The bullying can be stopped.
Smallbones has been an editor on the English Wikipedia since 2005. The views expressed in this editorial are his alone and do not reflect any official opinions of this publication. Responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section.