The Signpost

In the media

Is Wikipedia just another social media site?

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Smallbones

Most Wikipedians are proud of their creation – a huge, up-to-date, good quality encyclopedia that may last for the ages. Our encyclopedia is certainly not a social media site. But let's see what the rest of the media say.

A kind of social network?

"Wikipedia Isn't Officially a Social Network. But the Harassment Can Get Ugly" writes Julia Jacobs in the New York Times.

[Wikipedia] is a kind of social network where users debate the minutiae of history and modern life, climb the editorial hierarchy and even meet friends and romantic partners. ...
It is also a place where editors can experience relentless harassment.

The focus of the article is on harassment of transgender and women editors.

Jacobs reports that trans male editor Pax Ahimsa Gethen suffered personal attacks for several months in 2016. Gethen's anonymous harasser called them "insufferable" and "unloved" adding that they belonged in an internment camp and should kill themself. Other examples are given about LGBT and women editors on French and Persian Wikipedia.

Harassment reports on Wikipedia are handled mostly by unpaid volunteers on Wikipedia, unlike similar reports on Facebook and Twitter. On English Wikipedia, complaints are often handled publicly, which can result in undesirable confrontations.

Katie Bouman and the power of social networks

A blurry photo of a supermassive black hole in M87.
The image Bouman helped create

Katie Bouman became famous soon after a photo of her was tweeted as she watched the very first image of a black hole being processed, an image she helped create. The Wikipedia article on Bouman was created a few hours later by Wikipedian Jess Wade.

This week, millions of girls and women around the world who have been told science is not for them found a new role model in Bouman — a new data point that told them yes you can.

The internet in the Mueller Report

The redacted Mueller Report, released April 18, has a strong focus on the internet and social media. The Internet Research Agency (IRA), which Mueller indicted, was mentioned over 100 times. WikiLeaks was mentioned over 200 times, Facebook and Twitter were mentioned several dozen times each. Wikipedia was mentioned only twice as part of a fairly bizarre, perhaps trivial, affair.

According to the report (see Vol. I, pages 147–158, especially pp. 151–155), after the 2016 U.S. presidential election Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to establish unofficial "back-channel" communications with Trump. A connection was attempted through the following series of links:

Dmitriev, who reports directly to Putin during his day job as an investment banker, asked Nader, a Mideast go-between, to contact somebody in the Trump entourage. Nader convinced Prince to meet with Dmitriev on January 3–4, 2017, in part by sending Prince the link to Dmitriev's Wikipedia article. Prince then talked with Bannon, showing him a screen-shot of Dmitriev's Wikipedia article. Bannon does not remember this meeting with Prince, and this back-channel communication seems to have ended there.

But, why did Nader send Prince a link to Wikipedia? And why did Prince show Bannon a screenshot of the Wikipedia article on Dmitriev? Why not just send a resume?

Other social media connections

So perhaps we might conclude the Wikipedia is not so different from social media sites, sharing both the ability to change social perceptions and problems like harassment.

In the comments section below please let us know how you answer the question "Is Wikipedia just another social media site?"

In brief

Gobbler of the month

Gobbler of the month
awarded to
April 2019

Everipedia, which claims to be the "world's largest online English encyclopedia" posted a press release on why they are better than Wikipedia. Everipedia's 6 million plus articles include about 5.5 million old Wikipedia articles. Searching for "main page" on Everipedia will take you to a page titled "Everipedia, the encyclopedia of everything" with the text starting "Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. 5,532,166 articles in English" followed by the rest of Wikipedia's Main Page from December 16, 2017.

The press release immediately invites skepticism by stating that "a third of (Wikipedia's) content is created by just one man", apparently referring to Steven Pruitt. Pruitt has made over 3 million total edits on Wikipedia and edited more than 1 million of the nearly 6 million English-language articles, but has not contributed all of the content to those articles.

The core of the press release is based on a survey of 1,000 Americans. Neither the methodology or a full set of results are given. Decrypt reports that the survey is informal and "not an academic, peer-reviewed report or study", quoting an Everipedia spokeswoman.

Everipedia reports 13 survey results, including:

The only unexpected survey results, in the eyes of this reviewer, is that the results conform completely with information that is already widely available or at least suspected. In a survey with this many questions at least a few unexpected results are to be expected.

Everipedia's response to the reported problems involves paying their editors with their own cryptocurrency called "IQ", a type of electronic wooden nickel.

David Gerard, Wikipedia's own expert on all things about cryptocurrency, remarks that there are "real problems with Wikipedia" that the survey notes "and we're very aware of them. But that doesn't mean Everipedia's paid-editing model solves a single one of them, and they've given no evidence that it does."

The Signpost's request for further information about the survey has not been answered.

Do you want to contribute to "In the media" by writing a story or even just an "in brief" item? Edit next month's edition in the Newsroom or leave a tip on the suggestions page.
In this issue
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

These comments are automatically transcluded from this article's talk page. To follow comments, add the page to your watchlist. If your comment has not appeared here, you can try purging the cache.
@Korny O'Near: Thanks for the compliment and for the heads up. In my defense I'll say that the description of a "network of trolls" was in Harrison's Slate article - not those exact words - but certainly the idea: Quoting:
"By this point, though, the internet trolls had descended. The Verge’s Mary Beth Griggs recounts the online harassment in grim detail. Trolls set up fake Twitter accounts and fake Instagram accounts in Bouman’s name and had the fake Bouman claim that her colleague Andrew Chael wrote 850,000 of the 900,000 lines of code that were written into the algorithm that found the black hole. ..." and it goes on in some detail.
So my fault here is in letting Harrison's description of the internet's network of trolls, being mistaken for a group of folks at Wikipedia's AFD. I haven't checked the AFD in detail to see if there were indeed trolls there - so that really is something I apologize for. I believed that this description would be taken by readers as a summary of Harrison's article. In a dozen words or so, I still think it was a pretty good, but not perfect, description of that article. Smallbones(smalltalk) 15:54, 1 May 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Maybe you should just remove that phrase? As you note, even the Slate article doesn't use that phrase to describe anyone on Wikipedia. The most it says is that some Wikipedia editors made "nasty and sexist" comments (although the one example cited doesn't seem especially nasty or sexist). Simply removing "network of trolls" would be a more accurate summary of the article. Korny O'Near (talk) 16:17, 1 May 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Korny O'Near: - sorry for the delay in getting back. The real world sometimes gets in the way. I did replace "network of trolls" with simply "those". That does reflect my view that, while there might be a network of trolls on the internet in general working against Bouman, I haven't seen any evidence that a "network of trolls" invaded Wikipedia's AFD discussion. I don't know how well that aligns with Harrison's intention - my original reading was that he thought the 2 groups to be connected, on my 4th(?) reading now, I'm not sure of his intended message. Thanks for the feedback. Smallbones(smalltalk) 17:49, 1 May 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Looks good, thank you. Korny O'Near (talk) 22:15, 1 May 2019 (UTC)[reply]
The harassment of Pax Ahimsa Gethen is very disconcerting to me. I have met this editor once and we have communicated a few times. This is a thoughtful, kind, knowledgeable person and a talented photographer with much to contribute to this encyclopedia. We must take all reasonable steps to stop this harassment and welcome these contributors from marginalized communities. Cullen328 Let's discuss it 07:15, 5 May 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Cullen328: Thanks for the kind words. I invite any readers interested in more context on my experience to check out the links on my user page. Funcrunch (talk) 18:33, 5 May 2019 (UTC)[reply]
@Funcrunch and Cullen328: Did you read the interview with Katherine Maher in this edition? She says "I don’t think most of the on-wiki policies we have today are conducive to creating safe and welcoming spaces. Far too frequently, people use our policies to walk the line while still engaging in harassing behavior." Sometimes folks at the WMF kind of mumble, sometimes there are many different sides to issues and they have to address all the sides and just end up confusing people. Maher did not mumble here, she didn't confuse anybody with this. It looks to me like the WMF - certainly the ED - wants to do something about harassment. Can you come up with what they, or we (the en:wiki community) need to do? It's time to step up to the plate. Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:09, 6 May 2019 (UTC)[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0