A Wiki Education course went awry last month when controversy over a deletion discussion spilled onto Twitter, leading to harassment of a 15-year-old editor. The course, Black Women and Popular Culture, was taught by Msia Kibona Clark. Clark, whose Wikipedia username is , is an associate professor of African cultural and feminist studies at Howard University. As of press time, 12 out of the 24 articles linked on the course page are redlinks. One of those, about the activist organization Black Women Radicals (archive link), was nominated for deletion on December 13; it was deleted a week later, after a clear consensus formed that the group was not notable (editors also identified copyright violations and promotionalism issues).
During the nomination, Clark posted on Twitter "I don't know where the Black (& allies) nerds are, but I really need support in editing & saving" the article, in a thread where she tagged the group's Twitter handle. The AfD nominator joined the Twitter conversation, identifying themselves, linking to the canvassing guideline, and stating "I am 100% not trying to erase anything cultural. I based my decisions on notability guidelines and what other editors said about the content."
Other users, including the Black Women Radicals account, responded with hostility, particularly after the editor revealed that they were 15 years old. @uchenna (Uchenna Kema) wrote "Delete your Wikipedia account and go to school". @moontomysea mockingly paraphrased their comments as "yes i erased your nigger page from wikipedia and if you talk about it the rules say we can ban you", commenting "they sure do make white fifteen year old kids bold now don't they". The Black Women Radicals account tweeted "It's a shame the ways Wikipedia (particularly its overwhelming[ly] white editors) gatekeep what is considered 'notable' enough to have a Wiki article. Most of the time, Black women's work is not considered 'notable' enough." They also shared a screenshot showing that the nominator had blocked them.
The nominator brought the matter to the Education Noticeboard, where they expressed intense distress. "I am now scared of what they will do next, if they'll follow me into other social media or even here to make attacks or potentially doxx me as an act of 'revenge'," they wrote. "Please help."
Many editors responded. Ian Ramjohn, the Senior Wikipedia Expert for WikiEd, wrote "I'm horrified at what has happened here" and communicated information about how Wikipedia operates to the group in replies on Twitter. Administrator pointed out that many non-Wikipedians on Twitter likely misunderstood the role of an editor to be "someone with special authority over Wikipedia content", rather than anyone who edits.
Clark explained and defended her actions in the noticeboard thread. "I initially only turned to my community on Twitter because I was frustrated, I was not being heard, and I didn't know what to do," she wrote. "I needed help getting resources and ideas for the article, as well as help navigating Wikipedia. I also needed support from my community because it is not a good feeling to feel like you're not being heard and to feel powerless to do anything about it." Regarding the nominator, she wrote "when he went on Twitter, identified himself, and continued with the tone of criticism and chastising that I had experienced on Wikipedia, I anticipated the reaction. I wish it had not happened, but it did not have to happen."
In a statement for WikiEd, LiAnna Davis (its chief programs officer and deputy director) wrote "I'm very sorry this situation has resulted in multiple people feeling harassed." However, the bulk of her statement focused on thanking Clark for her work trying to combat systemic bias on Wikipedia, reminding editors to assume good faith about her intentions in going to Twitter, and urging the community to take into account the "systemic bias in our sources" when assessing articles. Administrator criticized this response, saying that WikiEd was responsible for "blasé handling of demonstrable harassment". Davis later clarified that "my post yesterday should have read 'being harassed', not 'feeling harassed'. My apologies for my poor wording choice." Discussion about WikiEd continued from there, with the harassment issues referred to WMF Trust and Safety for private handling.
African Americans are severely underrepresented among Wikipedia editors, according to a 2020 WMF survey, which found that they make up only 0.5% of American editors, despite being around 14% of the American population. There remain many content gaps in Wikipedia's coverage of Black history and culture.
The incident highlights the ongoing challenges faced by WikiEd's student editing program. Supporters argue that a few troublesome instances overshadow many quieter successes, point to its thorough training modules, and note that it helps bring in a more diverse group of editors. Detractors emphasize the disruption to the community from courses that produce problematic content and note that few students go on to make productive contributions after their course ends.
The incident also highlights the challenge of communicating Wikipedia's complex processes to unfamiliar audiences, especially in heated situations where people may be inclined to view community decisions through a political or ideological lens. Marginalized communities, in particular, may be reticent to assume good faith after having endured systemic discrimination. "The experience was hurtful for me and for my students who witnessed it," wrote Clark in the noticeboard thread.