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The "recession" affair

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Note: JPxG, the author of this article, participated heavily in this discussion, and got quoted in Fortune about it. I tried to do the responsible thing and get someone else to write this, but I failed, so instead I'm writing a political op-ed about a RfC that I opened and then participated in. Read at your own (and my own) risk.
Debates, debates, debates...

Y'all heard about politics?

Before you start: yes, this is an American Politics 2 thing. If you want to just unplug your monitor right now, this is probably better for your mental health. Go ahead, I don't blame you. You might want a claw hammer to make sure.


You're still here? Okay, well, abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Here is the deal: a few days ago, the United States Commerce Department reported that gross domestic product had gone down for two quarters in a row (a criterion often said to indicate when an economy is "in a recession"). U.S. President Joe Biden, along with other administration officials, said that the current situation is not typical of a recession, and that official determinations of US recessions are made by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The NBER is some big-brain organization which conducts comprehensive evaluations of "economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales", and uses these factors to determine start and end dates for US recessions. Pretty straightforward.[1]

Okay, some politicians said some stuff: who cares? Well, it turns out, Wikipedia has an article about recessions (oh no). It turns out that this article provides some definitions of recessions (oh no). If you have ever heard of Wikipedia, it is easy to predict what happened next: some people edited the article. If you have ever heard of Twitter, it is easy to predict what happened after that: all hell broke loose.

So a few people on Twitter posted screenshots of the article's revision history, implying that it was being modified to advance a political agenda. This claim was immediately picked up by a number of publications, some more reliable than others.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] Some of them reported on the controversy, and many of them just reprinted the tweets without checking. For the record, the articles in the Washington Examiner, Fortune, and NPR were pretty good. But most of them figured that the big story here was that Wikipedia had officially altered the definition of a recession, and that we had permanently locked the page to any subsequent edits, and we were falling in lockstep with the Biden administration's attempts to do the same, and it was yet another entry in a long list of the woke far-left Wikipedia libs censoring reality to suit their agenda, and this country is going down the tubes, and kids these days are on their phones too much, and I went to CVS and I can't find the damn antacid pills, and the sky is falling and we're all going to die.

A bunch of people got really mad about this, and approximately a bajillion of them showed up on the talk page to tell us about it, and Elon Musk @'d Jimbo Wales about it, and...

But, okay, hold on a minute, what? Is that actually true? I mean, the part about Wikipedia officially altering the definition of a recession and locking the page to all further changes, not the part about CVS deciding to put the Rolaids somewhere stupid, which is obviously true. Did any of that Wikipedia stuff really happen? Did we really pull a MINITRUE? The answer may surprise you! Or it may not. Actually, now that I think of it, the answer is extremely unlikely to surprise you.

The answer is "no". As it turns out, the real story is much more boring than this. This didn't stop approximately three million people from showing up to yell at us about it. I wrote a very long FAQ for the talk page, which I am pleased to report has been getting posted on Twitter in response to people getting mad about the news stories. It really warms the cockles of my heart. Anyway, since there is a big ongoing discussion about the content of this article, including a huge RfC on the infamous sentence that I started and then gave an opinion on, I am going to shut my mouth, and show you what's in the FAQ, in the hopes that it proves enlightening:

The infamous FAQ

Hi, people from online. I'm JPxG. I agree that censorship is a cowardly chickenshit attack on the foundations of free society, that the basic principles of the open Internet are threatened by attempts to rewrite history, and all of that stuff. However, allow me to address a few things:

I read online that Wikipedia changed the definition of a recession.
The thing that is getting shared around everywhere is no longer the case. The sentence "Though there is no global consensus on the definition of a recession, two consecutive quarters of decline in a country's real gross domestic product is commonly used as a practical definition of a recession" is currently right there in the lead section. Additionally, it wasn't there for very long to begin with (it was added for the first time a few days ago). The screenshots of the stuff getting removed are out of date.
Okay, so what, someone tried to remove it?
The article always said something about "two down GDP quarters". The first section of the article, titled "Definition", has mentioned it since 2011. As far as I can tell, nobody ever messed with this. The entire current dispute is over whether it should say this in the lead paragraph and the definition section, or just in the definition section. Right now, the article gives both that definition and the NBER definition, and takes no position on which is "correct". The NBER definition is "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the market, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales".
And now it's locked?
It is semi-protected for a few days, so in order to edit it you need an account that's autoconfirmed (one that's at least four days old and has ten edits). So, for most people reading this, the answer is probably "yes" (although you can make a suggestion at the bottom of this Talk page that will be reviewed by contributors who can make changes to the page if there is a consensus to do so). Starting on August 3, non-autoconfirmed users will be able to edit it again, but their edits will be held for human review before being visible to most readers.
What's the deal with there being a million edits on this page in one day?
Articles get edited a lot, for all kinds of reasons. If you go to Special:RecentChanges, you will see that about a hundred edits are made every minute. Most of them are stuff like fixing spelling errors, adding/removing hyperlinks, rephrasing sentences, or improving the formatting so the page is easier to read. Oftentimes, people will expand an article that's already been written, because they found some book or article or paper somewhere that's got information (for example, last night I went and found out what the last movie was to be released on VHS, and added it to the article because it wasn't there). The fact that a page is being edited doesn't itself mean something crazy is going on. It usually means someone is replacing a colon with a semicolon.
How do I see what edits have been made to an article?
You can see every old revision of every Wikipedia article in the "history" tab at the top of each page (for this article's history you can click here).
Why are there all these administrators saying weird stuff here?
Almost nobody commenting here is an administrator. Most of us are normal contributors. Anyone on here is allowed to just go to talk pages and say stuff. This means that, a lot of the time, some guy will show up on a talk page and start saying ridiculous stuff about how we need to delete every article about a Democrat, or block all Republicans from editing, or whatever. It is just some guy saying stuff. This is not our policy.
Why is Wikipedia paying you to do this stuff?
It isn't. Wikipedia contributors are not paid employees of Wikipedia, we "do it for free" as they say (some people get secretly paid to write propaganda or spam articles; we delete their stuff and block them).
I heard you guys are all head-over-heels in love with that politician guy.
I have never really been a big fan of politicians in general. I can't speak for everyone else.
Okay, well, I have some stuff I want to say.
If you want to participate in the discussion regarding what the content of the article should be, you are of course free to do so. An encyclopedia written by millions of people requires a lot of bureaucracy in order to function at all without immediately descending into chaos, though, so I will warn you that it will probably be difficult to participate (especially on a political topic) without a bunch of people saying stuff like "Strike per WP:NPA, WP:NOTFORUM and WP:TPG" unless you are willing to read a lot of boring guidelines beforehand. In general, if your comment is not about improving the Wikipedia article titled "Recession", it probably does not belong here. jp×g 22:22, 28 July 2022 (UTC)[reply]


  1. ^ Well, apparently it's not "pretty straightforward" for many people, but a full discussion of the issues involved is wildly outside the scope of this article.
  2. ^ Meads, Tim; Gay, Nathan (July 28, 2022). "Wikipedia's 'Recession' Page Shows 41 Edits In One Week, Attempts At Changing Definition". The Daily Wire.
  3. ^ Burack, Bobby (July 28, 2022). "Wikipedia Bans Edits to 'Recession' Page". OutKick.
  4. ^ Hannity Staff (July 28, 2022). "WIKI TWEAKS: 41 Edits Made to Wikipedia's 'Recession' Page in One Week".
  5. ^ Daviscourt, Katie (July 28, 2022). "Wikipedia redefines 'recession' to resemble Biden's changes—then locks page to new edits". The Post-Millennial.
  6. ^ Oliveira, Alex (July 28, 2022). "Wikipedia joins in the gaslighting! Online encyclopedia SUSPENDS edits to its 'recession' page after woke users changed definition to align with Biden's claim that the US isn't in one". Daily Mail.
  7. ^ Silverio, Nicole (July 28, 2022). "Wikipedia Attempts To Change The Definition Of 'Recession' 41 Times". Daily Caller.
  8. ^ Bickerton, James (July 29, 2022). "Wikipedia Suspends Editing of Recession Page as Biden Rejects Claims". Newsweek.
  9. ^ Schemmel, Alec (July 29, 2022). "Wikipedia freezes edits to 'recession' entry after editors try to align with Biden". Idaho News.
  10. ^ Zilber, Ariel (July 29, 2022). "Elon Musk blasts Wikipedia after it suspends edits of 'recession' page". New York Post.
  11. ^ Hutton, Christopher (July 29, 2022). "Wikipedia restricts edits to 'recession' page after Biden denial of definition". Washington Examiner.
  12. ^ Leeman, Zachary (July 29, 2022). "Wikipedia Suspends Editing 'Recession' Page After Users Furiously Debate Definition". Mediaite.
  13. ^ Mui, Christine (July 29, 2022). "The recession debate is so intense that Wikipedia has blocked new users from editing its recession page because people keep changing the definition". Fortune.
  14. ^ Delaney, Matt (July 31, 2022). "Wikipedia sees tug of war break out over its definition of 'recession'". The Washington Times.
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This isn't the first time that stupid Twitter drama started a controversy on Wikipedia. Back in 2021, a bunch of Twitter users got mad about the definition of bisexuality on Wikipedia, which was even picked up by PinkNews. But it did not get nearly as out of hand as this latest controversy, which was a complete dumpster fire. X-Editor (talk) 21:27, 16 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Sometimes I like to think for peace of mind that everyone on Twitter is a child, and I give a lot of leeway to LGBT people who are discovering their identity and voice and occasionally misdirecting their anger in the process, but I have to say that all the people at PinkNews really should know much better (as should many Twitter users). I really go back and forth on the source, but utter trash like this makes me lose a lot of confidence in it, and I think our RSP entry is too generous. The problem with the article (and the "recession" ones) is that it's so surface level. Uncritically repeating social media comments is not journalism: at best, it's a 13-year-old's homework on the subject "Write about a topic of interest in the style of a news report".
What's so frustrating is that it's so damn easy to do "investigative" journalism about Wikipedia, because the whole site is open source. You don't even have to email someone for an interview. Just take a look at the page history and the talk page. — Bilorv (talk) 22:51, 16 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]
"Just take a look at the page history and the talk page"
You've just talked about two notions completely unknown to 95% of the population. For journalists and randoms joe schmoes, Wikipedia is magic. They know everyone can edit it, but no one's actually done it. Let alone figure out advanced notions like page histories and talk pages. Headbomb {t · c · p · b} 19:24, 19 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]
Yep, I agree. But open up an article and look at the buttons you can click on. Or type into a search engine "How to see what a Wikipedia article used to look like" or whatever you want to know. It's hardly rocket science. We don't hide anything. It was no mystery to me as a child. It shouldn't be beyond the level of curiosity expected from someone specifically being paid to write an article about Wikipedia.
All the manufactured "recession" outrage was based on Tweets that screenshot articles, page histories and talk pages. A journalist should think "huh, I wonder whether I can independently verify what this screenshot shows me". But of course someone who works for the Daily Mail isn't a journalist at all. — Bilorv (talk) 23:07, 19 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]


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