The vigilance of Wikipedia editors is well known across the internet. Any attempt to change a senator’s political affiliation to the “Dipshit Party” or inject editorial opinions into the article for Charles In Charge will get summarily smacked down and reedited within minutes. But, in a new piece on Boing Boing, Andrea James describes how the darker side of this vigilance is posing a threat to 40 percent of Wikipedia’s content.
James focuses on the plight of Wikipedia stubs. If you don’t know, a stub is an article that is lacking in detail. Almost all articles begin as stubs and then hopefully continue to grow as self-appointed editors add more properly sourced information. However, if a stub sits for too long without update it runs the risk of being deleted.
Generally speaking, this isn’t a terrible system. Wikipedia is already massive, and keeping the website clear of clutter is helpful for the user base. However, the problem comes when certain editors—or as James labels them “deletionists”—are too eager to delete stub articles, particularly those based on topics they personally have no interest in.
According to James, the articles that most frequently run the risk of being deleted are “written by young people, about generational interests, or pop culture, or something outside the experience of the primarily older white male deletionists who consider themselves arbiters of ‘acceptable’ encyclopedia content.” To make matters worse, in addition to these articles being deleted en masse, all edit history of the article is being removed, which is a violation of Wikipedia’s transparency mandate.
While the deletion of a four-sentence article on a rare protein or an obscure rap song from the early 2000s may not seem like a big deal, it sets a dangerous precedent for the free, informative resource. Wikipedia is supposed to provide everyone with adequate information on anything and everything, but right now our information is being prioritized by lonely train enthusiasts with a lot of free time and possibly not our best interests at heart.
If you have any information or concerns about Wikipedia articles being destroyed, James encourages you to contact her directly.