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Women and Wikipedia: Perspectives on the gender gap, harassment, and the Gamergate controversy

Part 1: The gender gap. Male editors outnumber females on Wikipedia by about 9:1. How does this gender gap affect article content?
Part 2: Harassment of Wikipedia editors. A little-known problem is that editors do sometimes face harassment for the work they do as Wikipedia volunteers.
Part 3: The Gamergate case. Examines rumours around the recent Arbitration Committee case on Gamergate.

View the full panel discussion on YouTube at

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Women and Wikipedia: Perspectives on the gender gap, harassment, and the Gamergate controversy

  1. 1. Women and Wikipedia: Perspectives on the gender gap, harassment, and the Gamergate controversy By Su-Laine Yeo Brodsky For a Capilano University panel discussion on online gendered harassment, March 2015
  2. 2. Part 1: Female Participation and the Wikipedia Gender Gap
  3. 3. The Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit • Writers, a.k.a. editors, are volunteers Image:, distributed under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license
  4. 4. The gender gap: 87-90% male
  5. 5. What people do articles cover? English Wikipediafrom “Sex ratios in Wikipedia, Wikidata, and VIAF”. Max Klein, 2013
  6. 6. Wikipedia’s article on the human breast has 4634 words.* Here are the number of words on various aspects of the topic: • Appearance, size, shape: 3,218 • Plastic surgery: 625 • Puberty: 176 • Female sexual pleasure: 175 • Cancer: 60 • Breastfeeding (other than effects of surgery on breastfeeding): 53 *As of March 6, 2015, excluding citations
  7. 7. Whose ideas do articles cover? College of Ontario Universities, Registrants by program and gender, 2012
  8. 8. We don’t know why, but perhaps… • Editing Wikipedia requires a lot of self-confidence • Culture is unpleasant / conflict-oriented / sexist • Some editors become seriously harassed in real life • Fewer opportunities for developing social relationships • User interface is unappealing
  9. 9. Part II: Harassment of Wikipedia Editors
  10. 10. Why Harass Wikipedia Editors? Often related to disputes over article content: (speculative, based on anecdotes) • Harasser feels an article is damaging to their reputation or privacy • Harasser believes editor treated them unfairly in a dispute on Wikipedia
  11. 11. Severe Harassment of Wikipedia Editors • Outing/doxxing • Attack pages / slander • Contacting employers • Litigation Encyclopedia Dramatica, an attack site
  12. 12. Responding to Harassment Wikipedia does: • Stop / prevent the use of Wikipedia as a platform for blatant harassment Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation do not: • Respond to or help with harassment that takes place outside of Wikipedia • Encourage open, public discussion of harassment
  13. 13. Part III: Gamergate
  14. 14. Media reports, Jan/Feb 2015 • “The Gamergaters get to rewrite their own page… Feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia” - The Guardian • “Wikipedia tacitly endorses GamerGate by blocking its opponents from editing gender- related articles” - Pando • “If… a racist campaign in support of eugenics flooded the site, there's not much Wikipedia could do about it.” - Gawker
  15. 15. Dispute Resolution at Wikipedia Discussion on article “Talk” page Request for Comment process Mediation Block accounts for blatant infractions Arbitration Committee Case Ban users for less-blatant infractions Nov 2014 - Jan 2015
  16. 16. Anti-Gamergate Editors Sanctioned for Violating “Conduct” Policies • Don’t edit-war • Don’t lose your temper • Focus discussion on how to improve the article, using reliable sources • Don’t use Wikipedia as a soapbox or battleground
  17. 17. Wikipedia is used to handling a co-ordinated flood of problematic edits
  18. 18. “Feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia” - ?
  19. 19. Sarah Stierch After reviewing the Arbcom case, I don't even know who got the idea that any of the contributing editors are feminist, per se. (Even though I like to think everyone is a feminist!) Laura Hale The names of the people are not people I would consider known feminist and outside TaraInDC, none identify as female. Carol Moore The editor who called them feminists obviously was off base - Wikipedia Women, Facebook
  20. 20. Where does the “feminist purge” meme come from? Mark Bernstein
  21. 21. Who speaks for the women of Wikipedia? Not the women of Wikipedia. - Wikipedia editor Adrianne Wadewitz, 2013
  22. 22. – Wikipedia editor SinglePurposePartier “… Those who have tried to keep [the Gamergate] campaign from infecting Wikipedia have become subject to harassment themselves… There were organized campaigns against regular editors of this project… vilified across the darkest corners of the web.”
  23. 23. Silencing is happening… just not how you think • Gamergate has no special ability to influence article content on Wikipedia • Gamergate has not triggered a purge of women or feminists from Wikipedia • Gamergate has harassed its opponents who are Wikipedia volunteers
  24. 24. Thank you! Su-Laine Yeo Brodsky Twitter: @sulaineyeo