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 https://t.co/RJpxR2LY93
- Wikipedia is the world’s sixth-most popular website, and the most popular non-profit website. - Writers, known in Wikipedia as “editors” are volunteers in the sense of being unpaid, and also volunteers in the sense of what they want to write about, and when. - Volunteers don’t have to reveal anything that identifies themselves
According to surveys of people who edit Wikipedia regularly, male editors outnumber females by about 9:1.
How does the gender gap in participation affect us as readers of Wikipedia? Let’s ask three questions: 1) What people are covered by Wikipedia articles? This graph shows the ratio between articles about men and articles about women in various languages.
A second question we can ask is, “Whose informational needs does the encyclopedia address?”
A third question we can ask is, “Whose ideas do articles cover?
The subjects that Wikipedia is best at are these male-dominated, technical subjects, along with things like male sports, attractive female celebrities, and military history. The areas where Wikipedia is weakest, including things like the arts, social issues, education, and child development, are the areas in which women are strongest.
Surfing through Wikipedia is a bit like walking through a world in which there are fewer women, the needs of women are less acknowledged, and the contribution of women is less visible.
You’re probably wondering why Wikipedia has such a ludicrous gender gap.
We don’t know why. We really need more research, more data, into what the experience of Wikipedia contributors is like, and how they make decisions on whether to keep editing or not. We need to talk to more women and get beyond speculation mode.
Now we’re going to look at a slice of the gender gap problem, which is harassment, and zoom in on that slice.
Serious harassment of Wikipedia contributors originates from a wide variety of individuals and motives. The sad thing is, when you have millions of articles, you are bound to antagonize someone and some of those people are bound to be crazy.
I believe prejudice such as sexism and racism is secondary. We know that Gamergate usually targets women, but as we’ll see later, 80% of the Wikipedia editors who were targeted by Gamergate are probably male. The people who Gamergate targeted were the ones who they thought were controlling the Gamergate article.
Nobody knows how common severe harassment is, but to give you an idea, it is the main reason most Wikipedia contributors - male and female - edit under pseudonyms. One said, “I admire the courage of people who edit under their real names, in the same way I admire the courage of people who do trick motorcycle jumps over flaming trucks.” Let’s keep in mind that around 20% of regular WP editors are under 18.
There are various reasons that the WMF doesn’t act on harassment, some cultural and some technical: - Technical: Difficult or impossible to prove that user X on 8chan is user X on Wikipedia. Acting without proof makes the system vulnerable to abuse - Cultural: We don’t distinguish the mentality of severe harassment from the mentality of trolling. The severe harassment that some Wikipedians experience bears more resemblance to cyberbullying. The distinction is: "While internet trolls seek attention, cyberbullies want to win at all costs".
Now we’re going to look at a slice of the harassment problem, which is Gamergate, and zoom in on that slice.
Many of you have seen in recent weeks articles about an Arbitration Committee case that addressed disputes around Gamergate. I’ll address some of these memes.
To understand the Arbitration case, it is helpful to have an overview of how dispute resolution works at Wikipedia.
The vast majority of controversial issues on Wikipedia are resolved within the green box. Extremists who were blatantly vandalizing or defaming others would have been blocked at this stage. It’s an everyday occurrence.
Some issues go on to require community sanctions or arbitration. Gamergate was one of those issues.
People often think Wikipedia is a free-for-all, but it actually has pretty high expectations of people to behave professionally.
Conduct policies aren’t just about what you say, they’re often about how you say it.
When requesting the Arbitration case, someone who was relatively sympathetic to Gamergate complained that anti-Gamergate editors were getting away with a lot of bad conduct.
So we had some editors who were relatively sympathetic to Gamergate complaining about editors who were much more anti-Gamergate. And vice-versa.
The Arbitration Committee agreed that there was a lot of bad conduct, and banned 3 anti-Gamergate editors and admonished two others or things like edit-warring and losing their temper. This was controversial in the Wikipedia community, because these 5 editors had all been harassed by Gamergate. One theory is that the committee should have taken into account that Gamergate provoked them into behaving badly.
Another thing is that a lot of pro-Gamergate editors were banned as well. The claim that none of them were banned is not at all true.
You’ll also see there are lots of anti-Gamergate editors still left. We lost three editors, but the rumour that Gamergate has nobody standing in its way on WIkipedia is also not true.
Wikipedia is extremely resilient when it comes to dealing with a co-ordinated flood of problematic edits, as it did when Stephen Colbert asked his viewers to edit Wikipedia to say that the population of African elephants had tripled.
Here are comments from three prominent feminist Wikipedians, on the “Arbcom has purged feminists in Gamergate case” rumour on the Wikipedia Women Facebook group.
Meme comes from one guy. One male bloGamergateer who doesn’t say why he thinks the sanctioned editors are feminist.
Two years ago, there was another media controversy over sexism in Wikipedia. Adrianne Wadewitz, a prolific Wikipedia contributor, noted that the only people being asked to comment by the media were either men, or feminists from outside the Wikipedia community. The same thing has happened with media coverage of the Gamergate case.
So if women and feminists aren’t being silenced, and Wikipedia articles aren’t being rewritten by Gamergate, is everything OK?
No, not everything is OK. The issue the media and the Wikimedia Foundation have completely overlooked is the one that regular Wikipedia editors have actually noted the most, which is the issue of harassment of Wikipedia editors. When we examine the influence of crazy hate groups on Wikipedia, that is the influence that I think we should be looking at.
Women and Wikipedia: Perspectives on the gender gap, harassment, and the Gamergate controversy
Women and Wikipedia:
Perspectives on the
gender gap, harassment,
and the Gamergate
By Su-Laine Yeo Brodsky
For a Capilano University panel discussion on online
gendered harassment, March 2015
Part 1: Female Participation and the Wikipedia
The Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit
• Writers, a.k.a. editors,
Image: xkcd.com, distributed under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license
English Wikipediafrom “Sex ratios in Wikipedia, Wikidata, and VIAF”. Max Klein, 2013 hangingtogether.org
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
*As of March 6, 2015, excluding citations
Whose ideas do
College of Ontario
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
• Fewer opportunities for developing social
• User interface is unappealing
Why Harass Wikipedia Editors?
Often related to disputes over
(speculative, based on
• Harasser feels an article is
damaging to their reputation or
• Harasser believes editor treated
them unfairly in a dispute on
Severe Harassment of Wikipedia Editors
• Attack pages / slander
• Contacting employers
Encyclopedia Dramatica, an attack site
Responding to Harassment
• Stop / prevent the use of
Wikipedia as a platform for
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
• “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
Dispute Resolution at Wikipedia
Discussion on article
Request for Comment process
Block accounts for
Ban users for
Nov 2014 - Jan 2015
Anti-Gamergate Editors Sanctioned for Violating
• Don’t edit-war
• Don’t lose your temper
• Focus discussion on how to
improve the article, using reliable
• Don’t use Wikipedia as a
soapbox or battleground
used to handling
“Feminists are to be purged en
bloc from the encyclopedia” - ?
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!)
The names of the people are not people I would
consider known feminist and outside TaraInDC,
none identify as female.
The editor who called them feminists obviously
was off base
- Wikipedia Women, Facebook
Where does the “feminist purge” meme come
Who speaks for the
women of Wikipedia?
Not the women of
- Wikipedia editor Adrianne Wadewitz,
– 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.”
just not how
• Gamergate has no special ability
to influence article content on
• Gamergate has not triggered a
purge of women or feminists from
• Gamergate has harassed its
opponents who are Wikipedia