Building an encyclopedia requires working together, even when topics are difficult. US Navy Photo by Johansen Laurel. Public domain.

Building an encyclopedia requires working together, even when topics are difficult.
US Navy Photo by Johansen Laurel. Public domain.

This past week, we have seen significant coverage of Wikipedia and Gamergate in the press. Because Wikipedia is such a unique resource for the world, and because Gamergate has been the subject of controversy, this issue has been of interest to many people, some of whom may not be familiar with how Wikipedia works. As such, we wanted to share what we know about the issue, and how it has played out on Wikipedia.

The debates on Wikipedia about the Gamergate controversy article have been very heated, drawing participants from many different perspectives, and have gone on for many weeks now. At times, contributors on various sides of the debate have violated Wikipedia’s standards of civility. Civility is an important concept for Wikipedia: it is what allows people to collaborate and disagree constructively even on difficult topics. It ensures people are able to focus their energy on what really matters: building a collaborative free encyclopedia for the world.

A group of trusted, long-term volunteer English Wikipedia editors (known as the Arbitration Committee) is now reviewing the conduct of the editors who participated on the Gamergate controversy article discussions. Their mandate is to review editor conduct, and address disruptions so that Wikipedia can remain a civil, productive place for all editors. They may do so through issuing warnings, bans, or other means. The Committee does not consider the identity or beliefs of contributors, nor do they make editorial decisions on the content or quality of Wikipedia articles.

Several press stories have mistakenly claimed that Wikipedia has targeted and banned feminist or female editors. This is inaccurate. Although the Arbitration Committee may recommend that some editors be prevented from further contribution to this particular topic, they have not banned anyone from Wikipedia. The sanctions they are considering are broad, and affect many people. As of now, the Arbitration Committee is considering issuing some type of warning or sanction to around 150 people, from a range of perspectives, based on their participation and conduct. This is not about a small group of people being targeted unfairly. It is about a very large group of people using Wikipedia as a battleground.

At the Wikimedia Foundation, we are guided by our core mission to make the sum of all human knowledge freely available. Although the Wikimedia Foundation does not set editorial policy for Wikipedia, we believe that we can only achieve our mission through the inclusion and respect of diverse voices. We offer resources for programs and outreach with our partners across the global Wikimedia movement and engage people that have been underrepresented in traditional encyclopedias. These include women, people of color, people from the Global South, immigrant communities, and members of the LGBTQ community. They are invaluable contributors to our community and partners in our mission.

Let me close by reiterating what the Arbitration Committee’s decision is not. It is not a statement on who is right or wrong regarding the Gamergate controversy article. It is not a referendum on whether Wikipedia supports or rejects feminists. The Committee’s mandate is to uphold a civil, constructive atmosphere that furthers Wikipedia’s mission. At the Wikimedia Foundation, we support that objective and are taking active steps to create and maintain a civil atmosphere for editors of all backgrounds. We ask all our editors to do the same.

Philippe Beaudette
Director, Community Advocacy
Wikimedia Foundation