Wikipedia Isn’t Officially a Social Network. But the Harassment Can Get Ugly. - The New York Times
Unlike social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, Wikipedia relies largely on unpaid volunteers to handle reports of harassment.
In response to complaints about pervasive harassment, the Wikimedia Foundation, the San Francisco-based nonprofit that operates Wikipedia and supports its community of volunteers, has promised new strategies to curb abuse. In recent months, the foundation has rolled out a more sophisticated blocking tool that it hopes can better control the harassment plaguing some users.
Sydney Poore, a community health strategist with the foundation, said that when the free encyclopedia was established in 2001, it initially attracted lots of editors who were “tech-oriented” men. That led to a culture that was not always accepting of outside opinions, said Ms. Poore, who has edited Wikipedia for 13 years.
“We’re making strong efforts to reverse that,” she said, “but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
A few informed clicks on any Wikipedia article can reveal the lengthy discussions that shape a published narrative. According to interviews with Wikipedians around the world, those digital back rooms are where harassment often begins. A spirited debate over a detail in an article can spiral into one user spewing personal attacks against another.
“If you out yourself as a feminist or L.G.B.T., you will tend to be more targeted,” said Natacha Rault, a Wikipedia editor who lives in Geneva and founded a project that aims to reduce the gender gap on the website.
On French-language Wikipedia, where Ms. Rault does much of her editing, discussions about gender can often lead to vitriol. Ms. Rault said there were six months of heated debate about whether to label the article on Britain’s leader, Theresa May, with the feminine version of “prime minister” (première ministre), rather than the masculine one (premier ministre).
Wikipedians also began to discuss the “content gender gap,” which includes an imbalance in the gender distribution of biographies on the site. The latest analysis, released this month, said about 18 percent of 1.6 million biographies on the English-language Wikipedia were of women. That is up from about 15 percent in 2014, partially because of activists trying to move the needle.
“The idea is to provide volunteer administrators with a more targeted, more nuanced ability to respond to conflicts,” Ms. Lo said.
Partial blocks are active on five Wikipedias, including those in Italian and Arabic, and foundation staff members expect it to be introduced to English-language Wikipedia this year. The foundation is also in the early stages of a private reporting system where users could report harassment, Ms. Lo said.
But there are limits to how effective institutional change can be in curbing harassment on Wikipedia. In the case of Mx. Gethen, their harasser kept posting from different IP addresses, making it difficult for a blocking tool to be effective.
Although the abuser no longer haunts their internet presence, Mx. Gethen said the sometimes hostile culture on Wikipedia had reduced their editing on the site.
“I’m not getting paid for this,” they said. “Why should I volunteer my time to be abused?”