Well, that was an interesting experience. Last Friday I was alerted to the fact that my Wikipedia page had been flagged for deletion. Well, I say my page but one of the few things I know about the whys and wherefores of Wikipedia is that the subject of a page is not allowed to actually edit it. Anyway, I clicked a few links and established that the argument for my deletion was that I was not notable, and had not created a notable body of work. There was apparently a dearth of evidence that I was in any way a notable person, and as such, I had no place on Wikipedia.
Somewhere between startled and baffled, I noted this on social media. Consequently, I have learned a whole lot more about the whys and wherefores of Wikipedia. First and foremost is their idiosyncratic definition of ‘notable.’ This means statements about a subject must be backed by citations, by which they means links to material elsewhere on the internet to prove that a person has not merely done stuff but other people have written about them doing it, to establish proof. Not all online material is acceptable however. Blogs are not. Amazon reviews are not. Goodreads pages are not. These things are all deemed too likely to be unreliable.
Given my work on issues around representation and diversity, one thing in particular immediately strikes me about such insistence. This desire for verification is wholly laudable. It is also indirectly and unintentionally discriminatory. The fact that this discrimination isn’t deliberate in no way excuses it.
When 60-70% of all review coverage, media mentions and other online material that provides these verifying citations goes to white western male authors, then women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ authors are always going to find it harder to provide ‘evidence’ and their pages will be much easier to challenge, given our consequent far greater reliance on our own blogs to publicize our activities and other special interest blogs and websites that won’t appear in a cursory search, looking for example at Google News reports.
It seems Wikipedia is aware of its systemic bias, as detailed in this article. Read this, and related pieces, and I imagine many of you will note, with the weary contempt of familiarity, the repeated insistence that it’s up to women themselves, and other under-represented groups to do all the hard work here. Though I haven’t found anything addressing the issue I raise above, explaining what we’re expected to do when sufficient acceptable citations simply do not exist, and those references that do exist are not deemed acceptable. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
On the plus side, I have learned that there are dedicated groups of female and other special-interest Wikipedians spending considerable time and effort updating and expanding pages, intent on correcting this bias. Mind you, I also learned their work is frequently challenged and even undone by other Wikipedians applying the all too prevalent and far too often white western male logic of ‘not of interest to me personally = not of interest to anyone’. And of course, such challenges can very easily be a thinly veiled cover for actively discriminatory behaviour. Having read the Wikipedia page on handling tendentious editing, I am not in the least reassured that this is in any way satisfactorily addressed.
So what do we do? Give up and leave Wikipedia to perpetuate its skewed world view, further erasing women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ authors?
How about no, we don’t?
A couple of constructive ideas emerged from last Friday’s conversations. The first was having panels at SF conventions where experienced Wikipedians could explain the idiosyncracies and intricacies of editing and updating to people like me who are, for example, unaware of the specific ways in which Wikipedia defines ‘notable’ and ‘citation’, and the vulnerability of certain groups to deletion and challenge.
The second suggestion was making a time slot and space available at conventions for Wikipedians and fans to get together to update and expand author and other SFFnal pages. That would definitely help out all those authors, not only women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ folk, who don’t have personal assistants, web-elfs or other people who can routinely do this without being struck down as a biased source.
At least as importantly, informed and engaged fans are going to be able to find acceptable citations that a cursory websearch simply will not locate. My updated and now apparently acceptable page is a prime example of this. When I flagged up this issue last Friday, online pals rallied round and crucially, since they already knew all about the many things I’ve done over the years, they used specific and targeted searches to find Wikipedia-acceptable material to link to.
Get a bunch of like-minded fans together at a convention and I’ll bet that adding their knowledge together will prove extremely productive, as someone flags up a Best Of, or Recommended Reads list online that other folk are unaware of, just by way of one example.
How about we try this?