Gamergate Bleeds Into Wikipedia

The Gamergate controversy, which centers on sexism and sexual violence in the video game industry, has made things hot for Wikipedia, whose arbitration committee has taken punitive action against some of the people involved in the debate.

The committee decided to impose a complete site-wide ban on one male editor, with the handle “Ryulong,” Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson Juliet Barbara told TechNewsWorld.

It also endorsed nearly 150 warnings, sanctions or topic bans affecting other editors on both sides of the issue.

Only one of the 11 topic bans issued was applied to an editor who identifies as female, and all the sanctioned editors can appeal.

The foundation “doesn’t set editorial policy for Wikipedia and is separate from the independent, volunteer English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee,” Barbara said.

The Hubbub Over The Ruling

Even before the committee had made its final decision, the frenzy over Gamergate continued to roil in the blogosphere as well as the mainstream media.

A subset of the committee on Jan. 19 posted a proposed decision in the case.

That proposal “is worse than a crime,” objected former Wikipedia editor Mark Bernstein, “it’s a blunder that threatens to disgrace the Internet.”

It suggested sanctions against the five editors initially targeted by Gamergate: Ryulong, NortyBySouthBaranof, Tarc, TheRedPenOfDoom, and TaraInDC — and “every feminist active in the area is to be sanctioned,” Bernstein continued.

Pulication of the proposed decision led to accusations on the Web that Wikipedia wanted to ban feminists from editing Gamergate, as well as claims that it had banned five feminist editors from Gamergate articles and that it tacitly endorsed Gamergate.

Wikipedia’s response was to issue a call for civility, pointing out that debates about Gamergate had been very heated and that contributors on both sides of the debate had violated its standards of civility.

Bernstein blasted that call in a subsequent blog post that later went viral on the Web, pointing to the threats of murder and rape, pictures of dead dogs, and anti-Semitic cartoons Gamergaters had posted to harass Wikipedia editors.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

So what role do civility and respect play when you have screaming gamers on the one hand issuing horrible threats against their perceived enemies, and feminists and anti-Gamergaters on the other who fight fire with fire?

If one side is being civil and the other not, should both sides’ comments be given equal weight? Or does that make a travesty of fairness?

Is Wikipedia wrong in treating all points of view as equally worthy of airing? Is the arbitration committee trying to sweep everything under the rug, telling both the batterer and the battered to play nice?

“The committee does not consider the content of articles,” Barbara said.

Nor is its decision a referendum on Gamergate, laying out what’s right and what’s wrong, Barbara emphasized. “That discussion may be necessary, but it is better suited for another forum.”

However, “I think there is certain behavior that should be outlawed outright,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “I feel there is no excuse for attacking anyone with death threats.”

Granted, Wikipedia needs to be neutral, he said, “but they also need to stand up for what’s right and protect their people.”

Parties on both sides of the Gamergate issue perhaps could have handled things better. Some gamers’ behavior clearly was reprehensible, but some anti-Gamergaters have reacted by broadly characterizing all male gamers as culprits.

Gamergate is a lost cause, wrote the-pietriarchy on Tumblr. “The ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’ mentality running rampant both with anti and pro. Each side turned into this evil monolith by the other.”

Still, the outrageously offensive behavior of some parties perhaps should have spurred Wikipedia to address the matter differently.

“Being neutral while one side appears to be getting brutalized creates the impression they are tacitly approving the abuse,” Enderle pointed out, “which no organization like this should ever do.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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