Wikipedia Equality can be done. But we need to start the discussion.

TaraElla
TaraElla
Jul 3, 2017 · 8 min read

Wikipedia Equality is a movement to improve the representation of female and minority voices on Wikipedia, inspired by the experiences of feminists who have used and edited Wikipedia over the years. This movement is needed because Wikipedia currently systematically excludes people and topics of interest to female and minority voices, and in turn discourages the participation of female and minority individuals in contributing to its content. This vicious cycle causes Wikipedia to be dominated by the perspectives of white, middle-class males. As the encyclopedia equivalent of Google or Facebook, Wikipedia is a major player in our collective culture, therefore it is important to remedy this injustice.

Our main objective is to abolish the Notability Criteria, because this is the major root cause of the aforementioned exclusion and inequality. Here’s a previous article from April this year explaining exactly what we aim to achieve, and why it’s important for equality and social justice that the Notability Criteria be gone.

Reform doesn’t have to be too hard

Ever since I launched the Wikipedia Equality project to abolish the Notability Criteria earlier this year, plenty of people have expressed their interest. However, many people have also raised practicality concerns. After all, the Notability Criteria has been part of Wikipedia’s policies for as long as I can remember, and what we are proposing does represent a major change. A major change indeed, but one that is both necessary and very much possible.

Every idea is no more than a pipe dream if there is no acceptable, practical solution. Furthermore, opponents of reform in every area of life often like to paint reform as too hard, thus defending the status quo, no matter how bad it is. This has also unsurprisingly been the case for efforts to reform the Notability Criteria in Wikipedia, where those defending the status quo have given one reason after another about why the Notability Criteria cannot be changed or abolished without affecting the integrity of Wikipedia. Therefore, I believe that addressing the aforementioned concerns are very important.

Debunking the myths, one by one

Throughout the history of people suggesting that the Notability Criteria be relaxed or abolished, the main objections have been of three types: that Wikipedia would no longer be an encyclopedia but rather an indiscriminate collection of information, that businesses will be able to use Wikipedia as free advertising thus damaging its integrity, and that non-verifiable and unreliable information will be included. Three discussion papers have been developed to address these issues, and together they demonstrate how the Notability Criteria can be abolished (with several exceptions) while not affecting the integrity of Wikipedia. I will now summarize each one.


Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will allow Wikipedia to host information indiscriminately, including that belonging to personal webpages. It will cease to be an encyclopedia.

A: We agree that Wikipedia has a mission as an encyclopedia, and should not have, for example, pages on your local bus drivers. So there has to be some limit to the information contained in Wikipedia. However, to determine that limit, we should go back to what an encyclopedia is, and what function it should serve.

Wikipedia is not a print encyclopedia. It does not have any size limitations. It also does not become harder to search with more information, as the search tool automatically brings up the most relevant information almost instantly for any search. Therefore, Wikipedia should include as much information as people potentially want from an encyclopedia.

So, the next question is, what do people potentially want from an encyclopedia. People want to look up all sorts of things that make up the world we are living in, that they may be interested in. Print encyclopedias, due to their size limits, can only include information that a lot of people would want. But in Wikipedia, information that only a small number of people will want and need can be included — and is sometimes already included, for example information on small rural towns. This makes Wikipedia much more powerful than any print encyclopedia. However, the Notability Criteria means that certain information some people may want is still excluded: for example, information on self-published authors, non-profit organizations without much media publicity, or obscure programming languages, to name a few categories. If Wikipedia can include information on small rural towns that most people would not find useful, why can’t it include the aforementioned categories of information too? After all, many independent authors and musicians have audiences larger than the population of entire small rural towns featured on Wikipedia.

Of course, there still has to be a limit as to what can be included in an encyclopedia. The kind of information people would look up in an encyclopedia is information that is relevant to humanity’s shared culture. Therefore, subjects included in encyclopedias should have some kind of unique cultural value. Hence, we developed the cultural contribution criteria as a replacement to the Notability Criteria.


Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will allow pages about random people to be created, leading to privacy concerns.

A: We agree that allowing pages of random people to be created invites invasion of privacy, and that most people out there probably wouldn’t want to have a Wikipedia page about their lives.

The cultural contribution criteria will cover most Wikipedia pages. The cultural contribution criteria clearly states that, to qualify, cultural contributions must be deliberately published. Therefore, most people in the world will still not be eligible to have a page created for them. For those who have had a substantial cultural contribution, their Wikipedia pages must focus on their publicly available cultural contributions, therefore there is no invasion in privacy. Furthermore, the verifiability criteria means that non-verifiable (and possibly false) trivia about non-notable people cannot be included, just like how non-verifiable (and possibly false) trivia about celebrities cannot be included either.


Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will allow Wikipedia to be used for advertising by businesses, including via the creation of back-links.

A: We agree that when the Notability Criteria is abolished, there is potential for businesses to use Wikipedia as advertising.

We agree that there needs to be policies to comprehensively prevent such behaviour. Furthermore, we recognise that a policy for businesses does not cover all the aforementioned activity, because some online ‘businesses’ are built around the sale of self-help books, e.g. how to get rich fast type books.

We argue that if Notability criteria is solely applied to businesses and self-help books, they can be applied much more strictly than is currently the case.


Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will make the enforcement of the verifiability criteria and the neutral point of view (NPOV) policy difficult.

A: We appreciate that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with no original research permitted, and the verifiability criteria is to be strictly enforced.

Some Wikipedians have said that the Notability Criteria is essential for the enforcement of the verifiability criteria. However, this is not the case for every kind of information that may exist on a Wikipedia page. For example, for the discography of musical artists or lists of the works of authors, we just need to prove that those works exist. A reference to Amazon or an online music store will suffice in this circumstance.

Regarding the NPOV (neutral point of view) policy, there is no reason why articles on non-notable subjects are any more liable to deviate from the policy, compared with articles on notable subjects. A neutral, matter-of-fact tone is enforced on all articles in Wikipedia. As non-verifiable claims are banned on Wikipedia, there is also no way for a page to contain subjective praise or criticism of a subject, unless such praise or criticism has been found in a third-party, reliable source. This is the same for notable and non-notable subjects.


Q: Abolishing the Wikipedia Notability Criteria will cause an upsurge in the use of Wikipedia’s resources.

A: We agree that when the Notability Criteria is abolished, there will be a substantial increase in the number of Wikipedia pages.

However, this does not necessary mean a substantial increase in resource consumption. Firstly, we don’t live in the 1990s anymore. Hard disk space is almost unlimited nowadays, and a typical Wikipedia page is well less than 1MB in size. This excuse clearly does not fly. Secondly, more pages do not mean an increased use of Wikipedia’s bandwidth. The pages of non-notable people and phenomenon will generally not be accessed very often.

As for the argument that an increase in the number of pages will mean an increase in the workload of those who police the pages for accuracy, again this will not necessarily be the case. Wikipedians who monitor the edit logs are already being tasked with flagging pages for deletion for non-notability under the current criteria. These pages then often become the subject of a heated deletion discussion, wasting everyone’s time. Under our recommendations, Wikipedians who monitor the edit logs and come across new pages will only need to check such pages against the verifiability criteria, for all of their information. This is not much more demanding than checking such pages against the Notability criteria, as it currently stands. If verifiability criteria isn’t met, then the page will be flagged for deletion. Unlike deletions for lack of Notability, deletions for lack of verifiability should be much less controversial, thus saving everyone’s time by reducing arguments.


Where we go from here

The recommendations from these discussion papers are not intended to be perfect, and there may indeed be room for improvement. But for the first time ever, it has been demonstrated that the issues commonly raised by those opposed to reform do not actually make reform impossible or impractical. Henceforth, critics of reform must engage in constructive debate about possible solutions for reform. They no longer have ground to remain simply obstructionist, by throwing reform into the too-hard basket again and again.

It is now time for us to start the discussion. We can have the right case for reform with the right details, yet nothing will ever happen if we don’t start a discussion in the wider world. Hence, I encourage everyone to talk about this issue whenever it is appropriate to talk about Wikipedia or technology in general. Every campaign for major change needs to have widespread support from people from different walks of life, and creating widespread awareness is the first step towards achieving this mass of support.

p.s. For those who are interested, all the Wikipedia Equality draft policies can be found here:

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TaraElla

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TaraElla

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. https://www.taraella.com

The Hit Job

humor | culture | football | trouble