The XX Factor

On Wikipedia, Gamergate Refuses to Die

Wikipedia still has some serious problems handling controversial topics.

Photo by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

As a media phenomenon, Gamergate may have died out a few months ago, but that doesn’t mean the die-hard Gamergaters have gone away. Lauren Williams at ThinkProgress has written an in-depth investigation of how Gamergaters have managed to get five Wikipedia editors banned or restricted from editing Wikipedia—for tweaking the Wikipedia pages of feminist critics and developers to erase slander that anti-feminists were trying to pass off as factual information.

As is generally the case with Gamergate, piecing together the story of what really happened amid the cacophony of finger-pointing and recrimination is nearly impossible, but Williams does a great job of summarizing. It all began when some Gamergaters started to harass women like video game critic Anita Sarkeesian and developer Zoe Quinn by editing their Wikipedia pages, usually to inject accusations of sluttiness or hypocrisy. “To get the situation under control, Wikipedia community members quickly asked for other editors to pitch in and help bring on the site’s notice board,” Williams writes. Five editors, eventually nicknamed the Five Horsemen, took up the call, jumping in and trying to remove slanderous or irrelevant statements put up by Gamergaters. 

The reasons for why these editors decided to jump in vary. One of them, TaraInDC, identifies as female and a feminist, but another, Travis Mason-Bushman, said he only got involved because of his concerns about the integrity of Wikipedia. “I came into this and I had no idea who Zoe Quinn was or what a social justice warrior was six months ago,” he told ThinkProgress. “We’re not here to be a weapon of slander, libel and character assassination. We’re going to treat people as people. We’re not going to source blogs; we’re going to use solid sources.’” The other three remained largely anonymous. 

After the Gamergaters and the horsemen went back and forth hundreds—perhaps thousands—of times, the Arbitration Committee, which Williams describes as the “high court” of Wikipedia, stepped in. In an effort to stick to Wikipedia’s touted belief in “neutrality,” the committee decided to hand out banishments on both sides of the equation: both to people for injecting the harassing claims into pages and for the people who were trying to clean it up. 

“When we remove editors from topic areas, as we are doing in the Gamergate case, we are doing so because they have shown themselves to be unable to work with the rest of the community in reaching consensus on article content,” Molly White, an Arbitration Committee member, explained to ThinkProgress. The logic is similar to that of a teacher who catches a kid punching his bully and throws them both in detention. Niceties like who is telling lies and who is trying to uphold the truth are sacrificed in the name of fairness and neutrality. 

Looking over this controversy, it’s somewhat difficult to draw any solid conclusions. On one hand, if you go to Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian’s Wikipedia entries now, they are free of objectionable content or misogynist distortions. Instead, you get fairly straightforward descriptions of both their careers and the harassment they’ve received, including a description of the Wikipedia wars over Sarkeesian’s entry. Gamergaters were ultimately unable to use Wikipedia to assert their views as if they were objective reality. 

Still, Wikipedia lost the very people who were trying to guard the gates in the first place. What happens to the next victim of a Wikipedia harassment campaign if the defenders are getting squeezed out through this pox-on-both-your-houses system?