William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘Deletion debates’

How Not to Plead Your Case at Wikipedia

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on March 29, 2009 at 10:20 am

Yesterday I wrote a relatively lengthy post discussing the circumstances surrounding the deletion of a Wikipedia article about Human Achievement Hour (HAH), a parody holiday created this year by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The title — “Why WWF’s Earth Hour Gets a Wikipedia Entry But CEI’s Human Achievement Hour Doesn’t” — was a bit misleading in that it did not actually go point-by-point about why the Earth Hour article lives yet HAH is no more, mostly because it was a response to a request from CEI’s Twitter guy about whether environmentalist-oriented articles had been removed in a similar manner (they have).

There should be no great mystery as to why the article was deleted, and the reasons given can be found in the relevant deletion debate. But such discussions are not always easy for the uninitiated to follow, so let me try to explain a little more neatly:

  • The article’s supporters maintained that because the fake holiday had been mentioned in various publications, it deserved an article.
  • However, they failed to acknowledge that these citations do not trigger notability — Wikipedia’s rules are a little more complex than that.
  • For one thing, mentions in the National Post and National Review were by CEI employees; commentaries don’t count toward establishing Notability in the same way that reported news articles do.
  • Notices from actual news articles, in USA Today and Time, only mentioned HAH in articles about Earth Hour.
  • Therefore, HAH warrants a mention in the Earth Hour article (which was not in dispute for long) but because it does not yet have news reports dedicated to HAH itself, it doesn’t make the cut for a standalone article. It would need at least two or three to rate.

Yet there are at least two recently-arrived Wikipedia contributors who may not necessarily have CEI’s blessing but have continued to press their argument at Wikipedia. And, to put it diplomatically, they are going about it all wrong.

The first, as noted previously, is someone calling themselves Thehondaboy. The second is an account named Thelobbyist, which has only ever edited articles related to this issue. So let’s take a tour of the arguments made by these two and the mistakes they’ve made. This won’t contain all of the necessary context, but I will link to the pages that provide it.

Going chronologically, Thehondaboy argued in the HAH deletion debate on March 23:

    The commentor presumably thinks that criticism from ClimateBiz determines the event is not notable. ClimateBiz commentary will obviously be opposed to CEI or anyone that sides with their position or takes part in the event. Obviously they believe (or hope) the event is not notable. Using their sentiments to determine notability is therefore asinine. The use of the link is clearly to show a major player in the environmental movement noting the event. The observation by the of the event taking place justifies its notability. Thehondaboy (talk —Preceding undated comment added 20:37, 23 March 2009 (UTC).

Thehondaboy makes two primary mistakes, that I see. The first is violating the “Assume good faith” guideline; making inferences about another editor’s political viewpoint does not change any of the facts under discussion and is no way to ingratiate you with other editors. It’s a tactic of weakness, and a sure sign you’re going to lose. Second, look up what “Notability” means to Wikipedians.

On the same page, Thehondaboy argued later:

    It certainly sounds like the attempts of someone opposed to the event, rather than someone simply and unbiasedly concerned about whether it should or should not exist. The reasons for it’s removal are weak. There are reasonable sources that have listed the event. Whpq asks for reliable sources. I don’t know who Whpq is. He is some random guy on the Internet. Why would he get to decide what is or is not a “reliable source.” Weak argument for deletion. Additionally, he again makes the assumption based on personal bias that the event is not notable. The argument that “We don’t create articles in the hopes that the subject may become notable in the future,” is not valid because it has not been agreed on that the subject is not notable. The events notability has not been agreed upon, so therefore we can’t determine that it is currently or will be notable. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.Thehondaboy (talk —Preceding undated comment added 20:42, 23 March 2009 (UTC).

Pretty much the same thing here, although now that the discussion is resolved to the dissatisfaction of Thehondaboy, he’s making the same arguments again. There are a few behavioral guidelines that apply here, but one worth focusing on is “Characteristics of problem editors” which unfortunately describes Thehondaboy. Here he is again, on the talk page of an editor who had disagreed on the deletion review after the HAH page was first removed. And here is Thelobbyist also claiming to know the rules better than Wikipedia editors who regularly work in AfD:

    Very clearly what I mean by political is the fact that editor’s of the Earth Hour page have been rallied to endorse deletion on our page whether it has merit or not. It’s obvious that no one actually cares about merit or WP rules. There is no way after this I could ever trust anything on WP ever again. There are climate articles built on blog citations. But Human Achievement Hour is mentioned in 3 national papers including the USA Today. And there is a story citing it in TIME MAGAZINE today. But these aren’t good enough for noteriety. Why? Because individuals personal bias is deciding when these will be good sources or not. This whole project is a sham. thehondaboy (talk) 17:03, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

“Problem editor” also describes Thelobbyist, another account created with the apparent sole purpose of arguing about HAH. Here he (or she) is on yet another editor’s discussion page, with Thehondaboy right on his heels:

    Human Achievement Hour
    Your deletion of HAH is based on a previous page that had no notability. A brief even callous glance at the new page placed up today would make it very, very obvious that the event is notable now. It appeared in the USA TODAY this morning, and two national news papers yesterday. This is censorship at it’s finest. Especially being that the event is tomorrow. It needs to be reinstated now. Thelobbyist (talk) 22:06, 27 March 2009 (UTC)

    Agreed. Reinstate. thehondaboy (talk) 22:07, 27 March 2009 (UTC)

Thelobbyist’s attempt to dictate content is laughable, although it is disruptive and therefore serious. This person makes a few obvious errors, such as arguing that Wikipedia is censored and trying to impose a deadline. Wikipedia does not take kindly to being called “censors,” and conservatives who know that only the government can truly impose censorship should not be flinging the term around. Likewise, Wikipedia is not a promotional tool, and will generally resist attempts to use it in this manner. And of course, it’s painfully clear neither of the pro-HAH contributors have bothered to study the aforementioned Notability guidelines even four days later.

Worse still is the fact that Thehondaboy’s comment was added just one minute after Thelobbyist’s, which raises the possibility that they are working as a team — a frowned-upon activity referred to as Meat puppetry:

While Wikipedia assumes good faith especially for new users, the recruitment of new editors to Wikipedia for the purpose of influencing a survey, performing reverts, or otherwise attempting to give the appearance of consensus is strongly discouraged.

I don’t know who either editor may be or whether they are in fact working in tandem, but I will reiterate my point from yesterday: it’s a shame that CEI cannot find someone more knowledgeable or conscientious to make sure they are represented fairly.

There are more examples from both editors, but they tend to mine the same territory. Four days later, both editors were still banging their heads against the wall. Here’s Thelobbyist reduced to being snide on still another editor’s talk page:

    Enjoy your articles?
    I hope so. Thelobbyist (talk) 06:58, 28 March 2009 (UTC)

And here’s Thehondaboy, back on the original deletion debate:

    This just got picked up by Michelle Malkin. michellemalkin.com. Any further questioning of it’s relevance or notoriety is at this point garbage rhetoric from individuals biased against this article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Thehondaboy (talk • contribs) 17:33, 24 March 2009 (UTC)

Right, but Michelle Malkin is a blogger and that only counts under certain circumstances. It’s also hilarious — and almost as telling — that this person has confused “Notability” with a non-existent “Notoriety” standard. And if there’s one thing Thehondaboy knows, it’s garbage rhetoric. What’s more, this kind of edit activity makes it difficult to take seriously complaints from NewsBusters’ Christine Hall that there is an “Enviro Wikipedia Assault on Human Achievement Hour” going on. Doesn’t it look like the other way around?

Let me conclude with a few quick points of advice:

  • Don’t make demands.
  • Don’t issue threats.
  • Don’t keep making arguments that have already been resolved.
  • Don’t treat Wikipedia debates like a 50 percent-plus-one vote.
  • Don’t argue that other editors are politically-motivated — especially if you are also politically-motivated.

These are all negative, so here are a couple that are positive:

  • Remember that words like notable, verifiable, reliable and others have specific meanings at Wikipedia, so get to know them.
  • Ask for help.

Yes, ask for help. Go to the Help desk and ask uninvolved editors which content guidelines apply. Wikipedia is not monolithic, and if one or two editors are unfairly denying your argument, another editor is likely to make a non-judgmental call. Maybe you win or maybe you don’t. But you sure won’t get posts like this written about you.

Why WWF’s Earth Hour Gets a Wikipedia Entry But CEI’s Human Achievement Hour Doesn’t

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on March 28, 2009 at 5:05 pm

earth-hour-cei-logos

You may have heard of Earth Hour, an eco-Hallmark holiday for the Twitter age, created by the World Wildlife Fund in 2007 and promoted in the media each year since.

You are probably less likely to have heard of Human Achievement Hour, a counter-holiday launched by the Competitive Enterprise Institute this year.

I was unfamiliar until I noticed CEI’s Twitter account acting upset on Friday about the deletion of a Wikipedia article about their new tradition. I responded to @ceidotorg and said I would take a look for myself. Here are the relevant tweets, in descending choronological order:

    ceidotorg: #hah Attempts to ‘delete’ Human Achievement Hour in Wikipedia http://ping.fm/4rABR #fr33 #tcot #liberty #c4 –1:38 PM by CE
    ceidotorg: #hah WIkipedia deletion discussion here http://bit.ly/kZMJ No good reason given for axing entry on HAH -#liberty #tcot –3:22 PM
    ceidotorg: #hah deleted by Wikipedia now banned by Youtube in 1 minute -Human Achievement strikes again http://ping.fm/5wtS4 #liberty #tcot –12:44PM
    williambeutler: Sorry, @ceidotorg, your Wikipedia article was not deleted because editors didn’t like your agenda: http://twurl.nl/ersp1o –1:11 PM
    williambeutler: @ceidotorg Not surprising an event that hasn’t occurred yet and is just getting notice wouldn’t make the cut. Next year may be different. –1:16 PM
    ceidotorg: @williambeutler if you could provide any solid evidence that the same occurred to an entry that agreed with green agenda-I’d believe that –3:34 PM

I said I knew just the place to look, and that was WikiProject Deletion sorting/Environment/archive, which saves past discussions from Wikipedia’s Articles for Deletion process — where entries that just aren’t ready for prime time go to die.

On that page, I counted 36 deliberations over keeping vs. deleting articles on Environmental topics since the archive category was created last year. And after counting twice, I found 14 nominated articles were kept, 13 were deleted and 9 were “other” — sometimes being merged into other articles.

This demonstrates in the aggregate that just any submission of interest to Wikipedia’s many environmentalist-minded contributors won’t stick just for being “politically correct.” The results even looks outwardly fair, although Wikipedia is concerned more with process than outcome.

Meanwhile, there are specific examples of such debates from the past and present we can study:

  • There is no longer an article about an outfit named Carbon Purging, which seems to be one of these “green” companies whose business model depends on an Al Gore-style guilt-trip.
  • Climate conflict, a little-used term apparently referring to some kind of feared global warming-sparked regional confrontation, got the boot.
  • More recently, the neologism Hot Stain (not what it sounds like, whatever you think that may be) is currently the subject of a sustained, as it were, debate on both sides (based on what I’ve seen, I lean “delete”).
  • And a biographical entry about an “eco-feminist” named Leslie Davies is currently headed down to defeat.

The important thing is that all of these decisions — and all of those that resulted in a “keep” — were made by community consensus based on the content guidelines with which anyone can familiarize themselves.

afd-hah-cei

Since I started writing this post, I’ve been following the actions of an editor using the handle Thehondaboy, who had been pressing the CEI case on the “AfD” debate over Human Achievement Hour (aka #hah, if you didn’t catch that) in recent days, has been trying to dramatically expand the “Criticism” section on the Earth Hour page to include substantial details about the campaign, including just about every single mention in the media — over and over again, after being reverted — as if the previously-given explanations (about why they didn’t satisfy the guidelines) never took place.

And it’s not an insignificant point that Human Achievement Hour had in fact already been prominently mentioned on the Earth Hour article. Yet Thehondaboy was apparently not satisfied with that.

I’m a little surprised this account hasn’t been temporarily blocked from editing, although it does look like it’s headed in that direction. I have no idea who Thehondaboy is, though I do certainly hope it is not someone from CEI edit warring on this point. From this editor they’d be wise to keep their distance.

Wikipedia needs conservatives and right-leaners to contribute, especially at the margins where many topics would be lopsided in favor of the left-progressive perspectives of editors from WikiProject Environment. As an economic libertarian myself, it’s especially frustrating to see CEI’s cause reduced to a futile struggle against a set of rules (and a community) that its chief advocate hasn’t taken the time to understand.

I have written elsewhere that many conservatives’ complaints about Wikipedia are misplaced (see here and here, for example) and this seems to be another such case.

Conservatives are not unique in having a weak grasp of how Wikipedia functions, nor are they even alone among political activists. The website is undoubtedly complicated, but it’s hardly incomprehensible. If you learn to edit according to rules, you can figure out which battles are winnable — ahem, which content disputes are likely to be resolved in your favor — and save yourself a real headache.

Don’t Be WorldNetDaily’s Aaron Klein

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on March 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm

As noted yesterday, a recent article by WorldNetDaily Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein about Wikipedia’s alleged “scrubbing” of President Obama’s Wikipedia article resulted in additional coverage that brought to light the probability that Klein himself had made the controversial edits in question and was also the creator and top contributor to his own Wikipedia entry (at least until yesterday, when it exploded with activity.

To be fair, Klein has now claimed (in a letter to Gawker) that he is not in fact Jerusalem21 but in fact only told a subordinate at WND to edit the page:

First, I am not “Jerusalem21,” but I do know the Wikipedia user (he works with me and does research for me), and I worked with him on this story, which focused on investigating allegations I had received from others of Wikipedia scrubbing Obama’s page.

Whatever. Klein is probably satisfied that he has brought to the world’s attention the horrible Wikipedia conspiracy to keep fringe theories out of articles where they don’t belong, but it may come at a price he didn’t expect:

aaron-klein-afd

If you check out the deletion debate itself, it’s not immediately clear which way it will go. Many votes for Keep and many for Delete as well. The fact that Klein (or his subordinate) wrote up a vanity page is not the issue — after all, it can always be changed — but whether Klein meets Wikipedia’s notability requirement certainly is.

Amusingly, some take the position that Klein did not meet the requirement prior to criticizing Wikipedia, but due to the ensuing coverage, he now does. And I think this is may be correct, though I think it’s arguable he met the requirement in the first place. I think the article will most likely survive, even if the decision is “no consensus.” But he may not like that, either — because as long as the article stays, so will some version of this:

Klein removed the name of the editor from the article after reports arose on blogs and Wired News that he might himself be the suspended editor described in the story.