William Beutler on Wikipedia

How Not to Plead Your Case at Wikipedia

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on March 29, 2009 at 10:20 am by William Beutler

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.

  1. The problem with this post is that it really doesn’t tell the whole story. thehondaboy and thelobbyist were certainly not the only ones to voice their opinion of mischievous conduct on the part of certain editors or admin. Christine’s article was certainly dead on in that the appearance of glazing over certain Wikipedia guidelines for allowing the article seemed to be present, while other guidelines that suggested it should be deleted or forwarded to Earth Hour were heavily promoted.

    The problem with Wikipedia is that it is not owned by anyone in the community, but certain individuals (arguably on both sides of this case) expressed their feelings in way of ownership. The old Internet tidings of, “I’ve been here longer, what I say goes.”

    But the important thing is that Wikipedia is a public community, so anyone that desires is certainly free to go to the public logs of the debate at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Deletion_review/Log/2009_March_25
    By clicking the highlighted “show” button to the right of Human Achievement Hour in the list, they can read the entirety of the debate without having certain users abused by taking their comments out of context. I think this is very important, and a link should have been provided in your post for both clarity and transparency.

    Though I disagree with your point of this post, and it appears to be judgmental in aspects, you certainly bring to light some important issues regarding the posting of articles.

    Good luck in your future ventures.

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