Wikipedia vs. Pagans [updated]

[UPDATE 5/22-24/13] Qworty, the Wikipedia editor primarily responsible for targeting Pagan articles for deletion (usually with demeaning and bigoted comments on the accompanying Talk pages), has been unmasked on Salon.com as Robert Clark Young, a writer with a years-long history of abuse of Wikipedia policies. His violations include personal vendettas against other artists and using sock puppet accounts to write and edit his own bio page. Wikipedia has finally blocked him from editing and launched an investigation. Read further coverage on The Wild Hunt and a special feature on Qworty’s anti-Pagan activities on Salon.com.

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[11/20/12] This week, a notice from Tony Mierzwicki went out advising Pagans that several Wikipedia articles about important Pagan leaders were being considered for deletion. Patricia Monaghan (only days after her death), M. Macha Nightmare, Luisah Teish, Louis Martinie, David Jay Brown, Trance Mission, Matthew Abelson, Kenny Klein, Donald Michael Kraig, LaSara FireFox, Ian Corrigan and Raven Grimassi were all targeted. Tony and others were especially alarmed because of the bigoted and sometimes vicious language used by the Wikipedia editor who was recommending deletion. Religiously-based hatred seemed to be driving the attempted deletions.

I headed over to Wikipedia to read some of the discussions myself. Indeed, the editor recommending deletion of these articles does clearly have a personal beef with the Pagan community. S/he seems to be retaliating by deleting information about our movement from an important online information source. On the other hand, I was happy to see that other Wikipedia editors were fairly evaluating the articles according to stated Wikipedia guidelines.

Wikipedia has specific guidelines for determining whether a person or subject is notable enough to be included and for whether an article is unbiased. Specifically, the editors want to avoid articles that are written as self-promotion, or that are written by close friends or associates of the people mentioned. A number of criteria are used to establish notability, but the most important are secondary sources. Secondary sources are pieces written about a person or subject by a disinterested party. The most widely accepted secondary sources are established newspapers and academic books and journals.

A number of people have wondered what they can do to defend the Pagan movement’s presence on Wikipedia. The answer is simple: become a Wikipedia editor and learn Wikipedia’s guidelines.

  1. Add content to Pagan articles that provide evidence of notability, particularly from newspapers or academic sources. Google Scholar, for example, allows the user to search for a person’s name in academic books and journals. These sources can help to establish that a person is a notable authority.
  2. Use the Wikipedia dispute resolution process. Wikipedia has procedures to deal with editors who are using their powers abusively.

At this point, I have not seen any evidence that Wikipedia as a whole is anti-Pagan. However, Wikipedia is making an effort to tighten up its content by deleting articles on subjects that don’t meet notability or other guidelines for inclusion. Some content on minor subjects remains because no one has yet flagged it for deletion.

In the case of the Pagan articles, many of them require more citations and expanded information. Although the hostile editor may be targeting the articles unfairly, they still do need improvement to meet Wikipedia’s guidelines.

Wikipedia has rules. Let’s win this fight by using them.

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[UPDATE 11/22/12] Due to an intermittent problem with comments, Tony Mierzwicki sent me this comment via private message. Since it contains important information about Wikipedia articles to watch, I’m including it here.

Tony writes:

Thanks for your comprehensive summary of the Wikipedia situation.

I’d like to make one minor correction. I was one a number of people who sent out notices. I was forwarding information from author Mike Nichols [http://www.witchessabbats.com/], who in turn was forwarding information from Mari Kosik Aubuchon.

There is indeed strong evidence of two Wikipedia editors having a strong dislike of the Pagan community. They have focused on the deficiencies you mentioned. A number of Pagan friendly Wikipedia editors are improving articles to meet Wikipedia’s guidelines, but we can always do with more. So, if anyone has editing skills and wants to get involved, there’s no better time as there are numerous other Pagan articles on Wikipedia that may be targeted in the future. We are also looking at creating new articles on leaders yet to be honoured.

The current situation is as follows:

KEPT : Patricia Monaghan, M Macha Nightmare, Luisah Teish, Donald Michael Kraig, LaSara FireFox, Louis Martinie, Matthew Abelson

DELETED : David Jay Brown, Ian Corrigan

DELETED IN THE PAST : Ted Andrews, Denny Sargent

STILL THREATENED WITH DELETION : Baba Raul Canizares, Kenny Klein, Raven Grimassi, Trance Mission [Pagan friendly band]

Last Sunday, Cara Schulz brought the matter to the attention of a top Wikipedia (paid) staff and a few of the administrators. She was told the matter would be looked into quickly and it looks like they are taking it seriously.

If this pattern of attempted deletions concerns you, click here to visit Wikipedia’s Contact page.

 

Wyrd Words: Heathen Leadership
Spear of Athena: Technology, Athena, and Doing it Right
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The Zen Pagan: I Don't Know
About Christine Kraemer

Christine holds a PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University. She has published widely on literature, popular culture, and Paganism and is the author of Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies (Patheos Press, 2012) as well as Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective (Routledge, 2013). Christine is also an instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, where she served for two years as chair of the Theology and Religious History department.


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