So you want to edit Wikipedia

May you live in interesting times. – Chinese curse

So you think you might want to edit Wikipedia. But you don’t know how to start, or if it is a good idea.  Or if all those horrible stories you have heard about it are true.  Or maybe you think it’s a life skill, like knowing how to use Word, Excel, or the internet, and you want to be computer literate.

First of all, the stories are true. What may not be true is the interpretations that have been put on them.  Many times newbies wander into Wikipedia not realizing that it is full of rules and traditions, and yes, land mines. A lot of the rules make sense, once they are explained. But mostly there is no one to explain them, or worse, some strange person will appear out of nowhere and tell you there is some rule when there isn’t one, in a way that appears to be completely self serving. When this happens, there is no authority to appeal to, because everything on Wikipedia, including the rules and the methods for making them and changing them, are built on consensus. And consensus favors people with time on their hands: the very young, the retired, people without careers or children, and the Silicon Valley brogrammer troll culture.

Many people do edit Wikipedia routinely and with no ill effect.  Others edit Wikipedia one time and are able to stop. But there are others.  And you will probably never read about them or hear about them because like with most abusive situations – child abuse, spousal abuse, abusive priests, alcoholics – and the resulting effects on those targeted – depression, suicide attempts, etc. –  there is a deep deep cult of silence within Wikipedia community about the abuse itself, and the toxic culture.  Anyone who talks about it will instantly become a target of the abusers, who mostly control the self-governance processes, directly or indirectly.  See DARVO (red link – see explanation of what is “red link”). So the only thing that is known about this dark side of Wikipedia has been collected anonymously in the statistics of Wikimedia Foundation aka WMF and some independent academic projects, and hidden somewhere in Wikipedia’s vast uncharted spaces or in their archives.

And women are even more of a target.  Yes, there are some highly visible women in Wikipedia, but as they say, it is the exception that proves the rule. Today’s media darling may tomorrow find herself thrown under the Wikipedia bus, as one New York volunteer who had brought a lot of newbies into the system found out, when she was very publicly and without explanation banned from all the Wikimedia projects.  This can happen to men, especially in connection with the arbitration committee governance group, but it is always behind the scenes and done in a way so as not to damage their careers or their reputations. A few years ago the arbitration committee banned all the women. There were a few of course who had political protection.  The Lesbians for some reason were the toughest and also the last to leave – I think a lot of them migrated to Art + Feminism, where they edit once a year at specific events, although their current website does not look the way I remember. Most with careers or reputations to protect just melted away, some were helped to find the door by opposition research or doxing by Wikipedia insiders, and some by Wikipedia criticism websites, which have traditionally been hostile to women.
So if, after all of that, you still want to edit Wikipedia, this is what you can do.

User names and IPs

First, your user name.  If you want to edit anonymously you can simply make IP edits. The disadvantage of this is that your IP reveals your location and anyone can see where you are. But maybe you have a local coffeeshop and when you google “what is my ip?” it shows you are in the middle of Kansas somewhere, and you are cool with that.  A lot of people in describing how they first started editing Wikipedia will tell you they first started making simple spelling or typo corrections, or even vandalizing stuff, and later decided to register a user name. The advantage of making a user name is that you can upload images to Commons and use the internal email function to message people whose email is not public. The disadvantage is that once you make a user name you cannot go back to IP edits or you will be hunted down by the admins as a “sockpuppet”. There are admins who will say they “take a vacation” by making IP edits, but if you are a garden-variety editor, they will look for you with “checkuser” and SPI “sockpuppet investigations”.  There are supposedly protections from abuse of the system, so that admins are not just routinely looking at people’s IPs out of curiosity, but rules are rarely enforced for admins.

So you want to make an account.  Do you use your real name?  Most people do not, even those whose identities are publicly known, and those who do usually have some professional reason for doing so, i.e. their job involves interacting with Wikipedia, and they want to avoid Conflict Of Interest issues or they want public recognition.  If you make an account, then change your mind, it is easiest to just abandon the account and make a new one.  Some people make an account when they go on vacation, make a few edits about the place they are visiting, and abandon it when they come home.

Learning to edit

There is a ton of information out there about how to use Wikipedia.  Some of it is outdated, some of it is unduly optimistic, and some of it is just plain wrong.  Your best bet is organized training or joining a publicized campaign. Your second best bet is the training modules written by Wiki-Ed.  Or even better, go through the tutorials while interacting with a live group.  Wikipedia has two types of text editors, wiki code markup and the visual editor. When you start to edit you should see two editing tabs at the top, one with “edit” and one with “edit source”.  If not, you need to go into the preferences and enable both of them.  As a newbie, you will want to “edit” with the visual editor, but if you run into trouble or some kind of bug, you can always look at the source code for whatever you want to do, and use the same format, or copy/paste or whatever. The other thing to know is that when you make a new account now you are not “autoconfirmed”, so you can not make and move new articles until you have 4 days and 10 edits. While you are waiting to be autoconfirmed is a good time to learn something about Wikipedia:

Training modules.

  • Wikipedia Essentials – a 22-minute self-paced module that will introduce you to the Five Pillars of Wikipedia, plus basic article requirements: Notability, Verifibility and No Original Research.  This is just an overview.  If you get into some kind of discussion at Articles for Deletion, you may want to spend some time with the actual notability pages. For a shortcut to internal Wikipedia pages, including policies, find the internal search box at the top of the page and type in WP:NOTABLE or one of the other shortcuts. Or better yet, find the notability criteria for the type article you are trying to write, and put a reference for it right in the lede paragraph where no one can miss it.
  • Evaluating Articles and Sources – a 26-minute self-paced tutorial that will introduce you to ways you can evaluate the level of development of Wikipedia articles and make improvements (this will show you how to add citations)
  • Editing basics – how to edit

If anyone wants info about something specific, or more advanced topics, I am open to suggestions, by comment or by email

Join a group

Women in Red is a project for creating biographies about women. They have an excellent Primer for creating women’s biographies, much of which can be applied to writing other types of articles, as well as pages for suggesting new articles about women’s topics or monitoring deletion discussions. While the project tries to be without politics, I have yet to see any completely apolitical organization, so if you are thinking about spending any time there you may want to be aware – so as not to run afoul of – their LGBT, gender mapping, and P-I background.

1lib1ref is a semi-annual event, it is going on right now, May 15 – June 5.  Every librarian is encouraged to make one edit adding one reference to Wikipedia. You put the #1Lib1Ref hashtag in the edit summary to show you are editing as part of a program so as not to freak out the vandalism patrollers who may be scrutinizing new accounts. (See also #1Lib1Ref 0Poop)Local affiliates or organizations with a Wikipedian-in-Residence sometimes have editing events that are open to the public.  Some women will edit only at these events. You can find a list of local meetups here.

Host an event.  If you have a connection with a local group, say an archive, library or museum, many times you can convince the local Wikimedia affiliate to come out and give a training session so you can learn how to get some of your archives online or give higher visibility to a special collection, especially if you provide snacks. Or you can attend such an event yourself, make an account, and get some coaching from experienced Wikipedians, while helping one of your local non-profits or educational institutions get some of their information online where it can be more easily accessed by search engines, and made available to the public. Wikipedia has a lot of resources for editing, but they do not always have topic experts who are able to spot knowledge gaps in the encyclopedia. If your organization has people who are able to spot such knowledge gaps you may be able to get training for them to improve existing articles or start new ones.  But if you work for an organization with a “hostile workplace” policy in effect, you may want to check with your legal team before hosting such an event.  Wikipedia does not recognize that Wikipedia volunteers might have any rights, or protections against harassment, so in order to keep your organization’s legal liability profile low,  many recommend holding such events on the weekend when the employees will be there in a volunteer capacity and as such not under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that provides protection against sex discrimination.

And please please please find an ongoing group to edit with. There are several Facebook groups, like Wikipedia Weekly, there is also a closed Telegram group for LGBT.  Most women prefer to be anonymous online, for their own safety, so in many countries Twitter is the preferred option. But if you want to take on any trans type issues, do take a look at @glinner, because people are getting deplatformed for making statements Twitter deems to be politically incorrect, including from actual trans. Also, many do not like to use the official Wikipedia mailing lists, since anything you write is there in perpetuity, and cannot be erased, as can Wikipedia pages, plus anyone can read it.

3 thoughts on “So you want to edit Wikipedia

  1. >>as one New York volunteer who had brought a lot of newbies into the system found out, when she was very publicly and without explanation banned from all the Wikimedia projects.

    There’s a story there and I hope you tell it.


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