Gamergate is breaking Wikipedia. Since August, Wikipedia's article about the controversy has been divisive on a scale normally reserved for unjust wars and global warming. Gamergate supporters have been "boycotting" the site for months because of perceived bias, and co-founder Jimmy Wales has had limited luck in communicating with them. But over the past week, it's been getting heat from the other side of the aisle. The Guardian and others reported that five editors opposed to Gamergate had been banned from editing any page on "gender or sexuality, broadly construed." The site's Arbitration Committee decision meant that "not only do the GamerGaters get to rewrite their own page (and Zoe Quinn's, Brianna Wu's, Anita Sarkeesian's, etc.); feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia," wrote influential hypertext figure and former Wikipedia editor Mark Bernstein.
The committee's proposed final decision was already online, but today, Wikipedia posted a statement and explanation. "Several press stories have mistakenly claimed that Wikipedia has targeted and banned feminist or female editors. This is inaccurate," wrote author Philippe Beaudette.
Although the Arbitration Committee may recommend that some editors be prevented from further contribution to this particular topic, they have not banned anyone from Wikipedia. The sanctions they are considering are broad, and affect many people. As of now, the Arbitration Committee is considering issuing some type of warning or sanction to around 150 people, from a range of perspectives, based on their participation and conduct. This is not about a small group of people being targeted unfairly. It is about a very large group of people using Wikipedia as a battleground.
The Arbitration Committee itself has also published an explanation of its decision, which is still pending a final vote. It lists 11 total topic bans for editors "on various sides of the dispute," an endorsement of 40 community sanctions, and 100 warnings, along with a broad ban on censured editors working on gender-related articles.
"Not everything has to be a battle."
While Wikipedia says that the decision is broader than news coverage implies, and that editors were censured for violating its civility standard, this doesn't necessarily address critics' core concerns. The Guardian doesn't claim that editors were banned from Wikipedia, and the difference between "banning" and "recommending prevention" on discussing certain topics could be a distinction without a difference. But it does make clear that Wikipedia is tired of the vitriolic debate. The decision "is not a statement on who is right or wrong regarding the Gamergate controversy article," says Beaudette. "It is not a referendum on whether Wikipedia supports or rejects feminists. The Committee's mandate is to uphold a civil, constructive atmosphere that furthers Wikipedia's mission."
Bernstein, in a follow-up post, called Wikipedia's decision "majestic indifference," saying that it ignores the real problems of harassment. There is "no thought for volunteers who have been mercilessly harassed and hounded by braying, taunting gangs," he writes. "And not a single word of care for victims against whom Wikipedia has been and is being weaponized." Wales, for his part, has responded to critics on Twitter. "It's one thing to fight to keep articles clean," he says. "It's another to violate policies in the process." And as for the larger debate? "Not everything has to be a battle."
(The picture above is a gamergate ant, whose page predates this controversy. It is much more pleasant reading, and I highly recommend it.)