Last week novelist Amanda Filipacchi (shown above) published an op-ed in The New York Times that described how editors on Wikipedia “have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the ‘American Novelists’ category to the ‘American Women Novelists’ subcategory.” In her piece she reported that novelists whose last names begin with A or B have been most affected, but she expressed her concern that others could suffer the same fate. The problem with this form of sexism she wrote, is that “People who go to Wikipedia to get ideas for whom to hire, or honor, or read, and look at that list of ‘American Novelists’ for inspiration, might not even notice that the first page of it includes far more men than women. They might simply use that list without thinking twice about it. It’s probably small, easily fixable things like this that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world.” The author ended her article by suggesting that Wikipedia’s editors “[start] to get the point.”
What happened in response? Filipacchi told Salon.com that “As soon as the Op-Ed article appeared, unhappy Wikipedia editors pounced on my Wikipedia page and started making alterations to it, erasing as much as they possibly could without (I assume) technically breaking the rules. They removed the links to outside sources, like interviews of me and reviews of my novels.” According to Salon.com, most of the changes to Filipacchi’s page were done by a single user with the username of “Qworty.” As of today, most of the changes to Filipacchi’s Wikipedia page have been reversed.
As Salon.com points out, this may well be a case of “revenge editing” in which disgruntled individuals express their discontent by editing their nemeses’ profiles. The ethics of this practice seem straightforward enough: Unless it’s your own profile, don’t edit it. Doing so is an expression of ill will and is patently unethical. That said, this case points to the tenuous credibility of Wikipedia and how it is that a community edited repository of information can be maintained responsibly. We can only hope that the self-correcting nature of Wikipedia will eventually get things right.
Many thanks to my colleague Dave Reed for the tip.
Sources: Salon.com, NYTimes.com, myspace.com
4 thoughts on “Sexism, Wikipedia and “Revenge Editing””
It begs the question… what prompted the change?
Was the intent to elevate the female authors out of the perhaps ‘muddled’ category that included both sexes, or to segregate them instead? That is, was it a well-intentioned change or simply a poorly conceived plan?
Is there (will there) be a category for males too, so that the existing common category ceases to be?
I can appreciate her position, but without knowing the intent of Wikipedia, her comments may be unfounded.
I’m not sure how much can be read into the wikipedia editing, given most of the changes were made by one individual. Filipacchi could have written an essay about the evils of house cats and triggered a similar response from another misguided idiot… we aren’t suffering from a shortage of them (house cats OR idiots…)!
As always, Brock, I appreciate your insights! You’re right–we don’t know all the facts here so it’s difficult to really comment on it. For starters, we’d have to know more about “Quorky” and the motivations. Filipacchi being connected to the infamous Hachette-Filipacchi media empire might have had something to do with it.
The editing of Filipacchi’s Wiki page reminds me of another story I came across back in January. Some MJ fans were unhappy with a biography, so they rallied other fans to give it awful ratings to stifle sales. People disagreeing with someone, so rather than discussing the issue, they use the power of the internet to silence or discredit the opposing opinion. Granted, in Filipacchi’s case it was just this “Quorty” person, but unfortunately the general practice isn’t uncommon and can actually have a strong effect… http://consumerist.com/2013/01/21/michael-jackson-fans-attempt-to-crush-book-with-negative-amazon-reviews/
Thanks for sharing, Emily! I was unaware of this. You’re right–I think the same sense of morality is at work in the MJ incident, which at its core is getting revenge. It strikes me as being very Machiavellian!