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