40% of Wikipedia is under threat from deletionists

Readers recently saved the hemovanadin article from Wikipedia's ongoing extinction event through extraordinary measures, but that's just one of over 2 million stub articles deleted or at risk of deletion by Wikipedia's entrenched bureaucrats. Today's example is Chickenhead, a notable hip-hop song killed by deletionists in 2015.

Let me say at the onset that the content from Chickenhead will be restored thanks to this article, but I do not have the capability to write an additional 2 million more articles in my lifetime to save the remaining 2 million stubs from deletionists like RHaworth, the hemovanadin killer whose itchy deletion finger was noted by a commenter in my previous article as directly responsible for that editor's abandoning the project.

In Wikipedia parlance, a stub is an article that needs to be expanded. Almost every article started as a stub. Here's the stub for United States, started days before 9/11, itself an unreferenced stub days later.

Chickenhead was a well-sourced stub about a hip-hop song featuring notable artists Project Pat and La Chat. It was the breakout single on a notable album. It's been discussed by a number of academics. It's also important because it was disambiguated from several articles of the same name, including one on sexual slang, and one on a play of the same name. It was deleted for the same reason hundreds of thousands of stubs have already been deleted: misuse of Wikipedia's deletion policies. The European play remains but the hip-hop song got killed.

Here's what typically happens:

1. An editor, usually a woman or a minority group member, writes a stub for a requested article, including references and assertion of notability.
2. That editor leaves the project, typically because of harassment or because someone deleted one of their articles.
3. A deletionist marks the article for deletion.
4. With no one left to get notifications and defend the stub, it gets railroaded through deletion, or worse, speedy deletion.
5. All edit history about the article is removed, a violation of Wikipedia's transparency mandate.
6. Repeat two million times.

What kinds of stubs are most at risk from deletionists? Articles written by young people, about generational interests, or pop culture, or something outside the experience of the primarily older white male deletionists who consider themselves arbiters of "acceptable" encyclopedic content. While the most obscure steam locomotive or public transportation station deserves a detailed article in their world, things of interest to others, especially young people, women, and minorities, like Kate Middleton's wedding dress, or a hip-hop battle of the sexes that charted with millions in sales, is a target by these same deletionists.

Two things annoyed me about the responses to the previous piece. Some people said, "It's restored now, so Wikipedia obviously works." Wrong. The only reason there is a hemovanadin article is because I took the time to point out the deletion, and readers took action. If I'd been hit by a bus last week, that article would have stayed killed indefinitely, like hundreds of thousands of recently killed articles. Other people said, "These periodic articles about the death of Wikipedia are silly." Wrong. I am not saying Wikipedia is dying or going extinct. I am saying that Wikipedia as an ecosystem is in the midst of a major extinction event. As the extinction event article states, this means there is a "sharp change in diversity" within an ecosystem. Deletionists can be characterized by a number of attributes, where they favor things of interest to them, like trains, anime, video games, female porn stars, coding, weapons, and so on. Look up a random female porn star and a random female scientist from those categories, and you'll see what deletionists prioritize. The Pokemon Bulbasaur gets 1800 words, hemovanadin gets speedily deleted, and Chickenhead gets prodded and deleted without challenge, because editors writing science stubs and hip-hop stubs have been driven away by deletionists.

Do you have a story of abuse of speedy deletion? Was an article you meticulously created destroyed without due process? Those of us who believe in open culture want to hear from you. Leave a comment on this article or contact me directly via my website.

Notable Replies

  1. I find this whole topic boggling. One of the great promises of Wikipedia is that, as an online resource, it can expand to cover an enormously wider array of topics than a traditional encyclopedia. The storage is almost free, and the writers are volunteers. This lets you have a really expansive view of what's worth including.

    So why is Wikipedia taking a narrower approach?

    In fact, why is Wikipedia deleting anything beyond illegal or infringing content? It's not like it costs anything to keep a stub or low-traffic article on the site.

    It seems to me that Wikipedia is still stuck in the traditional view of what an encyclopedia should be, rather than embracing the much bigger vision that's possible when you remove the constraints of space and effort. If someone thinks that his Aunt Millie is notable enough to deserve a Wikipedia page, what's the harm in that? Aunt Millie is notable to someone, and maybe over time will become more broadly notable.

  2. In praise of stubs.

    Quite often a short article is all that a reader needs. Encyclopaediae are for looking up subjects of which one knows nothing. A stub with a short description suffices. We can follow the references to find out more.

    No trained and qualified librarian would count all short articles as incomplete. That will vary from subject to subject, as it does in paper encylopaediae. Maybe Wikipaedia needs a rule that any editor can be overruled by people with degrees in librarianship and by the authors of the cited references.

  3. I once heard Wikipedia described as an MMORPG for bureaucrats. Seemed to be apt.

  4. Here in Australia is a notable phenomenon known as "bulldust" - powdery dust which can pile up centimetres deep on some un-maintained rural dirt roads. Bulldust can be very hazardous - a single vehicle moving slowly kicks up a cloud which reduces visibility to zero, and in the absence of wind remains a hazard for some time. If you keep driving, you risk hitting a stationery vehicle; if you stop driving, you become the hazard in that same scenario.

    Search for bulldust on Wikipedia, and 6 of the first 10 hits refer to this meaning of the word, not that other US-oriented meaning you may have in your mind which does not require a Wikipedia article because it's simple slightly rude word not a nuanced concept / a real thing.

    But there is no Wikipedia article describing the very real Aussie "bulldust", because ignorant bullies speedily delete it.

  5. Boingy says:

    After the Bundy Standoff in 2014 a Wikipedia stub article appeared called Bundy Militia about the militant organization formed by the Bundys.
    Within a week or so, it was in process of being researched and improved by multiple editors. It developed about 20 excellent mainstream print/tv/radio citation references with images and details.
    Then, a cadre of wiki rightwingers, afraid of the growing media spotlight on whacko militia types, put the article into "speedy deletion". Their reason: a fervent claim that "No such thing exists".

    As we all know now, the Bundy Militia organization subsequently pulled a second takeover of a public lands site in Oregon and has been brought into federal court in both Oregon and Nevada.

    The wiki-deletionists are soldiers in the anti-fact war.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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