Wikipedia Deletion Police

Christopher Rath

2008-12-31

Over the past couple of years I have spent some of my personal time contributing to Wikipedia.  The process of contributing has proven to be as frustrating as it is rewarding: mostly due to the presence of what I will term Wikipedia Deletion Police.

The idea behind Wikipedia is that there are millions of Internet each willing to contribute their knowledge to a global encyclopaedia. Information posted to this global encyclopaedia is then peer reviewed by the many readers of that information, and this global encyclopaedia gets better and more accurate with each passing day, through each user's edits and contributions.

My experience is that this Wikipedia vision only works part of the time. My personal observation is that there are a small number of readers contributing real material; but, there is an army of other so-called "contributors" who do nothing but delete material they perceive to have violates one of Wikipedia's thousands of rules. It is with that army of Deletion Police where Wikipedia falls on its face and fails in its mandate.

The Wikipedia Deletion Police have a mandate rooted in the need to ensure that copyrighted material is not inserted into Wikipedia. They rightly scan new material and remove content that violates copyright law. This is as it should be.

The dark side of this scan and delete role, and the activities that have caused me to label them Wikipedia Deletion Police, is the point of this article. My own experience with these individuals is that where content does not conform to the Wikipedia style guide that instead of editing the content to make it conform to the style guide they simply delete the material; or, mark it for automated deletion. The problem with this style guide policing-by-deletion approach is that it mostly results in good content being removed from Wikipedia.

These Wikipedia Deletion Police are suffering from the malaise that affects all those employed in an "enforcement" role: if you only ever see the bad side of society, then you soon begin to believe that everyone in society is bad. So, the Deletion Police do remove a lot of erroneous content that needs to be deleted; however, because they see a lot of "bad" material they soon begin to believe that any content that triggers their search filters must be bad.

Here's an example from my own experience, to illustrate my point:

  1. I posted an album cover image to the page describing that CD. The image was properly used and the image use justification form properly completed. Note: on that form it is necessary to link to the page that is making use of the image.
  2. A year later, someone changed the name of the album page; which invalidated the link to the page contained on the image use justification form.
  3. Shortly thereafter, one of the Deletion Police marked the image for deletion stating that the image was improperly used.

In the above example, if the Deletion Police has taken the time to actually inspect the page then they would have immediately seen that the image link now pointed to a disambiguation page (that is, a page used when two different entries have the same name) instead of the actual album page. The Deletion Police could have corrected the link (a 30 second task); but, instead, because they view the world through their "everything my filter catches is illegal" glasses they didn't even bother to double check whether their filter had issued a false positive.

If the example, since I regularly monitor content I've created, I noticed the deletion tag and made the correction; however, if I hadn't already become aware of the Deletion Police I might not have been monitoring my content and so the image would have been lost (and Wikipedia would have lost some of its value).

I must admit that the Wikipedia Deletion Police are wearing me down: I give in and stop arguing with them much sooner now than before; it simply takes too much time out of my already busy life to argue with them. They all behave like bullies and have no interest in rational discussion. They believe that their way is the only right way, and that their search filters are infallible. On top of it all, they are unwilling to contribute content: they only delete.

I won't stop contributing; however, it is my hope that others who contribute willŚlike meŚchoose to push back on the Wikipedia Deletion Police and that over the long haul we will manage to bring about a positive change in their behaviour.


ęCopyright 2008, Jean & Christopher Rath
Telephone: 613-824-4584
Address: 1371 Major Rd., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1E 1H3
Last updated: 2008/12/31 @ 11:58:37 ( )