Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The ethics of editing encyclopedias, and of deleting social groups

This just in, from Wikimedia Commons: apparently having ethics, and expecting others to have them too, is contrary to Wikipedia's NPOV policy. I've heard some real doozies in my time hanging around Wikipedia, but this one takes the cake. I sincerely hope that rklawton retracts this outrageous statement with all due haste; if he fails to do so he really should be disinvited from the project. The idea that encyclopedia editors are not only not bound by ethical constraints, but must not be so bound, is flatly absurd.

Meanwhile, there is apparently a proposal to delete the Esperanza project on Wikipedia. I commented on Esperanza earlier, identifying it as one of the mechanisms by which nongeeks manipulate social networks, and explaining why it is reviled by geeks. Well, against my advice, the geeks have moved to delete Esperanza's pages out of the project space. The deletion attempt will almost certainly fail, and furthermore it will even more polarize the conflict between the geeks and the nongeeks. I have been encouraging people to quit Esperanza, even denounce it, but to move for its forcible deletion is inherently a violent act (in Meatball terms, a "DirectAction") and as such will tend to polarize the community instead of lead the community toward consensus.

There was no imminent need to delete Esperanza. Whatever damage it was doing was being done slowly, and a more deliberate discussion initiated in a less confrontational manner than the heated, high-pressure environment of a deletion discussion will necessarily force. In general, this is always the problem with deletion discussions on Wikipedia: they presume the conclusion. Instead of discussing generally the merits of the content in question, with many possible outcomes, the discussion is forcibly channeled into an up or down decision on deletion, with a fixed instead of open timeframe for discussion. Both of these structural features work against development of a true consensus, and instead turn the deletion process into trench warfare, which is what the deletion "discussion" of the Esperanza project is clearly turning into. I would have far preferred for there to be an open discussion on the merits of Esperanza as an encyclopedic organization, hopefully leading, at its conclusion, to a consensus decision to disband it, or at least reform it to reduce some of its more odious qualities. But I fear that the current deletion demand will merely galvanize the Esperanzan diehards into defending their plaything, and building up its bulwarks to defend against further such actions.