Wikipedia Isn’t Officially a Social Network. But the Harassment Can Get Ugly.


Wikipedians also began to discuss the “content gender gap,” which includes an imbalance in the gender distribution of biographies on the site. The latest analysis, released this month, said about 18 percent of 1.6 million biographies on the English-language Wikipedia were of women. That is up from about 15 percent in 2014, partially because of activists trying to move the needle.

Claudia Lo, a foundation researcher on a team that is building anti-harassment tools, said there was a pattern of harassment on Wikipedia stemming from debates over L.G.B.T. issues. When a celebrity comes out as transgender — notably, Chelsea Manning in 2013 and Caitlyn Jenner in 2015 — Wikipedians have extensively debated whether the individual’s self-declared pronouns should be used.

Articles about transgender or nonbinary individuals are often subject to vandals who revert their pronouns back to their gender assigned at birth. But Wikipedia’s guidelines make clear that editors should use the gender that the subject of the article most recently stated in a dependable source.

In countries where it is more dangerous for L.G.B.T. individuals to be open about their identities, harassment on Wikipedia can be particularly virulent. Once, an administrator on a Wikipedia page blocked an editor simply because their username suggested that the editor could be gay, said Rachel Wexelbaum, a Wikipedian who works to improve L.G.B.T. content on the website. Eventually, she said, Wikimedia’s Trust and Safety Team got involved, and the administrator was blocked for those actions.

In some spaces, the environment for L.G.B.T. users has improved. Amir Sarabadani, a 25-year-old Iranian software developer with Wikimedia Foundation’s chapter in Germany, said that in his 12 years of editing Persian-language Wikipedia, users were often hostile while editing articles related to homosexuality.

About six years ago, Mr. Sarabadani started talking openly about being gay in conversations with other Wikipedians. He said other editors often accused him of having a “homosexual agenda,” and anonymous users posted lewd images of male genitals on his userpage.

But Mr. Sarabadani, who left Tehran for Berlin two years ago, said he thinks his work as an administrator on Persian-language Wikipedia has made the community of editors there less tolerant of abuse.

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