Proposal:Create editorial boards to oversee editing of controversial topic areas

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  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
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  5. Encourage Innovation


Summary

Create an editorial board to oversee the creation, merge, and deletion of articles dealing with controversial or politically sensitive subjects.

Proposal

This proposal is one of a number of related measures intended to improve the quality of Wikipedia's coverage of politically sensitive subjects. Related proposals include

  • Parallel articles within a single article space, where topics are controversial.

The topic-area editorial board would be appointed from among administrators, preferably with knowledge of the subject matter but without a history of advocative editorial involvement.

The editorial board would develop an overall strategy for coverage of the topic. All new articles related to the topic would have to conform to this strategy, and the board members would be empowered to summarily delete, merge, or rename articles which deviated from this strategy. The editorial board could also impose limits on article length, and possibly editorial content.

Motivation

Most of my experience in editing politically sensitive articles is in the area of the Middle East. The quality of Wikipedia's coverage of the Israel-Arab conflict has been the subject of much concern and research, and was one of the reasons for the creation of the Wikipedia:Working group on ethnic and cultural edit wars.

Quality of coverage of this area could be objectively measured by a number of methods, including Network Analysis[1], though I know of no studies that have actually done this. Indicators of poor quality include

  • a high rate of edits, and specifically "edit warring".
  • a high number of new article creations, often reflecting attempts at "content forking", but also as a strategy for promoting a POV. For example, there is an article in Wikipedia for every Arab village that was abandoned before, after or during the 1948 war, even though the vast majority of these articles contain no information whatsoever. There are five separate articles on the subject of organizations that oppose US support of Israel, all covering pretty exactly the same material.
  • a high number of proposals for deletions and mergers.
  • inordinately long articles on marginal topics, which lend inappropriate weight to these topics; or articles which exist primarily to get inflammatory rhetoric into an article title. For example, "The Skies are Weeping", a 4,000-word article on a cantata by Philip Munger about Rachel Corrie; the cantata (which was performed only once) achieved momentary notability when Jewish activists caused the cancellation of the originally planned performance; or "Blood Libel at Deir Yassin", an article about a book self-published by a largely discredited right-wing Israeli historian that contains nothing of value other than its inflammatory title.
  • a large number of articles on synthetic topics. Examples include Israel and the apartheid analogy, and Media coverage of the Arab–Israeli conflict.

It is important to note that almost all of these editing events are justified in the Wikipedia knowledge space. "The Skies are Weeping" is certainly worthy of mention in the Wikipedia, if only for its checkered political history. Every past or present Arab village in CysJordan is worthy of an article in the Wikipedia, especially if there is something to say about it. In fact, however, these articles exist not for their informational value, but because they show the opposing side of the conflict in a bad light - a fact that is repeatedly confirmed explicitly on article talk pages. And the poor quality of these articles is a result of the use of Wikipedia as a platform for promoting a political agenda, rather than for the promulgation of knowledge. (Note that, while most of the examples here are articles written to support the pro-Palestinian side, there are an equal if not greater number of examples from the pro-Israeli side).

The exploitation of Wikipedia as a propaganda tool is a direct consequence of the fundamental nature of Wikipedia editing: peer-based contribution, the rules of NPOV dispute, and the structure of dispute mediation as it has evolved in the last two years. Wikipedia editing is necessarily article-focused and not topic-focused. There is no overall discussion of how a topic in general should be handled, what articles should be created to cover the topic, and how those articles should work together to create an overall, coherent and fair coverage of the knowledge field. The advocacy editing approach, the result of Wikipedia's laissez-faire editing millieu, cannot foster such an overall discussion; on the contrary, the approach perforce turns the Wikipedia into a battleground.

This proposal would change all that. It would impose an overall editorial strategy on editors, introducing logic into the currently chaotic structure of the coverage of disputed topic areas.

Key questions

  • How would an editorial board be selected?
  • What jurisdiction would the board have?
  • What technical means need to be available to enable overall jurisdiction on a topic area?

References

  1. F. Bellomi and R. Bonato, "Network Analysis for Wikipedia", Proceedings of Wikimania, 2005

Community Discussion

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