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Wikipedia Editor Says Site's Toxic Community Has Him Contemplating Suicide (vice.com) 379

An anonymous reader writes: A longtime Wikipedia editor wrote an email to a large public mailing list Tuesday, saying he was contemplating suicide due to online abuse by his fellow Wikipedians. "Nobody on Wikipedia seems to be kind," he wrote. "You are all so busy power tripping that you forget there is a real, live person on the other side." He lamented that obstructionism by other editors stopped him from contributing to the site's "great mission -- one I feel so keenly." The email was sent to the Wikimedia-L mailing list, which is one of the largest community-run Wikimedia mailing lists and has hundreds of subscribers. The editor was upset after an ongoing disagreement with other editors on the "talk" pages of an article about a local politician. The debate devolved into name-calling, the editor wrote, and eventually he was completely banned from editing the site he had devoted so much time to.
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Wikipedia Editor Says Site's Toxic Community Has Him Contemplating Suicide

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:49AM (#52134877)

    The online world is like drunk people. Some drunks are mean, some are nice. You get to know the real person if they have had a few drinks, honest, crook, lecherous, moral. Same for how people behave when they have some power online and can ban folks they disagree with. They are online drunks.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:54AM (#52134939)

      And... as a followup to my post. If you get suicidal over online crap. You need to get off the internet and go outside to play.

      • by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:04AM (#52135049) Journal

        Some people are more sensitive than others. Telling all of those to GTFO will lead in a lot of resources wasted. Because, believe you me, the power hungry assholes usually aren't the great contributors to society they want you to think they are.

        • This isn't sensitivity -- it's someone who sounds depressed, which is often a failure to properly frame a problem (though it can also be a difficulty emotionally handling a properly framed problem). Going outside quite literally expands your horizons, but really any change can be beneficial. Additionally, the author may want to seek help, whether it's self-help or professional. Depression is not a joke, and the OP's advice is solid, even if the delivery may have been flippant. Besides, nobody said he sh

      • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:25AM (#52135231) Homepage Journal

        And... as a followup to my post. If you get suicidal over online crap. You need to get off the internet and go outside to play.

        Yup.

        This is the challenge of putting anything out to the public, since it becomes a form of public domain. Even if the copyright technically belongs to a small group, the stake holders are in the millions and the unofficial armchair committee huge. Sometimes the best thing is to know when you need to agree to differ and walk away from the shitfest. It is not always easy, but the short term pain may make the long term so much better.

    • Tragedy of the Commons.

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:50AM (#52134893)
    ...fuck Wikipedia. It's entire model can literally be summed-up as, "King of the Hill." Whoever camps at their computer to edit pages is the editor, regardless of any acumen or credentials with the subject matter, and without regard to any actual rules that govern article structure or citation.

    If Wikipedia wants to fix this, they need to disallow users from camping on pet articles. They need to disallow reverts based on style that have nothing to do with substance and have no real benefit, and they need to ban users that continue to engage in these practices. Until that's done the entire process will be at the whim of the cave trolls that patrol the site because they have nothing better to do.
    • I used to contemplate distributed social networks - stuff runs on machines that you control and you decide what you want to see or not (among other things, such as private communications being actually private). Now I'm contemplating distributed structured document systems for these reasons. You decide what edits you want to see? Hmmm...
    • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:05AM (#52135057)

      ...fuck Wikipedia. It's entire model can literally be summed-up as, "King of the Hill." Whoever camps at their computer to edit pages is the editor, regardless of any acumen or credentials with the subject matter, and without regard to any actual rules that govern article structure or citation. If Wikipedia wants to fix this, they need to disallow users from camping on pet articles. They need to disallow reverts based on style that have nothing to do with substance and have no real benefit, and they need to ban users that continue to engage in these practices. Until that's done the entire process will be at the whim of the cave trolls that patrol the site because they have nothing better to do.

      Wikipedia, as an idea, has a lot of promise but unfortunately the reality is far from the promise. There is a lot of good information there, but it is also a convenient and large forum for the power tripping to seek validation by "winning" while they safely post from their mother's basement. Those with useful input eventually decide to go elsewhere because the headaches aren't worth the toile, which off course just makes basement dwelling troll feel go because he has won yet again; even if no one really gives a shit about him or his miserable existence.

      • Like communism, with a small "c", it requires the majority of people to not be assholes.

    • Actually, to win at Wikipedia you need multiple identities. Whether with real people behind them or just you and a bunch of network proxies, doesn't matter. In disputes, whoever gets a bigger flash mob gets the upper hand. You don't need the means of the Olgino trolls [wikipedia.org], just calling on a bunch of friends is enough.

    • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:15AM (#52135131)

      ... It's entire model can literally be summed-up as, "King of the Hill." Whoever camps at their computer to edit pages is the editor,...

      In my experience, that is a valid statement.

      .
      I had the few hours to research and edit an article, complete with citations. I did not have the time to sit around, hovering over the article to argue with an "editor" who reverted my change because he had verb-tense disagreements with my edit.

      If the only problem he had was the tense of the verb (and he said that was the only issue he had with the changes I made), then why didn't he just fix the tense of the verb?

      The Wikipedia model has deep systemic problems that are largely ignored by the powers that be at the top of Wikipedia.

    • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:18AM (#52135169)

      As Dilbert long ago pointed out, the craziest person wins any debate where the only thing that matters is persistence.

      Now maybe we know what happens to the second craziest person... they commit suicide?

    • by bigpat ( 158134 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:19AM (#52135179)

      ...fuck Wikipedia. It's entire model can literally be summed-up as, "King of the Hill." Whoever camps at their computer to edit pages is the editor, regardless of any acumen or credentials with the subject matter, and without regard to any actual rules that govern article structure or citation.

      If Wikipedia wants to fix this, they need to disallow users from camping on pet articles. They need to disallow reverts based on style that have nothing to do with substance and have no real benefit, and they need to ban users that continue to engage in these practices. Until that's done the entire process will be at the whim of the cave trolls that patrol the site because they have nothing better to do.

      Still it beats by a hundred fold the encyclopedia set that used to adorn every middle class household's and library's bookshelf as their first view of the world. Wikipedia is a treasure of useful information, a starting point for unknown topics.

      In such an endeavor striving too much for perfection is the enemy of the good. People always have to understand the perspectives and biases of their sources. That isn't a flaw, that is just reality.

      Wikipedia is still the most successful attempt to provide a starting point, an entry point, to all of human knowledge.

      Sure it still sucks, but show me something better and that will suck too.

      • Good point, well made...wish I had mod points
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@NOSPAM.world3.net> on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @12:01PM (#52135591) Homepage Journal

        It's not the idea of an encyclopaedia anyone can edit that is bad, it's the Wikipedia MMORPG that has been built up around it.

      • Sure it still sucks, but show me something better and that will suck too.

        For Science and Math and a lot of facts, it is much better. But for propaganda, it's much worse. The encyclopaedia entry on a given politician did not used to be made by that politician's intern or PR firm.

        • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

          Sure it still sucks, but show me something better and that will suck too.

          For Science and Math and a lot of facts, it is much better. But for propaganda, it's much worse. The encyclopaedia entry on a given politician did not used to be made by that politician's intern or PR firm.

          Encyclopedia entries for politicians didn't used to happen during their tenure. Don't conflate the two situations. If encyclopedia entries of our parent's generation could have been made in a more timely manner the same situation would have occurred. Or people would have been sued for defamation, libel, or some other nonsense.

        • There is a simple and automated solution to this.

          Wikipedia could post an integrity score for each of its pages. The score would be based solely on how often edits are reverted. If a page bounces back and forth repeatedly, the score would be close to zero and people would be told to not put much stock in that page. And, again automatically, the page's editor(s) would be notified and, in time, could be consequenced in a variety of ways.

          Slashdot needs something similar, for when mods up then down then up then down mod a post. Typically the down-modders are the problem but, with a bit of human intervention by the editors, they could "settle the argument" and deal out a consequence to whomever is on the problem side.
          • by bigpat ( 158134 )

            Wikipedia could post an integrity score for each of its pages. The score would be based solely on how often edits are reverted. If a page bounces back and forth repeatedly, the score would be close to zero and people would be told to not put much stock in that page. And, again automatically, the page's editor(s) would be notified and, in time, could be consequenced in a variety of ways. .

            I like the idea of this metric, but it shouldn't be called "integrity" as that is a misnomer. "volatility" score is more like it. Or even more to the point, just put a number of reversions in the past 30 days count at the top of the page to eliminate the obfuscation of what the "score" means.

      • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @12:21PM (#52135767)

        Wikipedia is a treasure of useful information, a starting point for unknown topics.

        Most of the time, sure. Unfortunately, it's really difficult to tell the difference between a well-researched article that agrees with the scholarly consensus vs. an article based on weird sources (but usually popular, not necessarily scholarly) that are 50 years out of date. Now, it's true that paper encyclopedias could suffer from that problem too. On the other hand, good paper encyclopedias often had information on authors of articles or at least the major subject editors, so you could take a guess about whether it was reliable. You don't have that on Wikipedia, where "anyone can edit."

        But there are much worse things -- like how you don't know whether an article has been randomly vandalized, or edited recently by some idiot who just inserted false information. Back when I was actually active editing Wikipedia for a while (before I became aware of how insanely screwed up it was), I remember a number of cases of very subtle vandalism that went unnoticed for weeks.

        My favorite was some person -- who was a registered user, rather than just an "anonymous IP address," so it didn't send up as many immediate red flags -- who went through and just changed DIGITS in historical dates. So some random historical person suddenly did X in 1742 instead of 1752 or whatever. They did this on perhaps a dozen articles, and the edits stood for at least a week. The main reason I think he was caught is because -- like most vandals -- eventually he couldn't contain himself and altered some historical article on a woman to say she was "a dirty whore" or something. If he hadn't done that, it might have been months or years before anyone noticed that this one guy had been randomly switching digits across a bunch of Wikipedia articles.

        The "vandalism" problem is definitely something that is much WORSE than traditional paper encyclopedias... and if you don't think you've viewed articles that contain various subtle forms of it, you have no idea of how much vandalism is attempted on Wikipedia all the time. (And that doesn't even get into deliberate hoaxes [washingtonpost.com] or persistent misinformation [wikipediocracy.com] that doesn't look like obvious vandalism.)

        In such an endeavor striving too much for perfection is the enemy of the good. People always have to understand the perspectives and biases of their sources. That isn't a flaw, that is just reality.

        "Perspectives and biases of their sources" is important. But the problem with Wikipedia is that we don't know the perspectives and biases, because it's written mostly by anonymous people and pseudonyms (who have sometimes been known to lie about their identities, even when they claim to provide real-world info about themselves).

        And leaving almost all articles open to random editing ensures a continuous war against the kind of vandalism I've already mentioned. That's not a "perspective or bias" -- that IS a serious FLAW. Say what you will about Encyclopedia Britannica, but when I open the paper copy two days later, there won't be random NEW misprints appearing or the word "PENUS!!" suddenly appearing in the middle of an article.

        Sure it still sucks, but show me something better and that will suck too.

        I have a real problem with this attitude -- "Oh, well it's still better than other stuff!" That's a lame excuse, frankly. We could still improve the concept significantly.

        I've been saying this for years, but if Wikipedia really wants to be successful in the long term, it needs major changes. The idea that "anyone can edit!" any article was great in the early days to build a foundation of information -- and it's still good for new articles

    • ...fuck Wikipedia. It's entire model can literally be summed-up as, "King of the Hill." Whoever camps at their computer to edit pages is the editor, regardless of any acumen or credentials with the subject matter, and without regard to any actual rules that govern article structure or citation.

      If Wikipedia wants to fix this, they need to disallow users from camping on pet articles. They need to disallow reverts based on style that have nothing to do with substance and have no real benefit, and they need to ban users that continue to engage in these practices. Until that's done the entire process will be at the whim of the cave trolls that patrol the site because they have nothing better to do.

      Slashdot had (has?) a metamod system where mods get moderated. Presumably people who downmodded things for political or other reasons would get their own mod points reduced or stripped. Didn't do squat.

      • Slashdot had (has?) a metamod system where mods get moderated. Presumably people who downmodded things for political or other reasons would get their own mod points reduced or stripped. Didn't do squat.

        You can meta-moderate after every post you put up. People who downmodded things for political or other reasons can also get upmodded, so it's not that useful.

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:51AM (#52134897)
    If you're contemplating suicide based on something going on with the Internet, you have lost perspective and need to go outside.
    • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:52AM (#52134917)

      I think in general if people are making you want to commit suicide, you need to get away from those people. Do not expect those people to change their ways to save you, in fact, if on the internet, expect them to get worst.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:15AM (#52135133)

        Take this from one person who circles these feelings on a fairly regular basis. When you are really contemplating suicide you don't tell people. When you are serious, you go quiet. The saw about"we knew we should worry because he stopped talking" is true. Saying I'm thinking about suicide is generally a plea to stop the argument and oh by the way, let me win kind of thing.

        I'm not trying to be dismissive. I'm sure some very terrible things were said. If he can't handle the heat he should probably step out of the kitchen for awhile. No one owes you happiness.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I don't buy the "just don't go there" argument. It's like saying you should never engage with anything or anyone to the point where it would upset you to lose them. Especially for nerds, "just find some new friends" isn't nearly as easy as it sounds.

        In some ways quitting is worse than staying. It's an acceptance that you lost, that you were bullied off the site and had to go to preserve your mental health.

        Also, as a society we have an interest in not using this solution, because it allows people to bully ot

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:54AM (#52134935)

      If you're contemplating suicide, you have lost perspective.

      FTFY

    • by gmack ( 197796 ) <gmack@[ ]erfire.net ['inn' in gap]> on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:56AM (#52134965) Homepage Journal

      I doubt he was actually contemplating suicide. This seems more on the level of emotional blackmail to me.

    • If you're contemplating suicide based on something going on with the Internet, you have lost perspective and need to go outside.

      To you and everyone else who uses the "go outside" meme - the internet is not some weird geeky subsection of humanity any more. I would have thought on this site - people commenting on this particular *website* - would know better than to try and diminish it. The internet is where some of us spend more time than anywhere else, and yes these are a valid way of interacting socially. The outside isn't intrinsically a more virtuous place to be. Every time you tell someone they're the one at fault you make excus

      • To you and everyone else who uses the "go outside" meme - the internet is not some weird geeky subsection of humanity any more.

        There's a difference between "going outside" and "getting a life". If a situation gets too tense, take a break. For some people, getting a life is a better solution.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Actually I feel the same way.
      He needs to "get a life". And I mean that in a good way. Make some friends face to face. Play cards with them or go to the movies. Find someone to care about and that cares about you.
      Life is too short to worry about idiot online that need to be bullies to makeup for their feelings if impotence in the real world.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      This is true for a lot of people on wikipedia though. Hell go look through /r/wikiinaction [reddit.com] the absolute depths that some of the editors go to to camp pages, and try to force their own point of view is literally insane. The only upside for this person appears to be they're trying to get out before they follow some of the more insane editors and have a total mental break that goes so deep that they get kicked off then run off to something like rationalwiki(where ideas go to die) where they also get kicked o

  • Yup, yup... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:51AM (#52134901)

    Back in the day, I hade almost several 1000 quality edits - which is to say slightly more than typo correction - but walked away for many of the reasons that this guy puts light on. Suicide would have been a bit of an over reaction, though.

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @10:52AM (#52134911)
    Isn't wiki software open? Start your own encyclopedia.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wouldn't kill myself if I got banned from submitting PRs to my favorite open source projects. But people can get obsessed, and those are the kind people who edit more than one page on Wikipedia.

    Also, just as a friendly reminder: buying into the left's propaganda by using the word "toxic" as an adjective for anything other than chemicals is not a constructive or even informative way to describe a social environment.

  • by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:12AM (#52135113) Homepage

    While dated, much of FYI-28 / RFC 1855 [ietf.org] is still applicable and the world would be a better place if more folk followed it.

  • Time to step away (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:21AM (#52135197)

    When anything you're doing is evoking feeling so extreme, time to step away and do something completely different for a while to recollect yourself and regain some perspective. Don't do the futile thing of hoping you can cope or change things for the better in your current position while you are experiencing such extreme feelings.
     
    Wikipedia is not a way of life, it is not someone you love, it is not worth suffering or ending yourself for. Find something that makes you happy.

  • I just can't comprehend the idea of using the internet to satisfy my social needs to the point that some jackasses on Wikipedia could ruin my day. I've noticed that paradoxically there's something about conversations where getting punched in the face isn't a possibility that tends to make them very uncivilized.

  • Details (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:38AM (#52135375)

    The actual message is here [gossamer-threads.com]. The politician mentioned in the story is this guy [wikipedia.org].

    The politician, Salim Mehajer, is really something. Sort of an Australian Donald Trump. He runs people over with his super car, threatens people, violates election laws and then gets himself acquitted or wrist-slapped for all of it in court. The editor wanted to elaborate on details of this stuff in Salim Mehajer's Wikipedia page and the powers-that-be blocked him. Seems like the editor was trying to do the equivalent of investigative reporting, to the degree that it amounted to original research and detail excessive for a Wikipedia page.

  • What are they, 13? Probably shouldn't be a Wikipedia editor if they can't take criticism. Also, everything sounds a lot harsher when you read it in email.
    • "I think your post is incorrect, as criticism is not the same thing as abuse." - criticism

      "$SOMEBODY is an effing moron." - abuse

      Something like Wikipedia should ban anyone who resorts to name calling or worse. It exacerbates a conflict as opposed to helping resolve one.
      • Already does, No Personal Attacks and Assume Good Faith are two pillars of Wikipedian law. But enforcement is arbitrary, and it doesn't help if you're up against an admin who can pretty much accuse you of anything and force you to go through a (usually biased against you) appeals process to get your editing privileges back.

        Editing Wikipedia sucks. You inevitably end up against someone playing power games, and you pay the price for it. I'm not surprised that the number of participating editors has been dr

  • by XXongo ( 3986865 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:40AM (#52135409) Homepage
    Yeah. I actually like Wikipedia, and I like the model that citations are critical: if you can't cite a reliable source, it shouldn't be in the article. (In fact, one of the best things about Wikipedia is that it's a good place to find links to good sources.)

    But, get afoul of the wrong people, or post even a minor change in a topic that some troll considers his personal property, and you will see the toxicity, From the article:

    Wikipedia is notoriously unwelcoming to newcomers and has a dizzying list of guidelines, principles, and rules that are disproportionately applied across the site. The community is intense and passionate, which means its editors are often zealous in their policing of what goes on the site, and the ensuing discussion is not always civil. ["not always civil." Yeah, that's a bit of an understatement.] Some people on the Wikipedia-L listed echoed the editor's woes. “This editor and their editing may be an extreme case, but they are not alone,” one person response. “Yup. It's very, very toxic at times. And nobody really cares,” another person wrote.

    Yep.

    http://gizmodo.com/updated-anti-science-trolls-are-starting-edit-wars-on-1724422402

  • by buk110 ( 904868 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @11:56AM (#52135529)
    I've tried to make edits. There was a page where I had cited evidence from multiple sources that my change should be accepted, and no reason was given just a "nope". So why bother?
  • Solution: stop making Wikipedia an important part of your life. They only have as much power over you as you give them.

  • A depressed person when confronted with the shitheads of the internet thinks of suicide.
    A healthy person when exposed to the same people on the internet thinks of homicide. Because the world would be a better place without the shitheads in it.

    Do your duty, make the world a better place for everyone.

    This Public Service Announcement brought to you by the NRA.

    • Reminds me of the difference between goth and emo:

      Emo: Life sucks. I wish I was dead.
      Goth: Life sucks. I wish you were dead.

  • lots of comments here are saying 'get a life', 'get out', 'stay away from them if they make you miserable'
    if only life was this easy
    'get out' of the place you have been dedicating a lot of work
    'get a life' when life and internet are something mixed up together now, and the people you most speak with are the one part of the community you are supposed to leave
    'stay away from them if they make you miserable' and ignore all the ones that make your life brighter
    i was part of a wiki community (UrbanDead Wiki), an

  • by eepok ( 545733 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @12:50PM (#52136055) Homepage
    And it's worth it.

    It's not my intent to be callous to its effects on the people who put the effort in, but Wikipedia is without a question the most correct, current, and expansive singular source of knowledge that mankind has every seen. It's far from perfect, but it's literally the best that has ever been. It might just be that zealotry and incivility is the only known way to provide a rigid standard of quality control in an organization where there are no genuine laws, authoritarian oversight, or wage structure to hold over peoples' heads. So, if the ends justify the means, then keep it up!

    But if it doesn't-- if the emotional effects on some is too great a cost for the benefits, then someone needs to find another way to facilitate the intellectual and emotional drive for people to volunteer their own time to put so many hours of work into building and maintaining such an important source of information.

    Complaining about its imperfections is insufficient.
  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2016 @02:08PM (#52136689)

    My wife is involved in a number of Facebook communities, and some of the other members can get pretty mean sometimes. They’ll belittle you for remarks they disagree with, or whatever. Sometimes it gets a little upsetting. So what she does is temporarily deactivate her account and stop participating for a while. When she’s over it, she reactivates and continues on.

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