DYK Wikipedia: Edit Wars!

Do You Know Wikipedia

There is something on Wikipedia that often goes unnoticed, until it gets noticed: an edit war. What is this? What does it mean? Why does it go unnoticed? That’s what I am going to talk about today.

What is an Edit War?

Imagine you know something about a topic and you add that knowledge to Wikipedia. Imagine someone else comes and change it to incorrect information or erases/reverts your, clearly, superior information.  You decided to change it back to your information, but the other person undoes all your work, again!  This can go back and forth forever, if allowed, but once this happens about 3 times, it is identified as an edit war.  Typically, it’s just two editors reverted the others edit until someone intervenes, BUT it can get bigger and the big ones often make the news.

What does an Edit War Mean?

Obviously, I gave the definition of an edit war, but when it happens, it can mean a few things.  First, there is my first experience with an edit war.  This was my research on the Paul Revere entry and there was a fear that Sarah Palin’s supporters were influencing the entry.  They talked about their concerns about a possible edit war, but it never happened (about that another day).  I was intrigued and wanted to understand it more.  This time the edit war was a fear of a politicized issue.  Like with real life politics, there might be an endless back and forth without resolution.  Most edit wars feel like that: neither side willing to give up.  One side might be right, both sides might be wrong, but neither side is willing to give up.

For Wikipedia, an edit war is a natural event because this is what happens when people with radically different views of the world come together to voluntarily create Wikipedia.  It almost has to happen for the encyclopedia to continue to grow.  The collective ability to deal with them is a sign that things are still happening correctly.

How Are Edit Wars Resolved?

They are often resolved by temporarily banning both participants.  Why ban both? The edit war escalates emotionally, just like most conflicts.  Typically, 24 hours of not being able to edit allows people to cool off and get over the issue.  If someone is a continuing problem, they might be banned for a longer period.  For cases that can’t be resolved by a cease-fire, they have mediation designed to resolve real issues.  This happens far less often in comparison to resolving by banning.  It’s amazing to see how often these resolve themselves.  Then again, almost everything on Wikipedia just resolves itself with time.  Things happen in a frenzy of activity and then just slooooooowwww doooowwwwnnnn until nobody cares anymore.

Why Do They Go Unnoticed?

You might not ever know edit wars are happening for one primary reason: you aren’t part of it.  You interact with an entry when you need the information on it.  You typically only hit the entry and read.  You typically don’t know anything about that topic.  You typically don’t pay attention to things behind the scenes.  Unless there is a glaring, vandalism error, you just don’t know.  These happen completely behind the scenes from start to end.  How can you see if one has happened?  Sometimes they are discussed on the entry Talk Page, but most of the time they are squashed really quickly.  Even I don’t know how often edit wars happen and I’m editing.

You might know they happened when they make the news.  Conflict on Wikipedia makes the news, especially major conflicts.  For good or bad, the press loves to cover conflicts on Wikipedia.  By the time it makes the press, it is far larger than a simple edit war.  It might be the resolution of mediation that involved a bunch of people.  For example, author David Roth made news when he complained about his biographer not being able to edit his Wikipedia entry with correct information.  The reaction was mixed, but there was a point to his making it public.  I will talk about that another day.  It wasn’t a rapid edit war, but it made the news as conflict and the conflict had been resolved by the time the news picked up on it.

What about you?  Have you ever noticed an edit war going on?  What kind entries do you think might be prone to edit wars?  Tell me in the comments bellow!

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