Wikipedia Features Front-Page Article Criticizing President Trump’s Handshakes

Following a contentious vote on deleting an unflattering Wikipedia article focused entirely on President Trump’s allegedly “unusual” handshakes, the article made it to the online encyclopedia’s front page in its “Did you know” section on Friday.

The article survived an attempt at having it deleted after a minority of editors voted to keep the article, causing it to be closed with a decision of “no consensus” for deletion.

“Donald Trump’s handshakes” was created by editor Onceinawhile on July 22 and then expanded to six times its original size by editor Sagecandor. Onceinawhile primarily edits articles about Israel and generally advocates a pro-Arab position. Sagecandor has created a large number of articles related to Trump, mainly books authored by or about Trump, focusing on negative representations of the President. One of these articles was recognized as meeting the site’s “good article” standard.

Many of the details on the “Donald Trump’s handshakes” article portray the President in a negative light, describing his handshakes as “awkward” or “unusual” citing a variety of news articles. The article includes a section about “notable handshake incidents” and nearly every entry describes Trump’s handshakes in a violent manner or refers to the reaction of those shaking hands with him in ways that suggest their annoyance with the President. It also refers to incidents where Trump was seen not shaking hands with someone. Due to this it was later renamed to “Donald Trump and handshakes” following a brief discussion on the article’s talk page.

Onceinawhile quickly nominated the article to appear as a “Did you know” entry on the article’s front page. The nomination also included a picture of French President Emmanual Macron shaking Trump’s hand, which means it would be included as the top entry in the “Did you know” section once approved. Entries in the “Did you know” section are changed every 24 hours. However, soon after the “Donald Trump’s handshakes” article was created an editor nominated it for deletion and the “Did you know” nomination was put on hold until the discussion reached a conclusion.

During the deletion discussion 19 editors, including the one who nominated the article for deletion, would argue for keeping the article citing news articles giving probing attention to Trump’s handshakes. By contrast, 29 editors would argue for deletion, stating the article was unencyclopedic trivia and citing a variety of content policies such as those stating Wikipedia is not for news and that it is not an indiscriminate collection of information.

Some editors suggested merging the article to existing pages such as “Donald Trump in popular culture” or to a section on the “Presidency of Donald Trump” article in a section for his leadership style. Despite the article being generally unfavorable to Trump, editors prominently opposed to Trump were divided over the article with the small number of editors sympathetic to Trump favoring deletion.

Even among those voting to keep the article, not all were happy with its existence as editor Dr. Fleischman stated in voting to keep the article:

While the subject is pretty silly in my view, it’s not nearly as silly as the subjects of many other articles on Wikipedia. Sure, I wish the editors who have contributed to the article would devote their time to more serious politics articles, and sure, it makes Wikipedia seem a bit petty. But I also wish the editors who devote their time to the absurd minutiae of videogames and obscure television characters would do the same thing. It makes me cringe each time one of those articles is brushed up to FA status and featured on the front page, and we’re not about to delete those sorts of things. I see no reason to hold the politics space to a higher standard.

After the seven days usually allowed for deletion discussions, an administrator closed the debate. Despite over 60% of editors favoring deletion, the article was kept. On Wikipedia content decisions are reached by a “consensus” of editors, and under these rules the number of people supporting or opposing a position is not supposed to be a factor in whether an edit is accepted or an article deleted. In practice, provided a sufficient number of editors oppose deleting an article and cite a relevant policy in support, the site’s administrators will usually find a lack of consensus. This gives partisan minorities the power to block the deletion of an article that favors their agenda.

Even though the article was kept by a slim minority, this did not prevent the “Did you know” nomination from proceeding, and it was approved to appear on the front page a few days after the deletion discussion was closed. Once the page appeared on the front page editors expressed outrage, and it was tagged for neutrality issues. The “notable handshakes incident” section was renamed to “notable handshakes” and another attempt at deleting the page was initiated. However, this discussion was closed, citing a policy that articles linked on the main page cannot be deleted with the editor who closed it also suggesting the proposal was solely intended to be disruptive. After it was off the main page, another deletion discussion was opened.

Wikipedia’s main page is viewed on average over 15 million times in a day according to the site’s “pageviews analysis” tool. This makes its “Did you know” section a prime piece of space on the site and subject to agenda-driven efforts by the site’s editors, especially since in order to keep an article they only need a dedicated minority to agree with them.

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.


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