The recent exposure of anti-white comments by New York Times editorial board member and bigot Sarah Jeong on Twitter prompted Wikipedia editors to attempt to mention the controversy on Jeong’s page. After repeated removals led to the page being locked, leftist editors rigged discussion about the controversy, leading to a summary favoring Jeong.
A restriction put in place on the article means editors are unable to alter the imposed summary without consensus, and editors challenging the Jeong controversy summary have been banned or threatened with bans. The end result is a carefully sanitized description of Sarah Jeong’s twitter history designed to treat her as favorably as possible.
The New York Times hiring Sarah Jeong prompted an inquiry into her years-long history of disparaging white people on Twitter, which the Times stated it did not condone while adding it would not affect their hiring decision. On Wikipedia, editors quickly moved to incorporate the tweets into Jeong’s article. Early additions were removed for being either unsourced or only citing her tweets directly for which several editors were banned. After the controversy started receiving media coverage, the attempts to mention Jeong’s tweets were undone based off claims of insufficient coverage.
In response to the ongoing conflict over including the controversy on Jeong’s page, an administrator barred all edits by regular editors leaving Jeong’s bigotry unmentioned in the article for several days. This move prompted criticism from American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers and the Daily Caller.
No mention of Sarah Jeong’s demented tweets on her Wikipedia page. Why? A little group of activist editors won’t allow it. Amazing. See them in action here: https://t.co/HHAyz2G2vN https://t.co/FhdAKBjSRP
— Christina Sommers (@CHSommers) August 5, 2018
Discussion about incorporating the controversy into the article began soon after it erupted. Editors quickly complained “offsite efforts” were responsible for attempts to incorporate the controversy into her article pointing to discussions on reddit about the Wikipedia page. One editor previously involved in downplaying antifa’s violent tendencies on Wikipedia invoked fears of GamerGate, which was accused in a viral fake news story of creating throwaway accounts to get feminist editors “purged” from the online encyclopedia. Drmies, an administrator and former member of the site’s powerful Arbitration Committee, also invoked GamerGate to encourage a hardline response from the Committee and administrators.
Several days after the controversy began, the locking of Jeong’s page expired and the administrator who had locked the page added a “tentative consensus” paragraph about the tweet controversy. The paragraph described the criticism of her tweets as if it only came from conservatives, despite this being contradicted by the sources themselves, which either did not attribute the criticism of her tweets politically or stated it was “mainly” conservatives. In an unusual step, the administrator also imposed a restriction on the page prohibiting any edits or expansions about the controversy without prior consensus.
Editors objecting to the suggestion criticism came only from conservatives attempted to remove the statement only to be reverted and warned they would be banned for violating the restriction if they did it again. Editor Polrout, who attempted to make this alteration several times and was reverted several times then warned, objected to the restriction by noting the changes were only bringing the section in line with the cited sources. Polrout, however, had appeared to violate the rule, was warned and given an explanation. He continued and thus was blocked for two days.
Critics of the action also argued the administrator had abused his position by imposing a version that did not have consensus, while making any alterations of it subject to consensus. Editor Wumbolo removed the paragraph citing this lack of consensus and received the standard revert then warning response. He subsequently took the matter to a conduct discussion board to object to the administrator’s actions stating the administrator “unilaterally forced editors to remove it with consensus without having consensus to add it themselves” in violation of policy.
Part of this criticism was the administrator basing his “tentative consensus” finding on a survey started only a few hours earlier regarding various proposed summaries of the controversy. While the proposal added by the administrator had more support in that survey, an earlier one showed considerably greater support for a different proposal. The earlier surveys were all shut down by Jytdog, an editor who previously had minimized material on Wikipedia cited by James Damore’s Google viewpoint diversity memo. A modified version of his proposal was the one eventually added to the article based off the new survey, though it had received starkly divided support in the earlier survey.
The proposal receiving much greater support was a more basic description of events noting the earliest reports on the controversy in Reason, Fox News, and the National Review, followed by the New York Times response and referencing the contrast with the outlet’s firing of tech columnist Quinn Norton mentioned in various sources considered reliable on Wikipedia. While some editors opposed the suggestion for being too close to the events, mentioning the “irrelevant” Norton case, or focusing too much on the individual reports, many supported it as a stop-gap measure until a better version could be hashed out. A request to add this proposal to the article received support even from opponents based off the appearance of consensus in its favor, though many opposed to it, such as Jytdog, restated their opposition.
When the author of the proposal asked why the consensus in its favor did not lead to it being added instead of Jytdog’s proposal, the administrator responsible claimed it had violated policy, but refused to provide further details in contravention of formal administrative standards and instead mostly cited minor grammatical issues. In another discussion about the action, this claim of unstated policy violations was reiterated by a current member of the site’s Arbitration Committee.
Editors have attempted to get some of the unfavorable material altered through consensus in accordance with the restriction. A proposal on removing the reference to “conservative” media being responsible for the criticism has received considerable support, though the editor who proposed it was subsequently banned for a month then indefinitely following a discussion on an administrative noticeboard. Several other calls for banning editors criticizing Wikipedia’s handling of the Jeong controversy were made, one citing the specter of “outside forces” due to coverage in the Daily Caller. News of this “threat” was then spammed to various forums on Wikipedia in search of support for wide-ranging bans.
While some requested changes may succeed, including a request to include quotes from some of Jeong’s tweets, others are unlikely to succeed due to lack of coverage. This includes comments Jeong has made regarding the police, which have mainly been reported in conservative outlets deemed unreliable by many Wikipedia editors including the Daily Mail, which has been barred as a source since last year. Editors have also complained about limiting mention to tweets made in 2013 and 2014, despite evidence of anti-white tweets over many years up to earlier this year, but this has met with demand for sources Wikipedia considers reliable.
"I once went back and forth with a NYT fact-checker over whether I could call someone white since I couldn't *really* be sure" — Sarah Jeong, March 2018. https://t.co/id0jEOPzZx
That really speaks volumes to the current situation. How Jeong's racism impacts her work output. pic.twitter.com/1k0GHtPWKE
— Nick Monroe (@nickmon1112) August 3, 2018
Left-wing bias on Wikipedia, as evidenced in the handling of Jeong’s anti-white social media posts and many other cases, is not just a product of its community’s own leftward slant, but its dependence on a predominantly left-wing media eager to protect their own. However, even when the media provides a more nuanced perspective on an issue, editors on Wikipedia have many ways to work the rules and processes to preserve their desired spin.
(Disclosure: The author has been involved in disputes with several of the parties mentioned in the article)
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.