Wikipedia users are no longer allowed to include “userboxes” on their profile page that express opposition to gay marriage following a discussion where predominantly left-wing editors argued such a stance was “discriminatory” and against site policy. Most userboxes pre-dated a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and were used by hundreds of editors. This included one expressing a personal view favoring traditional marriage, but advocating for states to decide.
A minority of Wikipedia editors expressed concern about the decision and its implications for free speech and political neutrality on the site. Certain deletion advocates, meanwhile, suggested userboxes opposing the Black Lives Matter movement should also be prohibited. One administrator who argued the decision contradicted Wikipedia’s neutrality standards resigned from his position and retired from Wikipedia. The decision comes after the site’s owners proposed a “code of conduct” raising similar free speech and neutrality concerns.
The discussion was initiated by editor Adam Cuerden who first nominated for deletion a single userbox, which stated: “This user believes marriage is between one man and one woman.” Userboxes are badges made by editors that can be added to a profile page to provide information about the editor and their beliefs. In his call for the deletion of the userbox, Cuerden noted a site guideline prohibiting “inflammatory or divisive” content in userboxes and stating Wikipedia is not a place for propaganda or advocacy. While many users include politically-divisive userboxes on profile pages, Cuerden argued the userbox should be deleted for being “pretty explicitly homophobic.”
Minutes later Cuerden suggested other userboxes for deletion because they argued against gay marriage or in favor of traditional marriage, though one identified the user as “heterosexist” instead. During the discussion, many other userboxes on the topic were listed for deletion, including one stating the editor personally believes marriage is between a man and a woman, but that the matter should be decided by state governments. Altogether, the userboxes were used on hundreds of profile pages and most were created earlier in the site’s history, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage should be legal.
Editors commenting on the proposed deletion argued the userboxes could discourage gay editors from contributing to the site and referred to them as creating a “hostile environment” for these editors. This included several administrators, who hold special privileges on Wikipedia. Molly White described the userboxes as “unacceptable” and rejected claims Wikipedia should not take sides by saying: “We have picked a side, which is that LGBTQ Wikipedians are welcome here.” White, who goes by “GorillaWarfare” on Wikipedia, is an administrator who also serves on the Arbitration Committee, often likened to a Supreme Court, and identifies as “queer” on her profile page.
One administrator, Guy Chapman, responded to critics of the deletion proposal who were concerned deletion would drive away conservatives by stating Wikipedia should not offer a “welcoming and inclusive environment” to “bigots” and compared support for traditional marriage to supporting slavery. When asked if he was really suggesting he wanted to drive away gay-marriage opponents, Chapman emphatically affirmed this was his desire and suggested they head to Conservapedia, a conservative Wikipedia alternative. Going further on his views about permissible political discourse, Chapman stated that he considers a userbox supporting the Black Lives Matter movement acceptable, but one saying “All Lives Matter” would be “deeply problematic” in his view.
Deletion opponents cited concerns about Wikipedia taking sides in a political dispute and noted most countries have not legalized gay marriage. Some argued the userbox identifying one as a “heterosexist” was appropriate to delete as actively supporting discrimination. Administrator “Ad Orientem” objected to deleting only userboxes opposing gay marriage and said if they are deleted, then so should those expressing support. Insisting discussion about deletion was better suited to a broader community discussion about political userboxes, Ad Orientem stated doing otherwise “could seriously damage the project’s credibility as being affirmatively neutral in how we handle these contentious topics.”
Ad Orientem subsequently began a thread on the “Village Pump” where editors discuss potential changes to Wikipedia. He argued the deletion push was “clearly inconsistent with the project’s longstanding neutrality” and that inflammatory comments about gay marriage opponents in the discussion “represent an ugly tendency to condemn the views of others as outside the bounds of acceptable thought, never minding those views are held by the vast majority of people globally and the followers of most of the world’s major religious faiths.” Ad Orientem conceded Wikipedia policies prohibit the userboxes, but insisted they would and should also mean deletion of nearly all political userboxes.
Removing all userboxes expressing a political viewpoint met with some significant support as many editors responded by stating such userboxes were divisive and irrelevant to creating an encyclopedia. Many editors who supported deleting userboxes opposing gay marriage objected to the idea by arguing the move was not “political” as it only prohibited “bigotry” on Wikipedia. Several expressed concern about banning people from expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement on their pages. Cuerden, by contrast, argued a black editor seeing a userbox opposing the movement on the page of an administrator might be intimidated and thus suggested statements opposing Black Lives Matter should not be allowed.
Chapman repeated his views from the deletion discussion and further suggested a “Blue Lives Matter” userbox supporting police would not be appropriate by claiming the slogan’s “implicit context” is “…and Black lives don’t.” Such political advocacy by Chapman is not unusual as he has often pushed left-wing political agendas on articles relating to Antifa and President Donald Trump, once stating on his profile page that editors supporting Trump showed incompetence by doing so and should therefore be banned. He is also part of a Black Lives Matter group on Wikipedia and stated upon joining that “You can be one of three things: ally, enemy, or collaborator.” The Wikimedia Foundation, which owns Wikipedia, earlier this year endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement and declared “no neutral stance” existed on “racial justice” issues.
Several comments opposing blanket deletion of political userboxes, but supporting deletion of ones opposing gay marriage or the Black Lives Matter movement, prompted concern from Ad Orientem. When one user claimed in defense of this position that “Discrimination isn’t protected by freedom of speech” Ad Orientem responded: “Who gets to decide what speech is permissible and not? I feel like I have wandered into a chapter of 1984.” Expressing concern about editors attacking gay marriage opponents in the discussion, Ad Orientem, who identified on his profile page as a classical conservative and Orthodox Christian, added: “Millions of my co-religionists were enslaved and murdered for harboring insufficiently progressive beliefs.”
When the deletion discussion was finally closed in favor of deleting userboxes opposing gay marriage due to overwhelming support from predominantly left-wing editors, Ad Orientem posted a retirement notice to his profile page and requested removal of his admin privileges. Explaining his reasons, Ad Orientem stated he had “lost confidence in Wikipedia’s neutrality” and argued the discussion showed Wikipedia had “de-facto taken sides in the culture wars.” Numerous users expressed support for Ad Orientem and his stance following his resignation with one remarking: “The double standard around politics on Wikipedia is glaringly obvious, and it’s not going to change. It’s sad that it’s driving away valuable contributors.” Several admitted they did not express their opposition to deletion in the discussion for fear of backlash against them.
Following the userbox deletions, an administrator who had included one of them on his profile page, Graeme Bartlett, replaced it by simply copying the userbox code directly to his page. Another user recreated two of the more moderate deleted versions and Bartlett rejected attempts to have them deleted as mere recreations of the deleted userboxes. One editor who pushed for deleting userboxes expressing opposition to gay marriage complained to Bartlett about his actions, noting he had voted against deletion. The editor argued Bartlett’s actions “subvert consensus” and violated Wikipedia policies on administrators taking action in disputes where they are involved.
Cuerden subsequently reported Bartlett to a noticeboard for discussing user conduct, accusing Bartlett of biased editing over his response to the userbox deletions. Several other administrators criticized Bartlett, including Arbitration Committee member White and former Arbitration Committee member Michel Aaij, known as “Drmies” on Wikipedia. Aaij argued Wikipedia was “not the place where we can have userboxes that are so clearly divisive and deny some people the right to marriage.” Due to the discussion, the recreated versions of userboxes opposing gay marriage were deleted and the userbox code Bartlett copied to his page was removed.
Discussion about other political userboxes proved mixed. While the Village Pump discussion included many voting to delete all political userboxes, others argued only “discriminatory” ones should be deleted. A discussion regarding userboxes expressing anti-Zionist and expansionist Zionist views ruled them acceptable, while one on “alt-right” and “Third Positionist” userboxes ruled them unacceptable. Previously, userboxes supporting Antifa that suggested support for violence were deleted, but others supporting Antifa and far-left ideologies remain. When users asked Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales about the issue, he stated he opposed using userboxes for advocacy, but the site’s left-wing editors strenuously objected. Despite his status, Wales has no personal control over such matters, which are decided by Wikipedia’s community.
Recently, the Wikimedia Foundation that owns Wikipedia has sought to impose greater policy authority on the site with a “Universal Code of Conduct” for Wikipedia and other sites the Foundation owns. The current draft proposal for the code of conduct, however, would only further mandate adherence to left-wing identity politics stances, such as requiring use of “preferred pronouns” and other chosen identifiers. Code of conduct provisions opposing “hate speech” and “addition of symbols, images, or content with the intent to intimidate or harm others” could be used to validate such userbox deletions. Many users object that the proposed code of conduct threatens free speech.
Political bias on Wikipedia has been a major source of concern for site critics, including co-founder Larry Sanger who this year declared Wikipedia’s neutrality policy was “dead” because of left-wing bias. While Wikipedia’s editors have been involved in smear campaigns against conservatives and censored conservative sources, they have simultaneously pushed left-wing political candidates and causes, relying heavily on left-wing sources. However, the site is still relied on as a source by mainstream media, academics, and Big Tech, which has resulted in them spreading hoaxes and false information.
(Disclosure: The author has previously been involved in disputes on Wikipedia with some parties referenced in this 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.