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Bigfoot vs. Wikipedia; Pakistan Blocks, Then Restores, the Internet Encyclopedia
For a decade, Wikipedia has been the site of a passionate war between cryptozoologists and skeptics.
Sometimes Bigfoot believers go “squatching” in the forest to hunt for tracks left behind from the purported apelike creature. Other times, they seem to take a more sedentary approach, sitting behind their computers, complaining about what they see as disrespect for their beliefs on Wikipedia.
For the last few months, I’ve been looking into Wikipedia’s “Great Culling of the Cryptids.” Today Slate magazine published my report.
Back in 2013, the English Wikipedia page titled “List of cryptids” had about 300 entries. Since then, a few Wikipedia volunteers have proceeded to take a hatchet to the list, developing a far more limited inclusion criteria for what meets the cryptid definition.
Why the cryptid purge? Some Wikipedia editors point to a lack of folklore sources. Others object to the word "cryptid" itself as a term that’s made up by cryptozoologists to sound more legitimate and science-y.
Despite what the Bigfoot fans say on Reddit’s r/cryptozoology community, Wikipedia is not being biased when it refers to cryptozoology as a “pseudoscience.” As Susan Gerbic told me, Wikipedia is simply reflecting the language used by reliable sources.
But remember that how Wikipedia describes a topic dramatically affects the information that people find during the search phase. The skeptical hosts of the “Cults, Cryptids, & Conspiracies” podcast told me that they were very concerned about Wikipedia editors who were “gatekeeping” the definition of a cryptid.
I argue that both Bigfoot fans and skeptics on Wikipedia should make some concessions: 1) Wikipedia should continue reflecting reliable sources that refer to cryptozoology as a “pseudoscience.” 2) Wikipedia editors should relax and use the “cryptid” term (rather than “monster”) because that word is found in reliable sources, too!
By the way, this marks my fiftieth story for Slate, the majority of which have been edited by the brilliant Torie Bosch. She is moving to an exciting new role as Opinion Editor for STAT News and I will miss her terribly.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) blocked Wikipedia on February 3, 2023, citing failure to remove content from the site deemed “unlawful” by the government. Bloomberg reported that authorities considered the content at issue to be “sacrilegious.”
The block of Wikipedia in Pakistan denied the fifth most populous nation in the world with access to the encyclopedia. Thankfully, on February 6, the PTA restored access to Wikipedia in Pakistan. I am interested in engaging with Source Notes readers to learn more about the block and why it was lifted. If you know more, send me a note!
As a reminder, China still blocks Wikipedia in all language editions. China began blocking the site in 2019—a few months before the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.