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Inside Wikipedia’s Historic, Fiercely Contested “Election”
Wikipedia desperately needs more unpaid volunteer administrators. But who would want to go through this experience?
Welcome to Source Notes, a Future Tense column about the internet’s information ecosystem.
In April, programmer named Tamzin Hadasa Kelly ran for the unpaid, strictly volunteer position of Wikipedia administrator. Kelly, whose username is Tamzin, has contributed more than 34,000 edits to the site since registering her account in 2012. During her career, she has built up a substantial catalog of work, including Wikipedia articles about admiralty law and one for journalists killed during the Russo-Ukrainian war—a page that, sadly, has been growing.
Despite Tamzin’s decade-plus experience on the site, her request for adminship, or RfA, was close and bitterly contested as editors fiercely debated whether a comment Tamzin had made about a hypothetical Trump supporter disqualified her from the position. RfA is essentially a week of heavy vetting by the relatively small but reliably opinionated group that comprises Wikipedia’s core editor base. In order to successfully clear RfA without facing additional hurdles, the candidate must demonstrate that they are publicly supported by at least 75 percent of the editors involved during the seven-day community review period. At the end of Tamzin’s review, the site’s bureaucrats found that she had achieved 75.3 percent support from the more than 450 editors who opined. For reference, the successful RfAs in 2021 had only about 214 editors weigh in on average, meaning Tamzin’s RfA was roughly double the norm. By Wikipedia’s standards, both sides totally rocked the “vote.” (Quotes intentional; more on that later.) Each camp in Tamzin’s record-breaking RfA said that it was trying to uphold the core Wikipedia value of neutrality—but they couldn’t agree on what that meant in practice here.
In other news… The Inkshares team and I are making steady progress on my forthcoming book Infodemic. Remember that you can preorder your copy here to support.