On The Wikipedia Fiasco

Over the last several days, senior hypertext researcher Mark Bernstein has been publishing a series of posts on Gamergate edit wars and their broader implication for Wikipedia. The series has seen a lot of coverage from The Guardian to Wil Wheaton and can be read in its entirety on his blog.

Bernstein writes:

After all, why do these people accuse a software developer over and over again of prostituting herself? Sure, it’s to punish her and to discourage female students who might want to pursue a career in computer science. But it also makes an argument: women should stay out of computing because their presence could tempt men to give them preferential treatment in exchange for sex.

Wikipedia is instrumental to a campaign to drive women out of computing.

Wikipedia administrators are too busy to enforce obvious policy violations that do real harm to people who have done no wrong, but they find plenty of time for retribution against their critics.

Bernstein is right, of course, and additionally Wikipedia is an instrument in a gaslighting campaign; the trolls editing there are trying to literally rewrite history. Gamergaters these days question that Zoe Quinn was ever important to them. The cancelled Sarkeesian talk had nothing to do with them. 

One gamergater writes, “The speaking engagement referenced was voluntarily canceled by the speaker, nothing forced.”

“Are you sure the events happened the way you remember? Maybe you’re misremembering. Maybe you’re crazy. Your memory is fallible; trust our sources.” The goal is obviously to make you think that maybe there is enough evidence there to say that “some alleged she slept with X” is reasonable and objective.

Luckily we have many timelined archives. We have the logs of 8chan conspiring to attack Wikipedia. We know that Gamergate was an incredibly orchestrated and premeditated harassment campaign, astroturfed to pull in well-meaning but misguided people. At this point, if you’re still fighting for “ethics”, we all know why. We know it’s not about ethics, and anyone still pulling out that old line looks passé. People are bored of the refutations because the absurdity of the “ethics” line has been beaten into the ground. The real ethics conversations will continue.

So now Bernstein has reached what Kathy Sierra calls the Koolaid point, and predictably people are seeking to discredit him. So I’d like to clear up a few points:

Even though he was lazily referenced in the Guardian piece as a “writer and Wikipedia editor,” Bernstein is also one of the world’s leading researchers on hypertext and the Web. He humbly offers that he “added a few flourishes and touches” to hypertext structures, including visited links changing color, but really he was one of the pioneering voices that shaped how we write on the Web. He is an esteemed hypertext and web science researcher. He was the publisher behind eLit’s famous Eastgate School. His company Eastgate Systems, for which I was proud to work from 2009-2013, has been researching hypertext systems since 1982. 

He knows about digital culture.

On a personal level, Mark Bernstein is probably the most passionate person I’ve met on issues concerning the Open Web, hypertext as a form, and online communities. He cares deeply about women in computing. He cares deeply about computing in general.

Do I think he’s being hyperbolic in some of his claims? Sure. Lots of great writers employ rhetorical devices to make their points more clear—just ask Jonathan Swift. And like Clare Hooper, another highly-regarded Web Science researcher, I hope that he’s wrong when he says the Open Web can’t be fixed—recent harassment in the open source world isn’t promising—but it certainly won’t be if we uphold the current status quo:

“The proper balance between the competing narratives ‘she sleeps around’ and ‘there is no way that is any of our business’ is not ‘some sources have said she sleeps around.'”

Despite all of this, the positivity of the Global Game Jam this weekend has me feeling better about games than I have in months. Things are changing for the better, but we have to do the work.

Bernstein is doing the work.