For nearly as long as the antifeminist culture war known as Gamergate has raged across the internet, a microcosm of the battle has taken place on Wikipedia. Should Gamergate defined as a push for ethics in gaming journalism, or a paranoid campaign against women in gaming? This week, Wikipedia's highest court made a major decision in favor of the former.
If the phrase "Wikipedia's highest court" surprises you, you're probably not alone. Theoretically, the free encyclopedia is a purely democratic operation—anyone can edit Wikipedia, after all—but there is a byzantine and largely unseen hierarchy that governs disputes among editors, culminating in a Supreme Court-style panel called the Arbitration Committee. The committee's latest decision: to punish a group of five editors who fought to maintain a Gamergate page that presented the "controversy" largely as an assault on women—that is, who fought to present Gamergate as it actually is.
Mark Bernstein, a blogger and Wikipedia editor, notes that the so-called "Five Horsemen" were not only barred from contributing to Gamergate articles, but from any articles relating to "gender or sexuality, broadly constructed." By contrast, the only pro-Gamergate users punished by the committee, Bernstein writes, were "disposable accounts created specifically for the purpose of being sanctioned."
Yesterday, ArbCom announced its preliminary decision. A panel of fourteen arbitrators – at least 11 of whom are men – decided to give GamerGate everything they'd wished for. All of the Five Horsemen are sanctioned; most will be excluded not only from "Gamergate broadly construed" but from anything in Wikipedia touching on "gender or sexuality, broadly construed."
By my informal count, every feminist active in the area is to be sanctioned. This takes care of social justice warriors with a vengeance — not only do the GamerGaters get to rewrite their own page (and Zoe Quinn's, Brianna Wu's, Anita Sarkeesian's, etc.); feminists are to be purged en bloc from the encyclopedia. Liberals are the new Scientologists as far as Arbcom is concerned.
The episode punches a neat a hole in the idea that Wikipedia is a neutral and democratic platform. The Wikipedian community is something like 90 percent male, and if Bernstein's numbers are correct, its highest ruling body has a similar demographic makeup. That the world's seventh-most popular website would look at Gamergate and decide that what's needed is a silencing of feminist perspectives is depressing, but it's hardly surprising.