By Freya Panache
In late October of 2013, we published a blog post about the sorry state of the Wikipedia article on the brassiere. The Wikipedia article was bloated, full of questionable information, and packed with unnecessary images. That blog post spurred editors to take action and fix some of the problems.
The bra article was over 130 kilobytes of text in October 2013. After the clean-up, it fell to around 82 kilobytes and stayed reasonably stable until this summer. Now, the article is back over 100 kilobytes and nearly as bad as it was a couple of years ago. How did this happen? The answer is simple — no one stopped it from happening.
A history lesson
According to these statistics, 1721 separate editors have made a combined total of 4555 edits to the brassiere article in the past 12 years. Almost half of those (48.2%) were anonymous editors. The average editor has made 2.65 edits. The top editor, Michael Goodyear, has made 549 edits. Most of those were in 2006. His last edit to the article was in 2012.
The second most prolific editor of the article is Btphelps, who made 531 edits. I’ll come back to him later.
In fourth place, editor Stephen Burnett. All of his 106 edits were in 2006 or 2007.
Down in seventh place with 58 edits is Altstikman. Altstikman is a sockpuppet account of Btphelps, which means that between the two accounts, he actually made more edits than anyone else. Btphelps is the reason that the bra article is sliding back to where it was a couple of years ago.
The Gender Gap
When people talk about “the gender gap” on Wikipedia, it is sometimes suggested that female editors would be more inclined to edit topics are are traditionally associated with women. Like clothes, for example. Not in this case. None of the top editors of Wikipedia’s article on bras are female. Presumably, none of them wear bras on a regular basis. It would be wrong, however, to say that their interest in bras is not personal.
Btphelps, for example, seems to be an advocate of bralessness. We can assume that this is not based on a preference to go braless himself. What better way to convince women to go braless than by packing Wikipedia with “studies” about how bras cause back pain and increase sagging of the breasts? Guess who the main contributor to Wikipedia’s article on breast sagging is? That’s right, it’s Btphelps. (Altstikman is fourth, incidentally).
Anyone can edit
The article on bras is not unique. Many Wikipedia articles are controlled by a single editor or a small group of editors with an agenda. Occasionally, something will draw the attention of the wider community and the article will be brought back to a more reasonable state, but then the community loses interest. Things may be fine for a little while, but then the editors with an agenda simply pick up where they left off.
Persistence pays off on Wikipedia. Outlasting your opponents is one of the key ways of getting your point of view to stay in an article. Most people don’t want to police articles for months on end to ensure that no one has put something back in that was previously removed. Unless they have a counter-agenda, which is actually what keeps most Wikipedia articles in some sort of rough balance. If you don’t really care whether tree shaping is called “tree shaping” or “arborsculpture“, you would have to be crazy to get involved in such a debate. This is why articles will tend to degrade over time, rather than improve. Lacking actual “editors” with responsibility for the quality of articles, editors with agendas will tend to overwhelm neutral editors simply by being more persistent.
Congratulations, Btphelps, your persistence paid off.