by James P. Persica
How much do Wikipedia articles influence the way in which their corresponding topics are perceived by the general public? The Wikipedia article for the men’s rights movement seems to be well referenced, with 155 sources in total. This is not far from the 236 sources used in the article for the feminist movement, a considerably older civil rights movement that certain Wikipedia editors often compare to the men’s rights movement. There are problems with this particular comparison, namely that their theories, methods, and history, are entirely different. Still, it is the criticism of the article that comes up most frequently. However, there have been complaints within websites associated with the movement that articles such as this are biased against them. Writing for A Voice for Men, a publication considered to be particularly influential within the movement, Canadian men’s rights activist John Hembling referred to Wikipedia moderators and admins as “censors”, claiming that a “rewriting [of] reference material to obscure and minimize the topic of that reference material” had taken place. Similarly, Dean Esmay, managing editor of A Voice for Men, again attacked Wikipedia, referring to it as “Orwellian” in an article titled “Fighting Wikipedia Corruption & Censorship”.
He went on to write:
One of the areas where [censorship] is an acute problems [sic] is Wikipedia’s grossly discriminatory practices on men’s rights issues; they tromp the Men’s Human Rights perspective whenever possible, while bending over backwards to accommodate Gender Feminist ideologues. These feminist ideologues frequently and often hatefully tromp dissent and insert gynocentric gender ideology all over Wikipedia, poisoning much of Wikipedia’s content.
A Voice for Men write themselves a Wikipedia entry
This particular article by Esmay was published a few months after he created a Wikipedia article for A Voice for Men himself, a potential breach of Wikipedia rules concerning conflict of interest, an issue which he duly acknowledged at the time in the edit summary at the top of the page. A day later, he declared his position on the article talk page, stating “I am Managing Editor of this publication, it would be better if a neutral Wikipedian were in charge of this page”. However, aside from some structural changes, like the addition of an infobox, the main text of the article is largely the same at the time of writing as it was at its creation, meaning that it must have somehow escaped the “gynocentric gender ideology” that Wikipedia is supposedly infested with, unless Esmay wrote the article with this in mind.
In comparison, there have been multiple attempts by editors to remove mentions that A Voice for Men has been referred to as “misogynist”, something that Esmay himself included in his original write up. Indeed, in response, one editor asked: “Can we please prevent editors too close to the subject from hiding the issues A Voice for Men covers which they don’t want shared with the public?” Considering that these accusations of misogyny are well sourced, including articles by The New York Times, ABC and The Huffington Post, it seems that, if anything, it is those who align with A Voice for Men who are attempting censorship.
Activist editing by Dean Esmay
Masculist defenders would note that most self-described Feminists are white, middle class women who claim that being women makes it difficult for them to cope in a “man’s world,” and object to being stereotyped as haters simply due to their belief that males are often given the short end of the stick in Western society.
He then removed content stating that feminism exists outside of the Western countries, justifying it with the explanation that:
Feminism as a political force is practically nonexistent outside of Western nations, and men in other nations have their own hardships that masculists feel are also elided and dismissed wrongly.
This is peculiar, as feminism clearly does exist outside of Western nations, such as in postcolonial feminism and transnational feminism. Would stating otherwise in that article affect the way that people understand feminism? Possibly, if they didn’t read further on the subject. Regardless, it is likely that this generalisation concerning the race and social position of “most self-described” feminists may have passed Wikipedia’s policy for neutral point of view, which states that “opinions should not be stated in Wikipedia’s voice”, as Esmay structured his inclusion in a way that puts the words in the mouth of masculists. The problem is that, as it is unreferenced, the opinion is most likely his own.
Members of the men’s rights movement have been editing a number of hot-button articles on Wikipedia since the site’s inception in 2001. One example is a section about a men’s rights forum within the article on Controversial Reddit communities. It includes information concerning its listing by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a misogynistic website, its doxxing of a feminist blogger, and hundreds of false rape reports made by the forum in protest of a US college’s rape report system which allowed victims to post anonymously. Multiple attempts have been made to remove this section of the article after some links were made to it from within the forum, and a deletion attempt was put forward by an editor who is on the men’s rights movement article probation list. Again, the contributors were far less concerned with rewriting Wikipedia content to better follow its sources than removing an entire section of well-sourced information.
Activist editing by David Usher
Dean Esmay is not the only notable member of the men’s rights movement to dabble in a spot of editing on Wikipedia. In late 2006, David Usher, legislator for the American Coalition for Fathers and Children and president of the Center for Marriage Policy, began to contribute to an earlier version of the men’s rights movement article. His efforts largely consisted of making assertions that the movement “opposes same-sex marriage”, posting a lengthy explanation of why exactly this is on the article talk page, stating that “the only men who support same sex marriage in my experience are feminist men, who are not legitimate participants in the men’s rights movement”. He later received criticism from the press for repeating these exact same views in an opinion column:
Forget the adjectives “same sex” and “gay” marriage. These are victim-based marketing ploys invented by NOW to send us off into a heated debate about homosexuality and equal rights – distracting us from seeing their real goal of establishing “feminist marriage.”
Usher’s activist edits to Wikipedia provide a good illustration of what can – and will – go wrong on a site that presents itself as a neutrally-written encyclopedia while allowing anyone to participate. In this case, “neutrality” won the day, given that the only available sources for for Usher’s claims were those written by himself, and were therefore not considered reliable.
When criticism is reliably sourced
When the only reliable sources available for a topic are largely critical of it, be it to document that demographic’s spreading of perceptibly misogynistic content or taking it to task for publishing sensitive information about their political opponents as in the case of Paul Elam’s anti-feminist hate site Register-Her, it may be considered necessary to include such content in the topic’s Wikipedia entry. If there is no acknowledgement that these issues exist, then the topic is not covered adequately. Of course, in this context, efforts by members of the men’s rights movement such as John Hembling and Dean Esmay to denounce Wikipedia as censored or biased are also perfectly understandable.
As for removing references to press articles, the Wikipedia guideline for identifying reliable sources states “Whether a specific news story is reliable for a specific fact or statement in a Wikipedia article will be assessed on a case-by-case basis”. When multiple sources assess the same thing about a movement, then it must have due weight. Last month, A Voice for Men held an International Conference on Men’s Issues. The media coverage was largely negative, including articles by Jessica Roy of TIME magazine, Adam Serwer of MSNBC, and Monica Hesse of The Washington Post. Although other news outlets covered the event, the above mentioned publications have a reputation for being particularly above-board, making them likely to qualify as “reliable sources” for Wikipedia. Therefore, it is telling that, in response to them, A Voice for Men published what can only be described as character assassination articles on all three journalists: “Unprofessional reporting from TIME Magazine’s Jessica K. Roy”, “Rage-Filled, Unprofessional Adam Serwer Embarrasses MSNBC & Now With Alex”, and “Monica Hesse of The Washington Post: Anatomy of a Hatchet Job”. There is no way of knowing for sure what the exact intention of these articles was, but, considering the tone and inclusion of personal photographs of the journalists, I would assume the intent to intimidate in the event of future journalists’ articles about A Voice for Men. Again, there are parallels between this and censorship, as journalists are less able to discuss subjects freely.
It would probably be safe to assume that an organisation such as A Voice for Men has no discernible influence within academia, which is the gold standard for sourcing on Wikipedia. Thus, news reports, such as the ones mentioned above, make up the majority of the publications quoted for its entry.
It is unlikely that Dean Esmay would have created a Wikipedia article for A Voice for Men if he hadn’t assumed that his organisation deserved a place within the encyclopaedia, despite the fact that the coverage on A Voice for Men in reputable publications is on a par with that about white nationalist groups and journals such as The Occidental Quarterly. These thoughts inspire an important question for “The Project”. Is it possible to be uncritical in coverage when the subject of the article itself is so controversial that its actions inspire fear among, or condemnation by, news reporters?
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons/Flickr/Gwydion M. Williams ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic