Wikipedia isn’t perfect, and inherently it can never be. While the arguments about “is it as good as Encyclopædia Britannica?” obscure the fact that it’s at least good enough to warrant the comparison, there’s a broad gulf between the misguided “let’s find out the answer on Wikipedia,” and the more realistic “let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about it.” In other words, I continue to believe that it’s rarely the right place to find a definitive answer—but it’s usually a good place to get a decent first impression, and often that’s enough.
Wikipedia also feeds the know-it-all in me. But that’s neither here nor there.
As a Spartan and self-appointed member of the Michigan WikiProject, I feel it incumbent within myself to keep a close eye on any article relating to my alma mater, Michigan State University. Among my contributions I’ve created articles on Walter Adams and John Clough Holmes (the latter requiring only minor Wikipedia-style rearrangement to achieve “Good Article” status), and added substantially to another, now-Good article on my man, Sparty.
Mostly, though, I’ve defended against vandalism, which in the case of MSU-related articles usually comes in the form of half-literate, homophobic attacks by supporters of rival schools. It’s frustratingly never-ending, and personally I think Wikipedia’s “everyone can edit” policy needs some adjustment, especially when it comes to the crouching masturbators who hide behind anonymous IP addresses.
What I really wanted to talk about here was how Wikipedia’s well-intentioned policies can be manipulated by editors to suit their own agendas, for better or worse. Working within the bounds of policy, I managed to exert my will and influence—if not my outright point of view—through a progression of edits on Beaumont Tower.
Beaumont Tower is one of the most important structures on MSU’s campus. It is one of the school’s primary symbols, along with College Hall, the “first building for the teaching of scientific agriculture in the United States” that appears on the Great Seal of MSU and upon which site the tower stands. (And, of course, Sparty.) Beaumont Tower is, in many ways, the heart of the campus.
So it struck me as odd when I looked at its Wikipedia article in June 2007 and found a significant portion was taken up by commentary on its “creepy nighttime appearance” along with mentions of two local, independent films that would use the tower as a filming location and plot point. This seemed both non-neutral and horribly tangential to me, and I felt it detracted from the main topic.
The section on one of the films, The Lurking, continued to expand, and by September 2007 I decided it needed to go away. Yet I was reluctant to simply delete information from Wikipedia—without just cause, this constitutes vandalism, something I prefer to defend against rather than initiate. So I created a new page, “The Lurking (film),” moved the section about that film to there, and left a “See Also” link on the Beaumont Tower page.
This seemed a reasonable compromise to me, and the fact that it wasn’t reverted signifies that it was a good edit. Since I had created it, the Lurking page was automatically added to my watchlist, and I left it there out of curiosity.
Over the next several months, I found that the Lurking page was receiving periodic updates telling of the current status of the project: “Shooting wrapped for the fall,” “Filming will continue up north in the spring,” etc. By November 2007 the film’s article had very little to do with Beaumont Tower, and I removed the “See Also” link from that page. No one minded.
Soon enough, the Beaumont Tower article was free from mention of either independent film. Rightly so. The producers of both were attempting to raise publicity by tying them to the well-known tower, and this is not an appropriate use of Wikipedia.
Still, the Lurking page remained on my watchlist, out of inertia if for no other reason. By early March 2008, it had gradually turned into little more than a publicity blog for the film. The majority of its edits were dated entries that read like a production schedule. The plot description was meager, and the film looked no closer to completion. Most of all, the article completely lacked any references to independent sources about its subject, meaning it was “non-notable” according to Wikipedia’s policy on notability. I decided that the entire article no longer belonged on Wikipedia (if indeed it ever did).
So I tagged the article for deletion. This is a simple process with a handful of steps, but mostly entails adding a template tag to the article itself, which opens a five-day window for commentary and/or edits to address the article’s failings—which I stated as its non-notability, and the fact that “it reads like a publicity blog.”
In the deletion process, the contributor who tags an article for deletion is expected to alert the creator of the article to that fact, both as a courtesy and as fair warning. In this case, the funny thing was that I was the creator of the article I was asking to have deleted. Thus there was no need to alert myself. (It occurs to me now that asking to delete my own creation might add weight in favour of deletion.)
Still, in the interest of fair play I looked through the edit history in search of other contributors who might have an interest in the article. As it turns out, I was the only registered user to have edited the page—every other edit had been done from a succession of anonymous IP addresses.
Five days came and went without a single edit to the page, and immediately after the deadline passed, the article titled “The Lurking (film)” vanished, almost without a trace. A link on the disambiguation page for “The Lurking” turned red since it pointed to a non-existent article, so I deleted that. About the only place it seems to remain is in my watchlist, where it is also a redlink. If the page is recreated with the same title, I’ll know about it—although I’ll likely leave it alone. That is, as long as it doesn’t read like it was cribbed from the producer’s clipboard.