Editor's note: This article has been significantly revised post-publication to correct for factual errors in the original version.*
She got into the habit of Googling her username, just in case. That’s how, earlier this year, a Wikipedia editor who goes by the username Lightbreather discovered that someone was posting images on a pornographic website and falsely claiming they were her. (The images were linked to her username; Lightbreather has been careful to make sure that no one on Wikipedia knows her real name.) A Google search of the poster’s username led her back to one of her fellow editors.
The photos were only the latest of several incidents of harassment. In 2014, Lightbreather made a request to the Wikipedia administrators: a space on the site to discuss ways to enforce Wikipedia’s civility policy, one of the site’s “five pillars” which says editors should always “treat each other with respect and civility.” In a page set up to discuss Lightbreather’s request, the user Eric Corbett, who has at times been blocked from editing the site, told her, “The easiest way to avoid being called a cunt is not to act like one.”**
Soon after, Lightbreather was invited to join the Gender Gap Task Force, a project by Wikipedia editors to examine why so few women participate on the site and why there’s a lack of coverage of notable women. A few days after she joined, she says, a male editor who had expressed support for Corbett’s comments against Lightbreather began popping up on the task force’s discussion page—and others soon followed. The male editors would “show up [in online discussions] and say stuff like, ‘Well, show us evidence that there is a gender gap,’” Lightbreather said, even though Wikipedia’s article on its own gender gap states that between 84 and 91 percent of editors are male, and that the imbalance “contributes to the systemic bias in Wikipedia.” She quit the task force a few days later.