As in a formal debate, all these rules can be marshaled to support a variety of conclusions about what should or should not be in an article about Sweden or donuts or somebody’s biography. In this case, the warring over Jeong became a proxy battle over the inclusion of any mention of the tweets.
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Some editors argued that Wikipedia should not act like a news site, trying to include up-to-the-minute updates. Others pointed out that dozens of news organizations, including gold-standard ones in the Wikipedia community like the BBC, had covered her tweets. Debate about the noteworthiness of the topic went on for days and thousands of words. Editors also discussed whether to flat-out call the tweets racist or to adopt some other adjective (inflammatory, perhaps). Eventually, hundreds of messages and proposals later, a temporary conclusion was reached, and the following text was added to Jeong’s biography:
In August 2018, Jeong was hired by The New York Times to join its editorial board as lead writer on technology, commencing in September. The hiring sparked a strongly negative reaction in conservative media and social media, which highlighted derogatory tweets about white people that Jeong had posted mostly in 2013 and 2014. Critics characterized her tweets as being racist; Jeong said that the posts were “counter-trolling” in reaction to harassment she had experienced, and that she regretted adopting that tactic. The Times stated that it had reviewed her social media history before hiring her, and that it did not condone the posts.
While Wikipedians were able to contain this particular explosion of the culture wars into a milquetoast paragraph, Wikipedia finds itself in a strange place these days. Founded amid the throbbing excitement of the first dot-com boom, it’s a shard of the utopian internet now embedded in the informational dystopia of present-day America.
Wikipedia came of a time when the web was new and its importance was still very much in doubt. The very idea that a bunch of randos on the internet could create a better encyclopedia than a team of professionals was mildly ludicrous, and yet the project went on, fueled by a faith in “the wisdom of crowds,” a phrase which no one has uttered about the internet for at least two years. And then, wouldn’t you know it, the damn thing worked! Tens of thousands of editors contributed. Articles became authoritative. Google and Google users began to prefer the Wikipedia link to any other source. Wikipedia is and was the living proof that an entirely new type of intellectual project could be created through decentralized, peer-to-peer organizing and good-faith individual effort. This was a cathedral of internet.
In other words, it was built on principles that have given way to the ephemeral, centralized, troll-rich internet it is not. Yet it endures, not withering, but becoming ever more central to people’s understanding of just about everything.