On April 14, 2011 the Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, member of the International Solidarity Movement, was kidnapped in Gaza. Author of the book “Gaza. Restiamo Umani”, translated into four languages, and collaborator of the newspaper “Il Manifesto”, Arrigoni was the only foreign reporter to describe on his blog Guerrilla Radio, started in 2008, the sufferance of Palestinian people living in Gaza.
The day after, April 15, the shocking and unexpected news about his murder quickly spread on the web. In few hours the Wikipedia’s English version dedicated him a paragraph in “Army of Monotheism and Holy War”. In the meantime, a regularly registered user created on Wikipedia’s Italian version the entry ‘Vittorio Arrigoni’ as a template, “providing only basic biographical information”. There was no time to edit or improve the article because an administrator, called Guidomac, decided to delete it immediately. The page disappeared.
Another user re-created it anonymously, but this time a patroller (a user responsible to check recent changes) decided that the article “should have been deleted outright”. On Wikipedia Village Pump many users questioned the decision and discussed whether the entry should be kept or not. An administrator proposed to “redirect it” – so the community could express an opinion by voting: “Articles to be deleted/Vittorio Arrigoni”. On Facebook, blogs and newspapers there were reactions of surprise and bewilderment, but things that Wikipedia deletes, or tries to delete, end up to be always amplified by the Net. The Italian activist’s life has been published everywhere as a sign of protest. It’s April 16. On the English version of Wikipedia users are already working on his biography, while on the Italian version an administrator suggests “to suspend the deletion process and wait for better times to come”. The entry remains there temporarily.
On April 18, 2011 during the Italian TV program “Potere” hosted by Lucia Annunziata on Rai3 channel, the Italian senator Roberto Castelli mentioned Wikipedia as a supporter of the theory that links Italian judges to communist ideology. “Here is what a young guy reads on Wikipedia when he looks for Magistratura Democratica”, Castelli stated delighted :“Among the associational institutions of the magistracy, Magistratura Democratica’s beliefs are mostly based on leftist ideologies […] that’s why in the past Magistratura Democratica had often something in common with the policy of the Communist Party and the extra-parliamentary left, parties like Rifondazione Comunista, Comunisti Italiani and left factions of the Democratic Party.”
Such description, not supported by any reliable source, included in the encyclopedia since 2007 and edited by a non-registered user (who also made other biased changes to entries like “Fabrizio Cicchitto”, “Enrico Berlinguer”, and “Gianfranco Fini”), has been corrected afterwards by some contributors. Nonetheless, “another problem that arises”, writes F. Mello on the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, is “the use of Wikipedia as a field of political battle instead of a ‘neutral’ source of knowledge.”
Of course fiery discussions and contents manipulation by some users are implied in the nature of a free encyclopedia. However, the question is why some pages have not been subjected to a procedure of patrolling that checks on recent changes like others have. Especially after the Magistratura Democratica’s issue and what happened to Vittorio Arrigoni’s page, it’s time to choose administrators and patrollers that are able to properly follow Wikipedia’s guidelines. They should judge any sort of content impartially and, above all, they should have a better knowledge on the subject before sentencing it to death.
«Sorry, I just wanted to point out that encyclopedic entries have been created for Roy Sullivan, the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being, for Shridhar Chillal the person with the longest fingernails in the world, and for Charles Osborne the man with the longest attack of hiccups. I think it is absurd to delete Arrigoni’s page without even knowing what is the reason. Let’s stick to the topic of records – Arrigoni has been the only Western person (out of a billion people) to inform the world about what was happening in Gaza during the Israeli operation.» [Romano-italico (msg) 18:09, April 16, 2011 (CEST)]
The (more or less official) reasons that brought to delete a page that at the time was accessed by several people are the following: “it is not encyclopedic”, “it suffers from recentism”, “it is not based on reliable sources”. On the Wikipedia Village Pump, during the discussion Inserire Vittori Arrigoni?, Guidomac, who already blacked out, among others, Meemi’s page, has been pointed out as an administrator that brings trouble. Nonetheless his position as administrator has always been confirmed. Guidomac himself said, “the page was deleted because it was promotional. Let’s stop thinking that all the pages deleted due to C4 are all deliberately non encyclopedic.” And again “That article, due to the way it was written, could not, and did not have the right to be on Wikipedia.”
Let’s have a look to the guidelines on this matter. Encyclopedicity “doesn’t necessarily mean public notoriety, but it does mean relevance of a subject in its own field, an importance that it had before being on Wikipedia. If the content of an article provides independent information relevant to those people interested in such subject, then the article can be generically considered encyclopedic.” Furthermore “international fame – someone says that Arrigoni’s “premature death” made him famous- “does not necessarily imply the article promotion and therefore its removal. Recentism can be considered a feature in the dynamic process of changing, it doesn’t have to be a negative aspect.” Furthermore, the cases of deletion should not involve drafts either “because even a very short entry might show important information. A badly written, badly formatted entry, based on inadequate sources, or an entry that does not provide a complete overview on the matter, can always be improved […] It is to say that the right treatment for such entries is not deletion, but correction.”
It is clear that administrators and patrollers, who are not omniscient and are not selected for specific merit, cannot always properly judge the value of an entry or a content. It is possible that some of them didn’t even know who Vittorio Arrigoni was. In this matter they also showed a confused knowledge of the guidelines (already complex themselves), and an improper use of Wikipedia’s tools. The first instant removal by Guidomac was in fact irregular. In these cases the deleted page shouldn’t be listed among the pages that have to be deleted. Usually it has also to be “strictly” applied to cases of copyright infringement, and blank, test, meaningless or offensive pages and trivial contents.
The request of instant removal by the patroller was irregular. They justify the removal by saying that “the page, previously deleted due to a decision of the community, was then re-edited without erasing the items that caused its removal”. However, before the first removal the community was not consulted in order to make the decision whether to erase it or not.
The ordinary removal request was irregular because the administrator didn’t follow Wikipedia’s recommendations on pages’ removals. He didn’t ask for a vote and he did not “warn the creator of the page or the user that mainly contributed to edit the contents” that the page was going to be deleted. Someone objected that if the creator is anonymous, the warning is not necessary. However, shouldn’t be the registered user, that edited most of the content, worn?
«If the chances that a procedure will lead to unattended results is lower than the chance to find a snowball in hell, then the procedure is useless.» [Wikipedia: Snowball clause]
The suspension of the deletion procedure of Vittorio Arrigoni’s entry and the subsequent suspension of vote have been undoubtedly extraordinary. The former is only possible when an article is patently encyclopedic, when a substantial improvement has to be done or in case the warning and removal rules have not been observed. The latter is only possible when the vote is started by a user without requirements or there is no reason to ask for the passage to an ordinary mode. In reality the Wikipedia’s system allows to elude any rule and stop any kind of procedure. And this is what happened to Arrigoni’s page, even if we make use of the Snowball Clause, which is an interpretation of the Fifth pillar: “Wikipedia has no hard-and-fast rules.”
The reason of such clause is that “Wikipedia is not a bureaucracy and it is nonsense for a user to start any sort of action against it […]. Not only the user has no chance to succeed but he’ll also waste his, and everybody else, time”. In any case the procedure had already been started and most of the votes ended up considering the “entry encyclopedic.” The rules about it are clear: “a content cannot be removed before the vote deadline”, not even if the votes are all pro or against the content, not even if the administrator suggests its suspension based on the following reasons: “Vanity fair, Il secolo XIX, Facebook, blogs are promoting an election campaign, which is the consequence of an outstanding Italian ignorance, that has still been able to alter the sense of this discussion […] the current procedure is clearly a farse. It’s nonsense to go on, and expose ourselves to scattershot damages and foolish press campaigns.”
The Election campaigns, for those who are not used to the Wikipedian terminology, consist of asking to other users to vote and take part into a discussion “with the aim to alter consensus in favour of the supported position.” That is what was happening, as some administrators stated, to Vittorio Arrigoni’s article: they said that people who were opposed to the article’s removal started a virtual campaign (by sending messages to their contacts) able to involve thousands of people in short time.”
“Diritto di Critica”, a newspaper about politics and current affairs, feels the same way. After praising the propriety of Wikipedia’s “regular users”, and defining all the started procedures as “a problem that is part of a well-established practice”, its conclusion is that everything could have been “solved in few days and without controversies” if Il Popolo Viola had not arisen the issue with its post “Why do they delete Vittorio Arrigoni from Wikipedia?” and if conspiracy theories would not have been formulated. Such interventions upset the regular development of the debate.
However on Wikipedia it is impossible, even during an election campaign, to stop an on-going procedure. Also, no one could have upset, altered, and distorted anything because only those who made the first change at least 30 days before and had at least 50 edits at the moment of the removal (which are basically the oldest contributors) could actually vote. Furthermore, anonymous users could not comment the voting because an administrator, due to the “massive amount of votes by non-registered users, strangely enough arrived all at once”, protected the page.
But in the voting page, before it was protected, and in the history (in which by the way there is no evidence of the feared vandalisms), it’s evident that only few non-registered users tried to vote, only a couple, maybe three, but certainly not dozens. Furthermore there is no evidence of their bad intentions. “Assume good faith” is one of Wikipedia’s basic principles. The preventive protection of the page however will erase some of the votes, the ones made by registered users without requirements. Paying attention to votes is a normal practice. In Arrigoni’s case, the vote were not so many to justify an alert and the closure of the voting in advance.
As for the “foolish press campaigns”, since the users that have been visiting Vittorio Arrigoni’s page found a big notice of its removal replacing the article, it was absolutely normal to foresee that the news on the matter would spread on the web like wildfire. It was obvious that, not the Wikipedia’s denigrators but those who keep considering it as an encyclopedia where “everybody […] can create or modify an article and see such changes published outright”, would become extremely upset. The notice of removal in fact implied that they have no chance to defend their articles, not with a vote nor with a simple comment.
However, as a regular user pointed out “the right to briefly comment a vote has always been granted”! It is legitimate to wonder why the Italian Wikipedia hosts an article about Rachel Corrie (an activist member of the ISM killed by an Israeli bulldozer) and does not allow the same treatment to Vittorio Arrigoni’s page (which is much more encyclopedic) but on the contrary quick and arbitrary ways to black it out have been immediately found.
Blaming external users for the Wikipedian chaos is always easy, and when the debate does not develop regularly it is usually “the conspiracy theories”’s fault. In any case, since the beginning the majority of users approved Vittorio Arrigoni’s article, even before voting. For this reason the opponents decided to remind everyone that “Wikipedia is not a democracy of the majority”.
For this reason Wikipedia’s primary way to seek consensus is through debating, and not voting! Since the beginning, administrators and patrollers preferred the removal and complex procedures (that the guidelines do not recommended even when used properly) to discussion. Wikipedia recommends to patrollers to be patient and available to others because entries are often written in a chaotic way, but improved and completed afterwards. The contents can always be improved, and for this reason patrollers should not be in a hurry to add entries within the articles that need to be deleted.
“Differently from some dirty work that you can do on wikipedia and for which there is no reward, who participates to the activity of RC patrolling gain the right to put the RC patrol badge on their user pages. Isn’t it enough?”[Wikipedia: RC_Patrolling]
“Diritto di Critica” also states: “To be precise, the aforementioned procedure was stopped on Wikipedia. The dispute around bytes is handed down to the posterity to be seen.”
To be even more precise, we would like to point out that the problem of “encyclopedicity” has been replaced by the impartiality of contents in the biography. The objective point of view, NPOV, is one of Wikipedia’s fundamental but also controversial concepts, because in this case admins and patrollers’ make often errors of judgment. On one side, for example, they forget that when someone expresses a personal point of view or a clear interpretation, like in Magistratura Democratica, “personal points of view have to be avoided […]. On the other side, they consider more objective to omit proven facts. The omission however could be as biased as a point of view. Vittorio Arrigoni’s kidnapping and death confirmed it.
It cannot be explained otherwise why during the following days some administrators considered that small biography’s corrections (refer to the 29th of April version) were aimed to support “conspiracy theories” on Arrigoni’s death, or “conspiracy theories in which Israel would be behind the murder” or aimed to “politically orient the article”. These administrators were the ones that already expressed a neutral “and certainly extremely questionable” point of view on the “Freedom Flotilla accident”.
Here some of the changes that have been made to the contents: “Highlighting that the activist was killed before the 30-hours deadline, by which the release of some Hamas prisoners was asked by the kidnappers in exchange of Arrigoni’s life”; Changing “abductors, a Salafist terroristic group… called ‘Tawhid wal-Jihad” into “members of the Salafist terroristic group ‘Tawhid wal-Jihad’ whose chiefs denied to be involved; Clarifying that “After receiving several death threats, he was abducted on April 14, 2011”; Saying that the author of such threats was not the Tawhid wal-Jihad group, as someone could have implied, but the Zionist site “stoptheism.com” that considered Arrigoni the first enemy of Israel, enemy to be eliminated. We don’t know how much the contents will keep changing in future.
What we know is that this description lacks of any reference to the identity of the kidnappers – once again, deleting seems to be better than correcting. Also the biography of the Italian activist has lately been changed substantially by the administrators, but only slightly by other users (see History Statistics).
All of this is to show that adding entries through the practice of patrolling does not do any good to the encyclopedia. Patrolling refers to a military action with arbitrary procedures, pages’ pre-emptive protections and ongoing and obsessive references to alleged conspiracies (it is not clear who hatches them, or against whom they are hatched). This kind of action is not only unhealthy for the encyclopedia but it also discourages both old Wikipedians and potential contributors.