According tomedia reports, Wikipedia’s article on the murder of George Floyd is described this way. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while white police officer Derek Zhouwen put his knee around his neck for nearly nine minutes while he lay in handcuffs in the street. “
Since Floyd’s murder on May 25, Wikipedia editors have recorded more than 466 protests in the United States and around the world related to the death of George Floyd. Some volunteers filmed the protests themselves, sparking an interesting debate about whether Wikipedia users should be eligible for a press card. Wikipedia user groups like AfroCROWD organized a challenge in the two weeks to June 19 to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of civil rights topics. The new Wiki project Black Lives Matter helps editors collaborate on pages for victims of police violence, as well as new pages such as “When the robbery starts, the shooting begins” and a list of Confederate and other monuments removed during the George Floyd protests.
All of these updates are the result of Wikipedia’s high-paced and fragmented editing process, which gives Internet encyclopedias an extraordinary ability to create and modify content based on current events. Knowledge production, at least in the Wikipedia sense, is partly cooperative, part lying. If the editors don’t agree, they withdraw each other’s contributions and vigorously debate the proposed changes on the conversation page after each article. With recent reports of George Floyd and other victims of police violence, these debates tend to focus on the correct interpretation of neutrality.
The neutral view is one of Wikipedia’s core policy, which is often described as non-negotiable. To the extent possible, the content of a website must be written without editorial bias in order to maintain the characteristics of the encyclopedia. Last week, the editorial community voted against a proposal to stop supporting Black Lives Matter sites, in part because of concerns that it could threaten Wikipedia’s reputation for neutrality. Wikipedia critics, such as co-founder Larry Sanger, argue that Wikipedia has completely abandoned neutrality in favor of left-leaning political bias, a story Fox News reported in May. Sanger is currently pushing a new project called Encyclopedia, one of several Internet encyclopedia projects he has been involved in since he left Wikipedia in 2002.
Editors interested in some of Wikipedia’s goals can use so-called project pages to coordinate with each other. For example, members of the WikiProject curling project co-wrote a sports article described as “Chess on Ice”. But a recent user nominated to remove the “Black Lives Matter” project page because it was a “non-neutral advocate.”
One supporter wrote: “There is a view that we are ‘neutral’. We’re not. The simple idea of ‘free knowledge’ is itself the most radical progressive idea ever thoughted in the human mind. In response, another editor replied: “Let’s try to be more neutral, not less neutral.” Also on Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’s user conversationpage page, the editor, known as Florida Army, lists several rejected black Wikipedia entries, including Thomas Cardozo, who was Mississippi’s education director during the reconstruction. Cardozo’s Wikipedia entry was rejected on May 2 on the grounds of his lack of fame, even though he was the only black man to hold the post so far. (The original rejection decision was later overturned, meaning you can now read about his turbulent political career in Cardozo’s Wikipedia entry.)
Neutrality has also become a hot topic in the debate about language, especially the name of the article itself. On June 2nd editors voted unanimously to replace “The Death of George Floyd” with “George Floyd Killed.” A few editors suggested that the word “death” sounded neutral. But the reason for more editors is that “killed” is a more factual term, and the most accurate description is a neutral definition. On the same day, it was proposed to change the name of the “Kill of George Floyd” page to “Murder of George Floyd” but was shut down by Wikipedia administrators El_C on the grounds of the program because the page had undergone several renames; Another Wikipedia administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the naming decision for “murder” was made El_C wrongly and may be revisited later).
In Wikipedia’s Biography of George Floyd, editors are debating whether to mention his previous criminal charges. Proponents of referring to Freud’s previous arrests argue that Wikipedia has not been censored, while opponents argue that highlighting this history on the page gives undue weight to the information because his criminal history has nothing to do with his May 25 killings. At the same time, visitors to the George Floyd biographical page can see the suggestion to incorporate this entry into the article “George Freud was killed” through a clear notice at the top of the page.
There has also been controversy over the use of the word “George Floyd Protest” in an article. The editor rejected the requests on the grounds that most reliable news sources did not call the protests riots riots. Although the riots were not part of the title, the current version of the “George Floyd Protests” page reads: “Demonstrations in some cities have turned into riots and widespread looting. “
Some Wikipedia users have disputed the word neutrality itself. The group includes Jackie Koerner. She is a social scientist who specializes in online communities and free knowledge movements. Koerner explains that she prefers the word balance to neutrality, and one of Wikipedia’s goals should be intellectual equity. When dedicated user groups like Black Lives Matter contribute to racial justice, they are helping Wikipedia identify historical blind spots and bring the project closer to balance.
On the other hand, some Wikipedia users believe that neutrality is more of a process than an end result. For example, the decision to rename the “Death of George Floyd” page as “George Floyd killed” was decided by the process of editorial consensus. Following this decision, Wikipedia editors went through the same discussion process and eventually changed the name “Eric Garner’s Death” to “Eric Garner’s Killing” to maintain consistency. It can be said that these changes are neutral, as they are made in accordance with Wikipedia’s established rules.
Butmedia argue that this rule-based neutrality view may not be as neutral as it seems. “Wikipedia contributors have begun to operate a neutral definition to suppress views beyond the views accepted by the community,” Koerner said in an email. Take Black Birds Week, an online event celebrating black naturalists and Birdman. The move was conceived in response to a racial incident in Central Park last month. Related to Black Birders Week, Wikipedia editors have created new articles about black bird-watching leaders, such as Ghana-born American activist Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, co-founder of the campaign. Despite reports about Opoku-Agyeman in media outlets such as The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the media coverage of her was only one-sided, so her Wikipedia page was not “spectacular enough,” according to the editor. Finally, more editors voted for Opoku-Agyeman to keep the article, and her page is still online. But the event itself shows how the concept of neutrality can be used by some factions to keep certain knowledge from being included in the encyclopedia.