14 votes

How Star Wars' biggest fan wiki found itself in a fight over trans identity


  1. Atvelonis
    Disclaimer: I do some contract work for Fandom. This is just my opinion. Good decision from the company to step in here. It's characteristic of wiki editors to become hyper-fixated on policy...
    • Exemplary

    Disclaimer: I do some contract work for Fandom. This is just my opinion.

    Good decision from the company to step in here. It's characteristic of wiki editors to become hyper-fixated on policy standardization either in and of itself or as a means to an end, in this case trans exclusion. This is partially a byproduct of the wiki model, which, on large, old, and complex wikis, lends itself to a ruleset that is extremely focused on particulars. Additionally, the procedural methods that established wikis use to make decisions are extremely democratic. A tweet cited in the article calls it an "insane consensus standard," although I think that's a bit of an oversimplification. A significant level of editor input on policy proposals is normally a good thing: most editorial decisions should not be made solely by administrators, who, admittedly, are often a little bit out of touch with what readers actually care about. And high voting thresholds for minute policy decisions can reduce the frequency of counter-productive "back-and-forth" decisions that we see in real-world politics, that, on a wiki, would create an enormous maintenance backlog and distract from more important tasks, like actual content documentation.

    But this is one of those circumstances where other wiki policies should allow staff members to overrule the minutiae: specifically, Wookieepedia's policies on anti-discrimination and administrative autonomy definitely give enough leeway to supersede the issue. Fandom's Terms of Use are also explicit about transphobia, and have been for some time. The company removes anti-LGBTQ+ content pretty regularly, and has been vocal about it, so even from the perspective of system-loving wiki editors, it's a little strange that this even came to a vote. With that said, administrators on many established wikis have actually designed their roles to have relatively little power, allowing themselves to be demoted by community consensus if necessary (usually requiring input from other admins, but not necessarily). I don't know what Wookieepedia's exact demotion policy is, but it wouldn't surprise me if administrators were hesitant to make an "executive decision" (even if it was enforceable under the TOU) because they were afraid that it could jeopardize their position to some extent, particularly if some other influential administrators were against it. This is the drawback of having a lot of accountability for administrators: it risks a certain "tyranny of the majority" in controversial situations like this. There isn't a whole lot that can be done in such moments except to appeal to the company via the community's assigned Wiki Representative. Evidently, this time, that process worked.

    As a long-time wiki administrator and bureaucrat myself, I have to say that the exact issue Wookieepedians were arguing over—out-of-universe names—should be fairly uncontroversial. In general, from what I've seen, OOU content is not treated with the same level of scrutiny as in-universe content in regard to fastidious quotation rules and such. There just isn't a good reason to aim for verbatim documentation when the "lore" isn't on the line. These are real people, and that's a very different dynamic than deadnaming a fictional character for historical reasons. I can see this happening elsewhere: my impression has always been that transphobia is at its strongest within gaming communities, which make up a big proportion of the wikis on Fandom. However, most aren't quite as intractable as Wookieepedia, so I wouldn't expect it to become a recurring issue—particularly given the action taken by Fandom themselves in this case, and given that the cultural tides seem to be turning in favor of trans people over time. On my "home" wiki, Elder Scrolls, I've compiled several instances of LGBTQ+ representation in the series (many thanks to Lady Nerevar); notice how many entries there are for The Elder Scrolls Online (2014), as opposed to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), for example. On my wiki and others, I would expect to see a reduction in such issues as those described in these articles in the future.

    7 votes