Wikipedia People Articles Now Moderated

Wikipedia is implementing a new policy requiring that changes to articles about living people be approved by moderators before going live, essentially abandoning the wiki model.

The new feature, called “flagged revisions,” will require that an experienced volunteer editor for Wikipedia sign off on any change made by the public before it can go live. Until the change is approved — or in Wikispeak, flagged — it will sit invisibly on Wikipedia’s servers, and visitors will be directed to the earlier version.

The change is part of a growing realization on the part of Wikipedia’s leaders that as the site grows more influential, they must transform its embrace-the-chaos culture into something more mature and dependable.


“We are no longer at the point that it is acceptable to throw things at the wall and see what sticks,” said Michael Snow, a lawyer in Seattle who is the chairman of the Wikimedia board. “There was a time probably when the community was more forgiving of things that were inaccurate or fudged in some fashion — whether simply misunderstood or an author had some ax to grind. There is less tolerance for that sort of problem now.”


Although Wikipedia has prevented anonymous users from creating new articles for several years now, the new flagging system crosses a psychological Rubicon. It will divide Wikipedia’s contributors into two classes — experienced, trusted editors, and everyone else — altering Wikipedia’s implicit notion that everyone has an equal right to edit entries.

This will slow down the addition of breaking news — a death or some other hot item — to the site but otherwise likely won’t have much in the way of negative effects.  And, certainly, the ability to create mischief is greater for a public figure than, say, the entries on aardvarks or moon rocks.

Presumably, however, this will make it more difficult to add biographies of marginally famous people .  Some years back, for example, there was a hubbub over whether Megan McArdle was sufficiently noteworthy to merit an entry.     This will make Wikipedia more like a traditional encyclopedia, which is a mistake.  The Internet is essentially infinite, so there’s little reason to limit the scope of topics in the same way that the editors of a dead tree set do.  One of the beauties of the wiki model was that it allowed the development of a rich database of knowledge of interest to niche users.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    This will make Wikipedia more like a traditional encyclopedia, which is a mistake.

    A mistake that’s very well grounded in defamation law, however. Can’t say I blame ’em.

  2. Furhead says:

    I think this might be a reasonable compromise. While I don’t necessarily like the limits placed on whether people are “famous enough”, there was a certain credibility problem with many people. I remember a rant by Colin Cowherd on sports radio where he encouraged users to make up stuff about him on Wikipedia, with the sole intention of demonstrating how stupid he thought a user-generated encyclopedia was.

    One might wonder if we’re on a slippery slope and our new Wikipedia overlords will start dictating everything. It’s a good question, but as JJ notes, it’s unlikely to spill into articles about aarvarks.