Ever since the start of Wikipedia, users have fought over what information should appear on its pages. And, because these pages can be edited by just about anyone, there have been numerous battles waged, with users adding and removing information at their will. Here are ten interesting Wikipedia edit wars that have gone down over the years.
Who’s more neurotic? Men or women? That’s the question that sparked an edit war on Wikipedia’s “Neuroticism” page back in 2017. A paragraph about neuroticism in men vs. women underwent edits and reversions, followed by more edits. The paragraph had a section that stated “that on average, women score moderately higher than men on neuroticism.” It was removed by an editor who said the section relied on a single source and was a “poor use of neutral voice,” according to an article published by Vice Media LLC. Minutes later, someone added the section back to the paragraph. Soon after, someone else changed the section of paragraph to read as follows: “Personality studies find that women score moderately higher than men on neuroticism, by approximately half of a standard deviation.”
According to Vice Media LLC, Wikipedia said in August 2017 that the page received more than six times the amount of page views it normally did. It topped out at 15,574 views on August 8. Between the 8th and the 9th, it had been edited 27 times. It typically received only about 4.2 edits per month.
9. Garfield the Cat
Have you ever wondered about Garfield the cat’s gender? Many people have, and they took to Wikipedia to hash it out. (I must admit that I’ve always wondered whether Tweety Bird was a boy or girl. Oops, hope I don’t start another Wikipedia edit war, LOL!) According to Mashable, the Garfield gender debate started when a Twitter user found an old Jim Davis (the creater of the Garfield comic strip) interview with Mental Floss that indicated the cat actually didn’t have a gender at all. The war went on for 60 hours. It was then that Wikipedia decided to lock the page, hoping the users would move on to something else.
Once word of the war made its way around to The Washington Post, the newspaper decided to get to find out the truth for themselves. They reached out to Davis who told them, “Garfield is male. He has a girlfriend, Arlene.”
8. Wikipedia Bots
Apparently, humans aren’t the only ones engaging in Wikipedia edit wars. Even Wikipedia bots are getting in on the action. According to Mental Floss, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2017 showed that artificially intelligent bots are some of Wikipedia’s “most relentless editors.” These wars can go on and on for years, and usually only end when one of the bots is taken out of commission. So, just how do these bot wars get started anyway? Well, when two bots’ algorithms contradict each another, they start undoing each other’s edits. Two bots, Xqbot and Darknessbot, waged war on over 3,269 articles between 2009 and 2010. And, the bots Tachikoma and Russbot engaged in an edit war that went on for two years. They changed over 1,000 revisions the other had made on topics such as the UK’s demographics and Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “The pages that sparked the most bot-on-bot conflict overall were those for former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Arabic language,” Mental Floss said in an article published on its website.
7. Jimmy Wales
No topic is safe from a Wikipedia edit war–including the birthday of Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales. According to PC World, it was when Wales decided that “he didn’t want to commit his birth date to the annals of Wikipedia and removed his name from the edit that pinned his age down forever” that an edit war broke out. We’re not exactly sure how this war went down, but what we do know is that Wales himself even edited his biography a few times–18 times in one year to be exact! According to The Guardian, his biography had the wrong birthday for a long time. “They got it from Britannica,” Wales said, as reported by The Guardian. “And Britannica got it wrong.”
6. The Bachelor
According to Slate, the finale of ABC’s The Bachelor, spawned a “brutal” Wikipedia edit war. After Arie Luyendyk, Jr. broke off his engagement with Becca Kufrin, “the edits came fast and came brutal throughout the evening,” Slate wrote in an article published on its website. One user altered Luyendyk’s page’s introductory section so that it read, “He is worse at being the bachelor than he was at being a race car driver. America hates him.” Another user referred to him as Arie “The Snake” Luyendyk, Jr. and called him “incredibly indecisive.” Then, someone else referred to him as “The Dirty Rotten Snake.” The war waged on for hours until a Wikipedia administrator put the page under protected status for an entire week.
5. Edina, Minnesota
Edina, MN is known for its racist past–and that is exactly what started this Wikipedia edit war. According to The Star Tribune, Amarin Young, an African American student at the University of Illinois, added information about Edina’s racist past to the city’s Wikipedia page eight times in 2014, and each time the same anonymous user removed the information. “Sometimes my edits were removed within hours of being put up,” she told The Star Tribune. “It’s still difficult to document the history of racial exclusion, even in online spaces that are celebrated as inherently liberatory,” she added. The changes Young made to the Wikipedia page were part of an assignment for her African-American studies class.
4. Paul Ryan
Whoever knew that a yearbook superlative could end up sparking a debate on Wikipedia? That’s exactly what happened when Paul Ryan was chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate back in 2012. According to The Atlantic, Ryan’s classmates voted him as “biggest brown noser” when he was in high school. So, the first edit to his page was the removal of the “brown noser” mention. But, of course it didn’t stop there. Just as soon as one user removed it, another user put the mention back in. Then, another user removed it again, saying that it had nothing to do with his qualifications as Romney’s running mate. We’re not sure how many times it was edited, but what we do know is that the “brown noser” mention was eventually put back in before being removed permanently–or at least for the moment anyway.
3. George W. Bush
It’s no secret that George W. Bush wasn’t necessarily America’s favorite president–not the worst, but not the country’s favorite either. That’s probably why his Wikipedia page was the most edited some years ago. According to The Hill, it was the most edited page in 2004 and again in 2005. And, by January 2016, it had been edited 45,862 times–the most edits of any English language page in the website’s entire history! Many of the edits were in reference to his public perception as well as his controversial foreign policy in the wake of 9/11. Some wars even broke out over his painting hobby he took up after leaving the Oval Office.
2. Potato Chips
Well, this conflict wasn’t exactly over potato chips. It was about how to spell the word “flavor”–or “flavour” if you’re English. According to Vox, there were both Americans and Britains who laid claim to the invention of the potato chip (several sources say the potato chip was invented in New York). But, since both were laying claim to it, the argument was that the word “flavor” should be spelled the way the potato chip’s country of origin spells it. The conflict was resolved in an interesting way, however. According to Vox, Andrew Lih, a journalism professor and author of The Wikipedia Revolution, said the solution was to use the word “seasoned” instead.
Man has been fighting over religion ever since, well, the dawn of man. So, it’s no surprise that a Wikipedia edit war would break out over it. An article published by the National Catholic Reporter in 2014 said that religion was one of the top altered topics on Wikipedia. It’s not uncommon for editors to portray their own religion in a positive light while painting a negative picture of religions they don’t follow, the newspaper also said. In 2009, for example, some editors were writing disparaging remarks about Scientology. Its supporters worked hard to remove the negative remarks while adding positive remarks of their own.
In another example, a user who went by the name Duke53 went out of his way to make sure everyone knew about a sensitive subject among Mormons–sacred underwear. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the user “added images to as many articles as possible, including to Wikipedia articles such as ‘Clothing’ and ‘Church etiquette,’ regardless of whether the images were relevant.”
Have you ever engaged in a Wikipedia edit war? Tell us about it in the comments below. Thanks for reading!