The Wikipedia battle over the death of Margaret Thatcher

Good piece in the New Statesman looking at what happened on Wikipedia in the hours after the death of Margaret Thatcher was officially announced on Monday.

A battle of editors broke out on the site with almost 80 edits in the hour following the news breaking. Maybe it is no surprise that many who had previously not been heavy Wikipedia editors all wanted to jump in and add something. 

So many changes were being made that Wikipedia took the decision to protect the page and gave it “semi-protected” status, which is something that it does for pages that are prone to attacks and malicious editing. Margaret Thatcher’s page was clearly going to be one of those.

Even with semi protected status, sniping was ongoing over the kind of detail and entries that should or should not be included.

For instance, the New Statesmen reports that a section headlined “Reactions to her death” was introduced at 12:22, but gone by 12:50. A senior editor added the note “please do not add tributes from around the world. It is unnecessary and clutters the article”.

Then came a revision not about a section detailing the former prime minister’s decline and it was deemed that “we don’t need a separate section for this [‎Illness and death], and we need to make sure this doesn’t degenerate into a book of condolences”.

However, people tried to do this anyway, with editors adding responses from critics such as Alex Salmond and then out went the statement from Bulgarian Premier Marin Raykov.  His statement was rejected with the note: ”bullshit, poorly sourced, badly written”. Ouch.

In the final analysis, Wikipedia is not a breaking news site and doesn’t work well when too many editors battle each other as any journalist will tell you:

“In the end, Thatcher’s death wasn’t a time for Wikipedia to shine. The basic facts of the situation were established early on, and the only deeper piece of information – that she had died in bed in the Ritz hotel – had arrived within four hours (although it was shortly removed because it didn’t have a source cited). The urge to grow the article didn’t lead to a deeper haul of information, but just squabbling edit wars over which piece of irrelevant data to include next.

But in its own quiet way, Wikipedia proved its worth yet again. Just a day after her death was announced, the article has a detailed section on her death and legacy; the edit wars are quieting down; and a new article, on theDeath and funeral of Margaret Thatcher, has been created. What’s left is left for the future,” the New Statesman reports.