wiki.mess

What’s Happening with the LGBTQIA+ Wiki?

Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week (ASAW), also known as Aro Week, commences this week, running from February 20 through February 27. The purpose of the recognition period, besides celebrating and highlighting aromantic people, is to bring awareness to the fact that some people have very little romantic desires — if any at all. It’s also an annual opportunity to recognize the existence of the romantic orientation spectrum, just as there is a sexual orientation spectrum, which is rarely represented or defined in media and LGBTQ+ community spaces.

But just in time for Aro Week, people found that the LGBTA Wiki — a completely publicly-sourced online encyclopedia of information on the LGBTQ+ community — no longer had articles on nearly any aromantic topics. It turns out, there were many articles on the LGBTA Wiki that were gone, seemingly without notice.

This discovery by several different online users caused a significant frenzy throughout the queer internet over the last week. People began wondering, where did a majority of the source that people had cited for years — and thousands would visit regularly to understand queer terms, download flags, or provide information about queer history online — suddenly go?

Turns out, the deletion had been known and discussed for weeks prior online. The operator of the hosting service which the LGBTA Wiki was based on — Fandom — had decided to shut down the community-sourced, volunteer-ran version in favor of LGBTQIA+ Wiki: their own version, without any input or guidance from the previous Wiki.

(The wiki that was formerly hosted on Fandom became known as the “LGBTA Wiki” due to its most prominent domain name, LGBTA.wikia.org. It is referred to as LGBTA Wiki throughout this article — as operators of the site have referred to it as — and LGBTQIA+ Wiki in this article refers to the Fandom-operated wiki now in its place at lgbtqia.fandom.com.)

The decision was made and communicated by Fandom staff at least a month ago, and despite evidence by several people online to save and preserve what many view as vital and irreplaceable resources for LGBTQ+ information, Fandom followed through with their pledge last week. A Change.org petition amassing 2,800 e-signatures, and dozens of messages from Fandom contributors and administrators, did not deter them.

While Fandom’s LGBTQIA+ Wiki launched on January 22, most of the LGBTA Wiki appears to have been archived or unpublished around February 15. The link to the latter wiki remained available for some time after, although there were little to no articles available after. That domain now redirects to the new LGBTQIA+ Wiki.

Other queer wikis hosted on Fandom were also unpublished in favor of the new, company-created version as part of the “merge.” Compared to the nearly ten thousand pages of information known to have existed on multiple queer wikis hosted on Fandom, the new LGBTQIA+ Wiki has 139 as of this writing.

For many queer people and their community, the widely available, freely accessible, and widespread inclusiveness of the LGBTA Wiki was important — and arguably invaluable, to them and their online experience. Countless people learned about terms, popular or otherwise, on this wiki for the first time.

The operators of the LGBTA Wiki were not exempt from controversy themselves, even prior to Fandom opting for their own version. For years, that wiki and discussions held on it regularly became fodder for queer people throughout the internet, especially for anti-trans, truscum (people who believe gender dysphoria or medical treatment are essential to being transgender) or “xenogender cringe” communities online (xenogender meaning genders beyond current societal norms or widely used terms, and “xenogender cringe” people identifying as those who don’t support them.)

The LGBTA Wiki was often accused of anti-Blackness and lesbophobia in their editorial decisions, including last summer when their inclusion of definitions for mspec (multi-sexual spectrum; attracted to multiple genders) lesbian terms led to backlash and people arguing the terms amounted to lesbian erasure. A Change.org petition advocating against articles like those amassed more than 7,000 signatures.

The new LGBTQIA+ Wiki is attracting criticism and controversy in its place for appearing to be exclusionary of the identities, terms, and contributions of past wikis. Although Fandom has referred to their actions as a “merger,” very little is similar between the new, singular wiki and previous ones.

The Tumblr account @LGBTAWiki has renamed its title “LGBTA Wiki Part 2: This time it’s worse!” and its biography states “Formerly this blog was for LGBTA Wiki critique. However, in light of actions being done by FANDOM itself, it is being shifted to discussion of the ‘LGBTQIA+ Wiki,’ a counterfeit wiki that is a million times worse. We live in the worst timeline.”

The past LGBTQA Wiki operators have migrated their version of the site to Miraheze, a free and non-profit wiki hosting service that is home to over 5,000 online encyclopedias.

How many other queer wikis — which included at least one other popular wiki known as “EZGender,” created and led by one individual under the same name online — were affected by the “merger” is not clear. A post by a Fandom staff member previously stated EZGender was initially exempt from the closing of wikis, but the creator subsequently shut it down and also migrated to an existing wiki on Miraheze.

Fandom began as a wiki hosting service co-created by Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, in 2004, originally known as WikiCities and then, most notably, Wikia.org, since 2006. Fandom was created in 2016 as an entertainment news site, and soon led to a change in organizational structure, although the company remained legally known as Wikia.org through 2018. It eventually became Fandom, Inc. and several Wikia websites largely centered on media properties or entertainment content started transferring over to Fandom.com.

Beyond the namesake site, most properties controlled by Fandom, Inc. outside of Wikia are also entertainment-centered. Examples include “D&D Beyond” and “Muthead,” geared to online communities for the game media franchises for Dungeons & Dragons and Madden NFL respectively.

Fandom has been owned by TPG Inc., a private equity investment firm previously known as the Texas Pacific Group, since 2018. The company has begun focusing on streaming in recent years, especially after being hired by the United States Navy to manage their streaming content and “various digital media advertising” responsibilities in early 2021. 

Also at the beginning of 2021, Fandom site Wookieepedia — an online encyclopedia for the Star Wars franchise, which is one of Fandom’s largest and most well-known sites — became the subject of intense scrutiny and unexpected publicity. Conflicts between administrators over LGBTQ+ inclusivity, or lack thereof, blew over (or rather, across) the internet and received coverage from several publications through the spring. That led to staff at Fandom getting involved with the site’s moderation and management, which was largely viewed as a positive development — albeit, a cautious one — at the time. 

In June 2021, the Fandom brand announced new, very specific LGBTQIA+ guidelines throughout their communities. “We are a global company and it’s our responsibility to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion to serve our fan communities, not just today or this month, but all year long. I know that even small actions, applied consistently, can have real impact and this is one step Fandom has taken in this vitally important area,” Fandom CEO Perkins Miller said at the time.

While Fandom brand grew into an entertainment hub, most of Wikia had not, and many online encyclopedias there prior to August 2021 were not explicitly related to entertainment or media. When Fandom underwent a “brand refresh” at that time, it eventually led to Wikia being incorporated into the Fandom brand. By December 2021, all remaining Wikia.org sites were being formally transferred under the Fandom.com domain.

Fandom justified doing so at the time by explaining they found “there was no clear story to tell about what made a wiki a ‘Wikia.org’ wiki,” and “we genuinely believed that most Wikia.org community could do just as well on the Fandom domain as the Wikia.org one.”

Those changes led to the review of every active Wikia-originating online encyclopedia, assessing whether their “content fit [Fandom’s] Terms of Use and Community Creation policy.” Eventually following that, a decision was made by Fandom to unpublish the LGBTA Wiki site, and it became known publicly by January 19.

That gave time for the operators of the LGBTA Wiki to transfer the information over to a Miraheze-based website and, after Fandom made clear they were not changing their mind over the decision, speak out against the company.

In an (unofficial) article comparing themselves to Fandom, Miraheze stresses that there are several differences between the two organizations. Notably, in comparison of their core principles, it states Miraheze “is focused on being a wiki hosting service,” as “their primary focus is on keeping the technical workings of the site going.”

The LGBTA Wiki’s migrated version is already up at LGBTA.miraheze.org, and retains over 5,800 article pages. They also have a Twitter account, @LGBTAWiki, and have set out to clarify the distinctions between their revamped wiki and Fandom’s new one.

On Reddit, an administrator for the new version of the LGBTA+ Wiki named Jeb explained their version of events. “FANDOM has forcefully created their OWN version without our input, and deleted our own. So… we have imported all of the FANDOM LGBTQIA data onto Miraheze, and this will be our permanent platform for the foreseeable future! And big plus, no ads on Miraheze!”

They also cited a longer post the operators made on Tumblr, where they said Fandom’s actions are “deleting without consent, without a good reason. No mods on any wiki were informed of this, nor did they get a say in this whatsoever… Many, many people have been furious on LGBTA Wiki over this new development, but FANDOM has supposedly already made up it’s mind.”

The LGBTA Wiki criticizes Fandom’s action-making because it “undercuts creators and lived experiences for ‘medical’ explanations on sexualities/genders,” they argue the LGBTQIA+ Wiki is “already parroting exclusionist content that would have never been acceptable on LGBTA [Wiki]” and “is blatantly against xenogenders and other microlabels.” Users on Tumblr and Twitter also cited new information on the LGBTQIA+ Wiki that they found inaccurate and harmful of intersex identities.

Administrators of the Fandom’s LGBTQIA+ Wiki also has created a Twitter account and presences elsewhere off-platform. They have also set out to clarify concerns over their actions. They claim the decision to redirect the LGBTA Wiki page to the LGBTQIA+ Wiki “was made by Fandom, not anyone on our site.”

“The Wiki can only grow with help,” they implored in a thread of tweets regarding the new wiki, encouraging community members to join and contribute.

Still, the LGBTQIA+ Wiki is being lambasted as “corporate friendly” and only for “mainstream” LGBTQ+ content. they have begun blocking critics both on the Wiki and Twitter.

The new wiki refers to itself as “an open, welcoming, and inclusive environment.” It also states in its policies that it is a “Fandom-managed wiki” that “aims to provide an objective, educational, and comprehensive resource about all things relating to the LGBTQIA+ community.” Users have multiple sections of content policy they have to review and adhere to in order to contribute.

The whole debacle has become a popular source for discussion (and comic relief) on the r/xenogendercringe subreddit. One user called the deleting of the Fandom edition of the LGBTA Wiki “an absolute win” last month.

“Inclu[sive people] gets their shit wrecked by reality in real time,” another wrote.

As for the non-Fandom LGBTA Wiki, they also have guidelines for creating articles for new terms or flags, written as “personal advice” from an administrator of the site.

They already have had several Reddit users (on the r/lgbt and r/lgballt subreddits) volunteer to support their revamped edition.

Still, the move from one host site to the other has caused major changes to the information on their encyclopedia, some that may prove irreparable. For example, one Twitter user pointed out that they learned about blurgender from LGBTA Wiki, and that it most closely described their gender identity than genderfluid or any other term.

Blurgender is a term first coined by a LGBTA Wiki contributor in 2021, and it is still defined on the revamped LGBTA Wiki as someone who “sort of knows what genders they are fluid between, but cannot tell the gender they are feeling at the moment,” but its citations — completely derived from the discussion pages on the wiki when it was hosted on Fandom — now link to webpages that are no longer available.

Queer people of various identities — especially those with labels not well known or in common use — are left to deal with the aftermath of the changes here. Operators of both online encyclopedias expressed the stress and scrutiny they are under due to the repercussions of Fandom’s decisions.

This is not the first time queer communities have taken issue with inclusion, or lack thereof, online. In November 2021, a division of Google started the “LGBTQIA+ Language and Media Literacy Program” and published a “LGBTQIA+ Glossary” in conjunction with Men’s Health and VideoOut, but faced backlash for their failure to define multiple LGBTQ+ terms, most notably bisexual or pansexual.

In September, the leader of the American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB) — a non-profit which publishes Bi.org, among other websites and publications — denied that pansexuality could be an identity, and claimed its existence as a word is the basis for conversion therapy. He made his comments after the AIB’s social media accounts blocked and denounced people who criticized their labelling of pan people or characters as bi. In response to fierce backlash after, the organization issued lengthy statements clarifying — but ultimately defending — their staff’s position that pansexuality could not be defined as an identity, and they felt that anyone using the term was bisexual, “even if they reject such a term.”

These are products of growing conflict within the LGBTQ+ community, largely between “inclus” — people more inclusive to labels beyond the initial acronym and basic definitions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — and “exclus” — those against less-traditional labels or adapted definitions of common terms.

As is the case often on the internet, the context of how conflicts start is usually unclear by the time they persist on. In lieu of any conclusion, the divisiveness, confusing, and emotional discourse spurred online from these course of events often continues on. The result of it all is best summed as, as is also often the case, a virtual mess with real-life implications.

With Fandom’s “merge” and the LGBTA Wiki’s migration, this seems true, as online LGBTQ+ users continue discussing the significant effects the changes have on them and their community.

Even through Aro Week.

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