In the days after the Parkland shooting, users went to Wikipedia to learn about weapons. When users searched for "AR-15," the weapon style used during the shooting, they were directed to the "Colt AR-15" page. The page was viewed more than 200,000 times the day after Parkland, a hundred times. times your usual traffic. But those users did not find much information about mass shootings or political efforts. In fact, the Colt AR-15 page did not mention gun control at all, but spent more than a thousand words describing the technical details of the various parts of the gun.
That focus on the hardware was by design. For months, the "Colt AR-15" page has been largely edited by a group of enthusiastic gun publishers. They came together under the name "Wikipedia Project: firearms" or "WP: firearms" for short. Expert groups are common in Wikipedia, and somehow, WP: Firearms fits perfectly in the mold: a collection of users with a detailed knowledge of a specific topic, closely watching all the pages where that knowledge could be relevant. But in Wikipedia, as in the real world, users with the deepest technical knowledge of firearms are also the most fervent weapons owners and the most hostile to gun control. For critics, that has led to a persistent bias in favor of weapons as the main source of neutral information on the web at a time when the debate on gun control is hotter than ever.
"This is the usual garbage of the arms confiscator."
Much of the alleged bias comes from how the articles are structured. For months before Parkland, information on the AR-15 generic models was relegated to the Modern Sporting Rifles entry, which detailed several models and additions to the secondary market, but did not mention the massive shootings or other arms control efforts. When some editors tried to include those topics, the reaction of WP: Firearms was immediate.
"The mass shootings already have their own articles, all the relevant information is, or should be, on that page and not unnecessarily duplicated in other articles," wrote one editor. "If we start adding information about a single shooting incident to a dimly connected article, we're going to open a literal Pandora's box (figuratively)."
Combatting a similarly proposed edition on the Smith & Wesson page, the Trekphiler user went further. "There are millions of weapons in civilian hands, including thousands of AR-15s," he wrote, "and none of them has harmed anyone." This is the usual garbage of the arms confiscator. "
When users tried to detail the concerns about gun control on the Colt AR-15 page, where the searches for "AR-15" were still going, they came across another technical detail. "Sorry, this is an article about Colt's AR-15 ™ rifle," responded a WP editor: Firearms. "This is not the right article for the information that deals with AR-15 in general, that section of the article should be edited to eliminate references to crimes that were not committed with the Colt AR-15 rifles."
Air-conditioned, arcane and tautological debates
The struggle for weapons nomenclature goes beyond Wikipedia. Weapon enthusiasts view the terms as "assault weapon" as inaccurate, while concrete terms such as "semiautomatic" are too broad. Even the term "AR-15" is difficult to specify: what was once a specific trademark has become a trans-corporate brand tool. "The modern sporting rifle," the preferred term for WP: Firearms, is seen by many as a public relations tactic in the arms industry to downplay the deadliness of what weapons really are. There is no perfect term, but as long as the two sides fight for the nomenclature, any proposed measure will be lost in a maze of conflicting terms. And in Wikipedia managed by crowdsourcing and directed, that means heated debates, arcane and tautological, often driven by political and cultural prejudices.
WP: Firearms is also active on the National Rifle Association's website, mobilizing against a series of critical editions in recent months. In December, a user named "Snooganssnoogans" proposed a new section on racial criticism of the NRA, focusing on the silence of the organization following the shooting of Philando Castile and the subsequent protest of the leaders of Black Lives Matter.
When a member of WP: Firearms saw the effort, an alarm was extended to the larger group. "There seems to be a movement to call the NRA a racist organization because they did not immediately condemn a police shootout to the satisfaction of anti-police, anti-gun, anti-NRA writers," wrote an editor at the WP: firearms center. "I encourage everyone to comment."
Users of the group were quick to express their opinion so quickly that some expressed concern that the message violated Wikipedia's rules against scrutiny. "The fact that they give the police the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are present does not make the NRA racist," wrote a user named RAF910. "It makes the ANR cautious." Unlike most so-called news organizations that automatically target white cops for shooting black suspects. "
"So, you have no reason based on policies to exclude this content," Snoogans replied. "Are you personally in disagreement with the criticism?" The section was presented in the midst of harsh criticism, although Snoogans has resubmitted an abbreviated form that is still debated.
More recently, the members of WP: Firearms came together to defend the language on the page by calling the NRA "the oldest civil rights organization that operates continuously," a claim often made by the NRA and repeated recently at Fox & Friends. . Some users saw it as "a distortion of the facts", but the most detailed criticism came from a publication by Media Matters, which was dismissed as a non-neutral source. As of the time of publication, the claim remains in the second paragraph of the NRA page.