“Too Soon” to Count? How Gender and Race Cloud Notability Considerations on Wikipedia

Mackenzie Emily Lemieux, Rebecca Zhang, Francesca Tripodi

Big Data & Society

(In)Equity, Digital Infrastructures

Fact-Checking, Gender, Knowledge-Production, Visibility, Wikipedia

Not everyone deserves their own Wikipedia page; that’s why Wikipedia’s notability guidelines exist. But definitions of notability are unevenly applied across race and gender lines:

Wikipedia’s editors are less likely to consider you “notable” if you’re not a white man. 

Using a combination of qualitative and statistical analysis of Wikipedia pages nominated for deletion, Mackenzie Emily Lemieux and Rebecca Zhang join with Francesca Tripodi to explore how Wikipedia’s notability considerations are applied for female and BIPOC academics. They examined two key metrics used in the process of establishing notability on Wikipedia: the Search Engine Test and the “Too Soon” metric. The search engine test determines if a person’s online presence is well covered by reputable, independent sources. In their analysis, Lemieux, Zhang, and Tripodi found that this test predicts whether or not white male academics’ pages will be kept or deleted. But academics who are women and people of color are more likely to have their Wikipedia page deleted—even if they have equivalent or greater online presence than their white male peers.

The second metric, “too soon,” is a label applied to Wikipedia pages when a Wikipedian thinks there aren’t enough independent, high quality news sources about the page’s subject. Women of all races are more likely than men to be considered not yet notable (i.e., “too soon” to be on Wikipedia). The online encyclopedia’s editors were more likely to justify this label applied to women based on their career stages (e.g., “she’s an assistant professor” and therefore not yet notable). But this tag was applied to women on average further in their careers than men who received the tag. Individual bias continues to disadvantage women and people of color on Wikipedia; and Wikipedia continues to allow these hidden biases to influence processes of determining notability.