Help request: AVfM Reference Wiki

A number of people have approached me privately, or asked in the comments section here on AVfM, how exactly they can help with the AVfM Reference Wiki. We view this as a vital resource that can benefit the entire men’s movement, but a lot of people struggle with understanding how wikis work and, as such, how they can help with this one. You can give five minutes or five months or five years effort to help it; anything is appreciated, and it only takes as much time as you want to give it. One minute of help is potentially useful. To understand why, you just need to understand how it works.

So let me explain in this article what a wiki is, what the difference is between a wiki and Wikipedia, what the primary goal of this particular wiki is, and then, explain the wiki philosophy and the many many ways you can help with this project.

What is a wiki?

A lot of people seem confused and they do not know the difference between Wikipedia and a wiki in general. So let’s get this straight:

A wiki is a reference tool for compiling information. Wikipedia is just one such wiki. Wikipedia was one of the first wikis, and it is by far the best known wiki. However, it is not the wiki. Is is a wiki, one among probably hundreds of thousands in the world.

Wikipedia runs a particular type of wiki software called MediaWiki. The MediaWiki software is used by all sorts of other sites and groups besides the Wikipedia people. Here is an Orthodox Christian wiki. It is a web site on its own servers run by Orthodox Christians to organize information of interest and use to that community. It is not in any way affiliated with or tied to Wikipedia. Here is Ballotpedia, an independent wiki run by people who track U.S. politics, on their own servers and their own web site (and which, by the way, many MHRAs may find useful for political activism projects). Ballotpedia is also not tied to or affiliated with Wikipedia, although if you look closely it is using the same basic software. Here is Encyclopedia Dramatica, still another wiki run by still another completely separate group, whose purpose is basically internet satire. Here is RationalWiki, a once-useful wiki set up to debunk pseudoscience but has sadly become polluted by pseudoscientific gender ideology.

Like almost all wikis, these are all completely separate from, unaffiliated with, and not tied in any way to Wikipedia.

In short: Wikipedia does not equal wiki. Wikipedia is one wiki. It is just the largest and best known wiki, and one focused on general knowledge (if you can call general knowledge “focused.”)

And now, on A Voice for Men, we have our own wiki, for our purposes. And what we want it to be is a reference tool for useful, hard, documentable data to help Men’s Human Rights Advocates make their case to the world about the general need for more attention to men’s and boys’ issues.

A wiki is a piece of software that you put information into so other people can see it, read it, reference it, etc. And the main purpose of a wiki is to be collaborative: multiple people can add to and change its content. If you have access to a wiki, then in most cases you can go to any page on that wiki and add content, remove content, or change whatever you find whenever you want to.

This sounds like a recipe for chaos, but, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, having a bunch of people who barely even know each other, who may not even always like each other, able to edit the same document usually works shockingly well. Theories as to why it works vary somewhat, but, for a bunch of group psychology and other reasons I won’t go into here, it has been shown in countless cases to work very well, as long as most participants (not even all participants, just most of them) are relatively sane and share the same basic goals, and there are at least a few responsible people riding herd to quell any catfights and oust any trolls.

What is the goal of the AVfM Reference Wiki?

To educate, to learn, and to serve as a reference for men’s activists on issues that matter to us: data on domestic violence perpetrated against men and boys; data on sexual assault by women; data on circumcision; data on paternity fraud; data on the suicide rate; data on school performance for males; data on anything else that may be of use to men’s boys’ advocates making their case for where men need compassion and assistance and recognition, or where bad things are overreported on men and/or underreported on women. It’s there to sharpen our knowledge, our ability to understand, discuss and debate, to give you confidence that you know fact from factoid from outright falsehood–or, when the truth is nebulous, to help you at least understand why it’s nebulous and the boundaries of what’s well established from what’s only somewhat established, and what’s not established at all.

As it happens, there are other existing Men’s Rights wikis currently in existence, or planned to be created, to focus on other things: biographies of significant figures to the movement, varying opinions and controversies within the movement and without, history of the movement, direct policy advocacy, or other specific issues. At some point we plan on pointing to those other wikis to help create a sort of web of related wikis, but for now our goal with this specific AVfM Reference Wiki is to be the go-to source for hard information on issues affecting all or almost all men and boys’ issues.

What is the rate of domestic violence against men, in various parts of the world? This wiki will be intended to answer that question, and point you to hard sources that you can go and verify for yourself. What is the rate of male suicides in India? The goal will be to tell you what it is, and point you to hard sources which answer that question. What are the consequences of male genital mutilation? This wiki should answer that question, and provide you with hard sources you can use to document that. What is the number of males incarcerated without due process or legal representation by the family courts in the United States? This wiki is intended to help people find the answer to that question.

As just one example, it is a frequent assertion that only 2% of all male-on-female rape cases are false allegations. Now the fact is, that is a bullshit number. It is a number pulled out of someone’s ass, based on nothing much at all. So what is the real rate of false rape allegations? Well actually, we don’t know what the real number is, and even of what we do know, the answer tends to depend on how you define rape and what you call a false allegation. But we do have better information on that subject than the completely fictional 2% figure.

So, let’s say someone throws the 2% figure at you. What would you rather do? Just say “bullshit!” and walk away? Or would you rather say, “That’s a false number, but here’s some more realistic information on what it really looks like?” I know which I’d rather do, most of the time. And oh, look here: Here’s a great page we’ve started which goes into substantial detail on the topic of rape. Is that page complete? By no means, but it’s got some great and useful info and references. And guess what? You can help make it even better, if this is a subject area that interests you.

And, that’s just an example. All topics that relate to reliable, independent, and peer reviewed sources that relate to issues we discuss as men’s and boys’ advocates can potentially go in there. The rape page is just one page among many potential pages.

So the hope is this wiki can help you explain to the best of your ability what more reasonable figures look like–and, just as important, to point you to references outside the site where you can go check for yourself, and whoever you’re talking to can do the same. Neither you nor your debate opponent should have to rely on the wiki exclusively; rather, the wiki will say “here’s what we know,” and give you external links to verifiable independent sources that you or anybody else can look up for themselves.

And if some information becomes out of date, or new information comes up, we can note the out of date information or the new information.

How do you help on the wiki?

The fundamental wiki philosophy is that, with rare exceptions, mostly anyone with access can change any page any time for any reason they want to. As a rule, nobody “owns” a page, and no page has “an author.” Instead, everybody is an author, editor, proofreader, and format stylist. Everybody (including you) is, or can be, any one of those, or all of those at any given moment.

Let’s describe a realistic potential scenario: Paul Elam decides he wants to put in some references about the rates of domestic violence against men. He’s compiled a list of 100 references over the years, and he wants to contribute it to the wiki. So Paul can go into the wiki, find the page on domestic violence, and just paste his entire list of references in there, and walk way.

Now, John Hembling comes by a day later and looks and says, “oh, Paul forgot these three,” and he edits the page and throws his three in there.

Dean Esmay comes in behind them both two weeks later because he’s bored and he notices that Paul still doesn’t know the difference between it’s and its, one of Dean’s pet peeves. Paul also misspelled Murray Straus’ name. Dean runs through that list of references and fixes those things. He thinks maybe he could add more but he’s busy, so he just fixes what he’s got time for and moves on.

Asha James wanders in one night because she’s bored, and notices at least three of the references are duplicates of each other, and one of them actually says something completely different from what Paul said it did. So she eliminates the duplicate, and corrects the faulty attribution.

Ian Williams emerges from bed the next day, sits down and gets curious, finds this page and says, “This thing is great, but it’s formatted for shit. It just looks ugly and it’s not very well organized. I’m going to pretty up the formatting to make it consistent and uniform and easier to scan through.” So without changing the content, he reformats it so it all looks better.

Dean Esmay comes back and noticed that someone’s misusing “their” and “there.” So he runs through and fixes that, and also adds eight new references that he just found.

August Løvenskiolds checks the page three days later because he just got into an argument with someone, and notices how great this looks now, but notices two of Dean’s “new” references were already in there, Dean just wasn’t paying attention. So he takes out Dean’s duplicates. Also he notices someone (probably Dean) “fixed” a “their” to “there” and got it wrong, so fixes it back.

Kristina Hansen comes in and decides a couple of graphs would be useful here, makes them, and puts them in there, and also thinks this should be broken into sections. So she jumps to the Talk page (almost all articles have a Talk page) and suggests changing the formatting to break it up differently. Suzanne, who has never even added to the document, is still paying attention to it and hates Kristina’s idea, and says so. But five other people who’ve never even added to the document before either come in and say “Suzanne you’re nuts, Kristina’s right!” and so Kristina goes ahead and breaks up the list the way everybody thought was better, and Suzanne says “OK fine,” and pitches in and helps with the reorganization of the page, and comes up with a new idea in the middle of it that everybody likes even better than the original idea. None of these people added any content, they all just came up with a better way to present it.

Notice here in all this, none of this was formally planned. It all happened as ad hoc collaboration between people who just saw a need and did what they thought was right when they had the time to do it. Furthermore, the document has no real author. Instead it has multiple authors, editors, proofreaders, and commenters. Everyone just collaborated spontaneously to make a document.

That’s the wiki way. Everybody is an author, editor, proofreader, designer, and organizer. And if your brain is screaming “that has to be total chaos!” the only thing I can tell you is try it. It’s amazing how well it can work, as long as most people involved are sincerely interested in the truth and in making it better, and keep their egos in check. Even hot disagreements (which can happen) can usually be mediated by people going back and forth until the product is more or less acceptable to all or at least most contributors.

What if someone comes through and vandalizes? Well anyone else can come back in and undo their vandalism, and administrators can, at their discretion, lock down a page or limit who has access to edit it, or throw an abuser off the system. But otherwise, most of the time, it’s a free-for-all: if you have information and you want to add it, just add it. If you put it in the wrong place, someone else will eventually notice and move it for you. If you can’t figure out the formatting, put it up the way you can and someone else will likely come in behind you and fix the formatting.

So how can you help? Well, how do you want to help? Personally, I’ve got literally thousands of edits on the famous Wikipedia, going back about 10 years. Do you know what most of those edits are? Little stupid things: whenever I see a typo on Wikipedia, I fix that typo. That’s probably 80% of my contributions: fix spelling and grammar errors. Once in a while I’ll spot a reference that isn’t on an article, so I’ll paste it in there. Sometimes I’ll know a pertinent fact so I’ll scribble a line or two into the document. I’m not very good at formatting, so sometimes if I do throw in a reference I’ll just put it wherever it seems to make sense and I’ll let someone else figure out how to make it look pretty.

You can be the same. Do you have expertise and a lot of references you’ve accumulated on a particular subject? Great! Go put it in the AVfM Reference Wiki. You don’t have any references? That’s OK, maybe you’re good at spotting typos. Or maybe you’re good at making hyperlinks look better. Or maybe you don’t mind fixing someone’s mangled grammar. Or maybe you see two people arguing on a Talk page about how to improve it, and you have an idea you want to suggest to them. Or maybe you’re reading an article and you just notice someone used a comma when they meant to use a period. Or maybe you just found one reference to something that no one else had, and the only contribution you ever made was you shared that one reference: hey, you made that difference.

You can make one punctuation correction in under a minute, and that can be the only thing you’ve ever done on the whole project: you fixed a misplaced period. So what? You’ll have made a contribution, easy as that. Ten people making ten small corrections is just as good as one person making ten corrections, isn’t it? Either way, the wiki gets better.

On the other hand, you could plunge your head completely into this thing and spend all your free time for the next year finding references, creating and editing pages, finding graphs and references and links. Sky’s the limit really. Give it five minutes or five years, whatever time and energy you’ve got, whenever you’ve got it, and the wiki will slowly evolve over time, getting better and better as more information accumulates and more people come and go and add their work to yours, and you add your work to theirs.

How do you become part of this magic?

Easy. Go here, sign up, and jump in. Then, go here and request Activist access. Do not be shy. Do not worry that you don’t know what’s going on. Do not apologize if you make a mistake. Do not think “I can’t write, I don’t know what I’m doing.” What do you mean? Do you know a good link? Go put it in there, and let someone else figure out how to write up what it’s about. You have trouble with spelling and grammar? So what? Write it the best you can and as long as it’s factual, someone else can come in behind you and correct your grammar. Nobody cares. We just want more and more useful information in there. So go find that dangling comma, that misspelled word, that missing reference no one else noticed, or just hit a talk page and say “wouldn’t that look better if you organized it alphabetically?” Or whatever. Just jump in, the whole spirit of it is this:

Here’s the hammer and nails and the paint and the brushes and the board: do what you got time for, leave the rest to everybody else.

And by the way, we are looking for people with either technical or editorial experience who are committed to getting truthful, factual, empirical data into the public eye to help administer the wiki. We need supervisors, organizers, and administrators to watch out for trolls, spammers, vandalism attempts, etc. Believe it or not, we’ve already gotten some of those. But at minimum you’ll start as an activist/editor and can immediately start adding to or modifying documents. And if you want better access, let us know: we’ll have a bit of a screening process to make sure only people who need it and have proven trustworthy can do things like create pages and whatnot, but ultimately this depends on as many people as possible pitching in to whatever extent they can.

It’s going to be like watching a community garden grow, it’s awesome.

Some wikis get created and never prosper and thrive because there’s not quite a big enough community to keep it active, and not enough administrators to keep a handle on it. But with enough volunteers we can avoid that, and create a reference like the world’s never seen. I have every confidence that this community can do it. All you have to do is sign up for an account and jump in whenever, wherever, and however you can. Sign up here and get started, and whether you give the project 5 minutes of your time, 5 hours of it, or 5,000 hours of it, you’ll be doing something useful for everybody.

If this article hasn’t made it clear enough, please feel free to drop a question here, or, better yet, go sign up for an account and ask on the Talk pages there. Strix and I will be waiting for you!

*Update*: Please remember, after you sign up for a wiki account, go here to request Activist access so you can edit pages.

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