I heard about the news that Margaret Thatcher had died at 12:48 yesterday – on Twitter, naturally:
REPORTS: Margaret Thatcher has died
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) April 8, 2013
In a matter of seconds, four separate sources had tweeted the news, making it pretty unlikely to be a false alarm. And four minutes after that, the first Wikipedia editor went to work:
Revision as of 02:29, 4 April 2013
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS, née Roberts (born 13 October 1925), is a British politician…
Revision as of 11:52, 8 April 2013.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS, née Roberts (born 13 October 1925), died April 8th, 2013, was a British politician…
Over the next hour, there were 76 separate edits, as users piled on to the breaking news. Unusually for Wikipedia, these came from across the site’s userbase; there were a few hardcore editors jumping in to clean up the text, but as many of the changes were made by contributors with few edits to their name.
Revision as of 12:17, 8 April 2013
(removed “Oldest Living Former Prime Minister” honorific title)
But unlike the best of Wikipedia’s responses to breaking news, Thatcher’s page did not see an influx of first-time users. That’s because it was “semi-protected”, a limitation the site imposes on certain pages which are prone to vandalism. And the Margaret Thatcher page was certainly prone to vandalism.
Revision as of 00:42, 8 March 2008
(←Replaced page with ‘SHE IS DEAD. DO WHAT YE WANT WITH YER SATAN.’)
Semi-protection came in ten minutes after that edit, and has remained ever since. Which is probably for the best.
Revision as of 12:10, 8 April 2013
(→Honours: was, past tense)
The first hour of edits were largely clean-up. Tenses were changed, dates were added in, and a whole section on her death was introduced. But after that, the edit wars began.
A section headlined “Reactions to her death” was introduced at 12:22, but removed by 12:50, after an editor added the note “please do not add tributes from around the world. It is unnecessary and clutters the article.”
Revision as of 12:50, 8 April 2013
(→Illness and death: we don’t need a separate section for this, and we need to make sure this doesn’t degenerate into a book of condolences)
That didn’t stop people adding in the innumerable statements world leaders were making.
Revision as of 16:58, 8 April 2013 by Zcbeaton
(→Illness and death: Added response from Alex Salmond, statement from Glasgow City Council.)
Revision as of 17:00, 8 April 2013
(Undid revision by Zcbeaton: massively undue weight)
Particularly harsh was the removal of Bulgarian Premier Marin Raykov’s statement, with the words “bullshit, poorly sourced, badly written”
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.
Revision as of 03:48, 9 April 2013
(→Political legacy: Added comments about the Scottish Parliament.)
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 the Death and funeral of Margaret Thatcher, has been created. What’s left is left for the future.