Wiki Community/Accusations of Racism or Sexism


Accusing a business or other person of racism or sexism (or heterosexism, or other biased actions) is a very serious charge, not to be taken lightly. On the one hand, such accusations could severely damage someone's reputation. On the other hand, such things do happen (most often unconsciously — see racism entry for definition), and they are extremely hurtful to the individuals involved.

How to deal with charges of racism, etc., remains an unresolved issue in the wiki community. Some think that all such accusations should be deleted, since they are so harmful and cannot be proven. Others think that they can be retained only if they are made by a person who has established identity. Still others think that if they contain enough detail to seem plausible, they should be retained so that others can come forward to confirm or deny. An accusation of racism, etc., without any explanation is likely of no worth and should probably be immediately deleted; this is probably the only current point on which all agree.

There are other serious accusations ("hand grenades") that may cause harm to a business or an individual:

One point of view on the list of hand grenades: These accusations are somewhat different than accusations of racism and sexism and other forms of business. Sure, from the point of view of a business, they are all things that can be harmful to a business and are difficult to substantiate. (In some sense, this is true of every negative comment). So, for that reason someone might want to treat them all together. But from the point of view of a customer (or a student, or whatever) there is something distinctive about being treated unfairly on the basis of one's race (or sex, or...), as opposed to, say, experiencing professional incompetence. With racism, it's personal. It's hurtful. It probably reopens wounds that never entirely get a chance to heal. It's degrading. So, it is for these reasons, accusations of racism should be taken seriously — not that they are always true, but rather that if they are true, they are pretty awful. Also, although we might want people to come forward and identify themselves when they make an accusation like that, we should keep in mind how difficult it is to make an accusation and how much ire gets dumped on the person who made the accusation — no one believes them, people are mad at them because they accused their friend, etc. Again, this isn't true of the other types of accusations. They are not as personal. So then, if we don't require a name but we do require an established pattern of editing, what are we saying? We're saying that you have to have already been an editor to make an accusation of racism? (that's foresight!) Or, that once you've experienced it and want to report it, you have to come back to edit the wiki enough to prove yourself? Instead, what will ultimately prove or disprove an accusation is what other people have to say, confirming or denying by their own experiences. So they should always be allowed to stay if the comment contains enough detail to make the accusation plausible — accusations without detail or that are just slurs should be deleted.

Another point of view on the list of hand grenades: The concerns expressed above are all outweighed by the damage done to the accused, regardless of the type of accusation (whether it is an accusation of racism or incompetence). If the accusation isn't "provable or falsifiable," if it isn't made by someone with identity (or better yet, someone who uses their real name), or if it isn't in the public domain, then it should be deleted.

Establishing or refuting a pattern: Some people think the reason to keep an accusation of racism or sexism (assuming it is sufficiently detailed) is to see if others have experienced the same treatment. If others comment that they have not experienced that treatment, this sheds doubt on the original comment. However, if others confirm the experience, this adds weight to the original comment. Sometimes, retaining a comment gives others the confidence to come forward with their experiences; see the discussion of Barefoot Yoga Studio below.

Don had a good list of "serious accusations", the 'hand grenades' that can be thrown to do damage. Of course, they can also be real accusations that should be kept (but at least Don thinks honest accusations of these types shouldn't be allowed on the wiki either). -jw

I agree fully with food poisoning being highly questionable without an actual complaint registered with Yolo County, even with identity, but I may well stand alone with that view. -jw

The more Identity a person establishes the closer they get in parity with the entity they accuse. To use words to attack a known entity, but do so without the willingness to stand behind one's words is pretty poor form. —JasonAller

I agree with Jason. Identity is very important. I think accusations of racism (or anything from the above list) should be allowed, but regulated and edited carefully. If there is not sufficient evidence to conclude racism, the comment should be removed. I don't think a blanket ban on the above list is good, what if those things actually happen? We need something more middle of the road. —DagonJones

I really dislike the "you have to be a regular around here to contribute" idea. It's not helpful to the wiki, and it certainly doesn't encourage wiki openness. Just because something is ugly doesn't mean it should be instant taboo, and I'd agree these things need to be considered on a case by case basis. I think concerns over their effects are being overestimated, though we have no real way to measure it. Anyway, I mentioned this elsewhere, but a long time ago, someone came forward and alleged inappropriate (or borderline inappropriate) conduct/touching on one of the massage parlor pages. Controversy! A bit later, a few other people came forward and iirc one of them explicitly said something akin to 'I thought it was just me imagining it, but it wasn't until I saw someone else post this that I realized it wasn't." All three or four of them were brand new editors - I think sometimes people forget that it's very easy to regularly use a website, but it takes special circumstances to join one (How many of you guys have checked Yelp versus how many regularly post there?). Backk to the point, I think we should try to refrain from the heartfelt immediate reaction of 'ugly is bad, remove it!' and take them on a case by case basis. -ES

It's virtually impossible to police accusations of professional incompetence or unhygienic conditions. For professional incompetence, if you pay big money for a professional service but don't get it (e.g. a contractor who does a shoddy job on your home, or a doctor or lawyer who commits what might amount to malpractice), that's something people should know. It's extremely easy for a businessperson to respond here if that's appropriate. As for unhygienic conditions, that's something that's extremely important to many editors when it comes to food. If you see a cockroach running out of the kitchen of a restaurant, should you really not mention it in a review? I recently saw what I thought was probably a hair in my food at a local restaurant. After some consideration, though, I decided to take it out of my review because I really wasn't sure.

Basically, I think that most of this information really is pertinent. The more serious the accusation, the more important the information would be to the community if it were true. I think that uncertainty for very serious accusations like these should be resolved in favor of omitting them, but outright banning them would be a terrible idea.

I do think that for claims of food poisoning or illegal activities, it would be reasonable to insist that people show that they take it seriously. We could require that editors without any established identity demonstrate that they've filed a complaint with the appropriate agency, be it Public Health, the police, the BBB, or a professional association, before we allow a comment to stand. The potential downside to that approach is that it could prompt people to file a bogus complaint. That is unlikely, but not out of the question.

It's just like any conversation out in the real world. If I hear a random stranger on the street [WWW]saying that a business I know and trust is racist, I'm [WWW]not going to believe them. If it were someone I know and trust, though, I would take what they had to say very seriously. And the last thing I would want is to silence what that friend had to say simply because it could be damaging to the business.

Where there's simply not enough information to support the conclusion of a serious charge, I think the comment should be removed. Where there is more information, I think outreach to both the business and the commenter is appropriate, asking them both to explain (or explain further in the case of the commenter). That's yet another place where an effective notification system will be extremely useful. But deletion should not be a the default in any but the most obviously bogus situations.—TomGarberson

Totally off topic: this issue is fairly significant, and is likely to be seen only by wiki regulars. Would it be worthwhile to stick it into one of the panels appearing on the front page? Wiki News might be most appropriate, although it's pretty far down. Could it be a fit for Davis Issues? Also, I think the discussion on Identity (which I agree should be mostly separate from this one) seems to be increasingly prominent. Once there's some sort of decision, this comment any subsequent thread ought to be deleted to avoid confusing the issue.TomGarberson

I think this probably falls into this category, and is an illustration of the value comments of this sort can offer:

Back in December 2007, the teacher at Barefoot Yoga Studio was accused by an anonymous, first-time poster of touching her inappropriately. In less than 3 months, 3 more women showed up and said that the same thing had happened to them.


Note that several people also defended Robert, saying that their experiences with him were normal for a Yoga studio with adjustments. That doesn't alter what was experienced by the six people who all felt that a line was crossed. But it provides viewers with both sides of the story. —TomGarberson

I agree about the similarity to the Barefoot Yoga Studio situation, we need to keep these statements to learn about patterns in Davis. In general I believe in inclusionism on the wiki here. —NickSchmalenberger

I sort of went through this page while feeling like going "tl;dr" after my finals and here are my two cents: I feel like baseless accusations (in comments anyway) and such should be left on the Wiki but I also realize the problem that some people do not have the ability to take some things on the internet with a grain of salt. These days, it is way too common for people to cry out racism or homophobia over an actually innocent incident probably because of the attention that such accusations brings. Usually when I look through comments, I look for evidence and examples in their comments. If someone just says they received poor service because the establishment is racist, I would probably move on to the next comment. Of course, I know that many join the bandwagon of calling something racist without much of a push so something probably needs to be done. Maybe these comments should be left in but we should have an include for comments that are baseless (where people think poor service is due to racism) that explains that this comment might be baseless and if the reader would like to add to this. —hankim

If I were emperor of the Davis Wiki: if it is provable or falsifiable, it can remain.
If it is in the public domain (Buzayan case), it can remain just on that basis alone (it’s a story) even if not yet proven or falsified.
If someone is willing to stake their reputation on the accusation, it can remain; this means establishing identity.
If you wish to come up with some way of allowing anonymous accusations to remain long enough to be validated by others, please propose it. That is why I left the whole Strelitzia issue alone for a few days after an editor replied asking for clarification. But understand that as long as the accusation stands, it is doing harm.
Businesses should be treated with the same respect you would expect yourself and that you would apply to individuals. An anonymous, vague accusation that can’t be proven or falsified really should not be allowed. —DonShor

2010-06-30 11:20:15   Strelitzia Flower Company is not a Racist Company. By maintaining this posting you are allowing an unsubstantiated comment from an annoymous person who never contacted the owner or manager. We have security cameras that could have and would have reviewed any allegations of this kind. I suspect that the customer may have felt that she did not get waited on in a timely manner, but because sales vary widely, there may be times that we are very busy and there may be a wait period, that does not constitute Racism. We allow customers to browse our refrigerator and there is a certain amount of self service regarding our wholesale sales. But to accuse us of being racist over one issue without having contacted management is inappropriate and unsubstantiated. Those who know us would never believe an allegation of this kind. —Strelitzia

2010-06-30 11:22:39   As an addition, I will include my contact info and will respond to any issues regarding my store. Dean Labadie 530-902-2070

This is a Wiki Spot wiki. Wiki Spot is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that helps communities collaborate via wikis.