Change the World through Wikipedia

It’s a quiet night in the middle of winter when you surf Wikipedia over to your favorite subject. Lately you’ve been obsessed. Reading the regular “blah, blah, blah” you’d expect in an encyclopedia, suddenly your eyes come across something you know is wrong, and you want to fix it.

Stumbling through the clunky interface of the world’s largest online collaboration, you manage to edit one of the website’s 4,000,000 English language articles. With renewed vigor, you start reading again when you notice there isn’t a link to someone you know is really, really important for your subject. Using the poor search engine on the site, you figure out there’s nothing for this person. Suddenly, you decide that you will write the article that Wikipedia is missing. Wikipedia wants you to.

This was my story almost ten years ago. Since then, I have created more than 500 articles on “the free encyclopedia”, volunteering thousands of hours of my life to improve this virtual database of human knowledge. I was a younger hellraiser then, bent on sharing what I’d learned through my career as a consultant for government agencies and nonprofits. Looking specifically at youth engagement, I found a gaping hole in the fields of youth development and education, and began writing rampantly.

However, despite trying to write articles that sounded like they knew it all, I immediately got smacked down. Beautifully grandiose pieces that I knew should’ve won Pulitzer prizes were deleted, and on the back channels of Wikipedia other editors said mean things about me.

Being determined, it wasn’t long before I learned the form. I started reading good articles about topics I wasn’t interested in just tvolcanoo figure out what to do, and studied my detractors’ comments for insights I might need. Most importantly, I learned how to find sources to support the new topics I was introducing to Wikipedia.

I grew comfortable with the site. After a while, I began writing about anything that interested me. In the waning hours between being a fulltime dad and running my own business, I studied and wrote about the histories of New Mexico, Washington, New York, and Alberta; I plumbed the depths of the micro-history of North Omaha, Nebraska , the neighborhood that I grew up in; and I contributed to other topics I cared most about then.

Since then, I have gained a reputation for writing about topics that are controversial, apparently inconsequential, or otherwise chagrined by other editors, and because of that I keep going. It feels good to stand up for the underdog, online and in the real world. This is how I change the world, sometimes.

Here are a few important things I’ve learned about Wikipedia.

5 Tips to Change the World through Wikipedia

  1. Don’t volunteer on Wikipedia for the recognition. On its surface, a large part about Wikipedia is the anonymity. Because of that, there isn’t a lot of recognition for hard work. While editors can give each other badges and access, there’s no explicit volunteer recognition program, awards, or ceremonies. Don’t expect anyone to wave your flag for spending days on in at the website.
  2. Editing feels like dog-eat-dog sometimes. Because of the anonymity and the nature of the Internet, editing can get cutthroat sometimes. Editors aren’t generally warm and fuzzy, or particularly supportive towards newbies and topics they don’t know about. I even experienced many to be suspicious. Stay strong and committed and your work will make it through.
  3. Wikipedia successfully raises the general public’s knowledge about topics. After working in my field for more than two decades, the topics we address are more known than ever before. That’s in no small part the fault of Wikipedia, and I’m confident that my contributions there have helped that.
  4. I had to lose some of my ego to be a successful editor. Hidden in the harsh editing climate of Wikipedia is a desire to build a substantial contribution to the world’s knowledge. Grammar, style, citations, and reputation are invaluable for that, and I may not be the absolute hottest writer to ever contribute to the project. I have learned to accept feedback and even criticism so that I can write better. 
  5. Learn to work the system. Wikipedia wants to be spectacular, and in so doing has its doors wide open. Learning to work the system—including the guidelines, editing environment, and processes—can allow you to influence the world, if you work it right.

There’s more than a million ways to start. Ready to do it? The biggest advice I can share is to start anywhere and go anywhere. There are a million entry points for contributing to Wikipedia, including editing existing content, creating articles, adding citations, checking verifiability, working with topic-based projects, and many other ways. The most important thing is to simply start.

As my story shows, anyone can add to Wikipedia. I really think that if you want to change the world, the website is a great place to go to do some good work. There are so many opportunities there, and your contributions can have a real impact on other people, no matter how small or insignificant they might feel.

Instead of spending more time reviewing the site, I would suggest that you stop reading this and start editing. Look me up on the site if you want, and happy editing!

Learn more about my editing and contact me on Wikipedia at

NOTE: This article was originally published by The Weekly Volcano.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

In Favor of Adultism?

Over at Wikipedia there’s a debate flaring over the article on adultism. Two trains of thought occur in this debate: one regarding the validity of the article and whether there are enough reliable sources in the article to make it a legitimate Wikipedia article; the second focused on the validity of adultism as a topic to be addressed on Wikipedia. Both arguments are worthy debate. However, I find a recurring pattern of discrimination present in the former argument: There are those who firmly believe that adultism should be presented with a neutral definition that does not portray an inherently negative basis. Note that this is different from the treatment racism or hetrosexism receives on Wikipedia, as both of those are presented in their biased forms.

In coming out in favor of a neutral definition of adultism editors will often expose their bias towards adults. As one editor redefined the term, “Adultism the the belief that adults should have inordinate power over children”, and “Adultism is the act of exerting inordinate control over children by adults”. I believe that these very definitions, by nature of their phrasing, demands the reader to accept this “inordinate control”.

I have defined adultism three ways in my writing:

  • “Adultism is favoring adults by dismissing young people.”
  • “Adultism is the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults.”
  • “Adultism promotes the discrimination of children and youth, and bias towards adults.”

Reviving my knowledge of the current literature surrounding adultism, I searched across the research databases to find out how adultism has been defined recently. Following is a collection of definitions from throughout the neutral, scholary realm of academic journals and books.

  • “…negative construction of the meaning of youth is a form of oppression, referred to as either ageism or ‘adultism’.” – C.A. MacNeil, “Bridging generations: Applying “adult” leadership theories to youth leadership development”, in ”New Directions for Youth Development” (2006).
  • “Adultism… can be defined as the inherent belief that adults are ultimate experts on youth, their issues, dreams, anxieties, abilities, and health; adults are thus thrust into positions of ultimate decision-makers and arbiters of policies, programs, and services involving youth.” – M. Delgado and D. Zhao, ”Youth-led health promotion in urban communities: A community capacity-enhancement perspective”. Rowman & Littlefield (2008).
  • “…an antiyouth bias sometimes called ‘adultism’…” – D. Hosang., “Family and community as the cornerstone of civic engagement: Immigrant and youth organizing in the southwest” in ”National Civic Review” (2006). 
  • “If we define abuse as restricting, controlling, humiliating, or hurting another, it’s clear that abuse is a daily experience for young people. We have a new word for it: adultism.” C. Close,  “Fostering youth leadership: students train students and adults in conflict resolution” in ”Theory into Practice” (2007).

These definitions show a clear patterning of negative perspectives in the defining of adultism. However, given the apparently predominant perspective of at least one Wikipedia editor, Wikipedia will soon feature a supposedly neutral definition.

Reviewing the definitions I have previously used in the Wikipedia article, I found this an active trending towards exposing the discriminatory basis of adultism by authors from across the realms. However, many of the following sources are questionable to Wikipedia editors who find them to be from “advocacy organizations” or authors with dubious bases for their assertions about adultism. (I personally find that perspective discriminatory, as it alienates perspectives, but for the sake of process I’ll accept it.) Following are some of those definitions.

  • “[Adultism is] behaviors and attitudes based on the assumptions that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without agreement.” J. Bell (1995) “Understanding Adultism” on the YouthBuild USA website.
  • “Oppression of Young People (from the day they are born), based on their age, by care givers (who are used as the oppression agents) and by the society and its institutions.” – Co-counseling.
  • “Adultism is an adult practice of forming certain beliefs about young people and practicing certain behaviors toward them because of societal views, usually negative, that are based on their age.” – Child Welfare League of America.
  • “Addressing adultist behavior by calling it ageism is discrimination against youth in itself.” – Youth On Board.

It is interesting to see how the tides of discrimination vary, washing back and forth over the bones of justice. We should take a close examination of our own biases before calling out others’, and afterwards revisit this conversation with a thorough acceptance of our own perspectives.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Am I a Bad Wikipedia Editor?

As I look deeper into the issue of anti-youth bias on Wikipedia, I find that I am frequently the target of these AfDs and TfDs. An editor called Herostratus called me out directly in a recent AfD, writing,

It’s a Freechild special, and it’s an advocacy article (a particularly noxious form of advocacy to my mind…) Freechild is nobody’s fool and he’s an energizer bunny when it comes to digging up enough refs for these things. He’s done his homework and he’s got us over a barrel. If his hobbyhorse was global warming denial or Scientology or whatever he’d have his head handed to him, but that’s not going to happen given the subject and the Wikipedia demographic, so I’d say we have to let it go.

In responding to me calling them out about their personal attack, Herostratus replied by saying, “If you’re going to be a radical and POV-pusher here you’d best have a thick skin.” I appreciate that, and according to another editor not only do I have thick skin, but I must be fat. Describing a photo of me during a 2005 AfD focused on the Wikipedia page about me, a user called Ashley Pomeroy got ugly and waged a personal attack, writing,

“I am also overweight, and I have pondered whether a goatee beard would help hide this, but I’ve never really had the courage to just let it grow.”

The editor called Herostratus has an axe to grind against me, as they have called me out repeatedly in the past. In 2007 they slammed me during an AfD for pedophobia, writing,

“Your essay (and this is what it is, not an encyclopedia article) transparently attempts to conflate medical and sociological terminolgy for advocacy purposes. Scholarly journals don’t fall for that. Sorry to be harsh, but there it is.”

During an 2008 AfD for Fear of youth, Herostratus continued by writing,

The main protector of this article is freechild and this is no coincidence, this article was designed and is maintained as an unsubtle POV hammer. Sure it has a lot of citations; good original essays do.

Calling something original research on Wikipedia is a way of calling out it’s illegitimacy; calling it a “POV hammer” is a way of saying that it’s someone’s personal point of view and that they’re using Wikipedia to drive the point home. Herostratus has established a 4-year-old pattern of haunting my edits and accusing me of bad editing behavior.

However, with widespread response and the continued concern of more than one editor, perhaps there is more for me to learn about editing on Wikipedia. A user called orlady has commented on my AfDs and talk pages related to articles I have created or edited repeatedly. Her concern repeats throughout, and is generally summarized by this comment from a comment she wrote on the Youth Empowerment template talk page in 2007,

I don’t see the point of this template, except perhaps as a way to gather/advertise the personal interests of one particular Wikipedia contributor.

Maybe I’m a bad Wikipedia editor. Thoughts?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Anti-Youth Bias on Wikipedia

Tonight I’ve been thinking about the anti-youth bias on Wikipedia.

Systemic bias is a serious charge on Wikipedia. According to the special project page about the topic on Wikipedia, systemic bias “…naturally grows from its contributors’ demographic groups, manifesting an imbalanced coverage of a subject, thereby discriminating against the less represented demographic groups.” This is especially true of the presence of adults on WP, who form the age of majority on the website. It is because of this systemic bias that I want to raise awareness about an ongoing trend of discrimination against youth-focused topics on WP.

After introducing a series of articles from the field of youth studies, I have seen articles addressing youth-focused issues be routinely subjected to the process known as Articles for Discussion on WP. These “AfDs” are essentially conversations focused on whether to keep or delete an article on WP. There is a pseudo-voting process, and in these discussions on these youth-focused articles editors tend to call out the validity of the topics rather than the worthiness of the articles themselves, often dismissing the verifiability and neutral point of view, which the core of WP article writing.

Note that oftentimes concern for these articles and templates are pointed at me directly, accusing me of article ownership and bias; however, this pattern of AfDs and TfDs ranges further than my direct editing. Following is the pattern I would like to draw attention to.

The AfDs include:

The only youth-focused template on WP is focused on youth empowerment, and it has been taken to Templates for Discussion not once, but twice.

There is also a pattern of discrimination against editors who identify themselves as middle or high school students, or as being under 18, or as youth; however, this bias is harder to demonstrate given the difficulty of searching editors’ talk pages.

The closest Wikipedia has come to having a conversation on this is a conversation started on the ageism talk page in 2007. There needs to be more conversation. Any responses are appreciated.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Wikipedia is Our Friend

More than five years ago I registered on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anybody can edit. Since then I have created more than 500 articles there, with more than 100 being featured on the front page of the website. I frequently refer to Wikipedia, not as an expert source of information, but as a source for potentially complex perspectives regarding some of the issues that are primary to the work of engaging young people throughout society.

I became fascinated with the potential of Wikipedia when the page I created on adultism became more popular than the page I created on adultism at the Freechild Project website. After that I started gunning at Wikipedia, writing dozens of articles, eventually leading me to create more than 100 articles on Wikipedia about youth-related topics, and collaborating with many other editors to edit 100s of others. I wrote about young people and adults I admired, organizations I was familiar with, and events that made a difference in the social history of young people in the U.S. and abroad. I spent hours and days laboring away, finding the research and other citations to support some of the basic assumptions I had about the key topics I was interested in, and learned a lot of new information about things I thought I already knew a lot about.
In these hours and days of research I found a new interest within me, one focused on the translatory capacity of Wikipedia: absent any other mainstream avenue for people to learn about the particularly advanced concepts in this area, including adultism, adultcentrism, ephebiphobia, children’s rights, fear of children, evolving capacities and youth-adult partnerships, I decided to use Wikipedia as the way as the an access point. This led to a particularly pointed increase in Internet-wide traffic about these topics, as hits on the Freechild Project and SoundOut websites increased, and as the frequency and higher numbers of recent postings to blogs and other websites showed me.
This causes me, yet again, to encourage everyone to edit Wikipedia. We have to expand the knowledge base about this movement, field and culture we engender throughout our work, research, writing and activism. Wikipedia is our friend – let’s do it right.

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing or calling (360)489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Wikipedia Articles

After spending three years and 100s of hours on the cause I am wrapping up my time served as a-lot-of-time Wikipedia editor. Contributing as “Freechild” and a few anonymous IP addresses, I have created more than 400 articles, including dozens about the issues I originally explored on the Freechild Project website. Following are some of those topics listed for your easy reference and contributions. Please make Wikipedia better by getting in there and monkey-wrenching around yourselves – and don’t be shy! Want to know how to write a good article, defeat an “article for deletion” proposal or find references about obscure topics related to young people? Respond to this post!

Here’s a list of some of the articles I created on Wikipedia about topics focused on young people:




Other stuff

This list is almost complete. Also, please understand that Wikipedia is a constantly moving target, and I cannot be held responsible for the content of the articles beyond the last time I edited them.

Please let me know what you think, and again, please let me know how I can support YOU contributing to Wikipedia!

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!