The great power of a Wikipedia sysop

On: September 20, 2009
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Yu-Fen Chen
A newbie in Amsterdam since summer 2009, Yu-Fen Chen is a current student at the New Media M.A. program. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Public Administration from National Chengchi University, and previously worked for Ogilvy Public Relations in Taiwan. Yu-Fen is interested in social media and environmental activism. Outside the classroom, she enjoys travelling in developing countries and loves Malaysian foods the most.


A sysop (as a system operator) is a controversial actor in Wikipedia. The term sysop means an administrator of a multi-user computer system, such as a bulletin board system (BBS) or an online virtual community. In the Wikipedia world, Sysops are known as editors who have been trusted with access to restricted technical features. There are no official requirements for Wikipedia contributors who want to become a sysop, yet he/she is expected to play a regular active role in editing Wikipedia pages for least several months, with familiarity with the procedures and practices of Wikipedia. The most important but disputable[1] asset of a sysop is the right to protect and delete a page, as well as to block other editors[2].

Although mainstream media has recognized Wikipedia as an open, free, and collaborative community, it is ironic that the purpose of assigning administrators stays blurry. Even more, a sysop’s editorial authority is purposely disavowed by Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder[3]:

I just wanted to say that becoming a sysop is *not a big deal*.I think perhaps I’ll go through semi-willy-nilly and make a bunch of people who have been around for awhile sysops. I want to dispel the aura of “authority” around the position. It’s merely a technical matter that the powers given to sysops are not given out to everyone.I don’t like that there’s the apparent feeling here that being granted sysop status is a really special thing.

—Jimbo Wales, archive entry

My interest to know more about Wikipedia sysops arises from creating a new Wikipedia page of “Googlization.” Before I made the posting, I accidentally found one cache of Wiki webpage which showed 2 records of deletion of “Googlization” in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Therefore, I tried to understand Wikipedia’s rule of Neutral Point of View (NPOV), and provided recognizable academic sources as I could. Nevertheless, within two hours after my posting, the “Googlization” page immediately fell into a non-NPOV article (shown as below) by a Wikipedia user: WikiDan61.

“The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the discussion on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (September 2009)”


Though I was well-prepared to the possible deletion by choosing “Googlization,” my rage still urged me to argue in the Talk page: Are the academic sources I collected unreliable? And aren’t “McDonaldization” and “Cocacolonization” both a pejorative term as they are?

Then, one eerie moment happened. It was about 6 hours later after my argument that I found the “Googlization” page was completely gone! I couldn’t believe how speedy the deletion was and started to spread this uncanny news in my MSN messenger and Facebook. Surprisingly, the page appeared again 30 minutes after my panic.

At this moment, deep in my heart I started to sense the secret dark forces behind my laptop screen. The ‘page disappearing’ myth remains irresolvable, and the part I ponder and fear the most is: who are those Wikipedia sysops being granted with the right to delete Wikipeida pages and how can them alter our world view of knowledge?

Recent survey shows that the Wikipedia contributors’ profile consists of 87% of males (as in 2009)[5] and 84% from the Western countries in (as in 2008)[6] . For the academia, the Wikipedia editor as a white male geek with a limited mono-cultural worldview based on Western rationality remains a concern[7]. It is also self-explanatory that a majority of males dominates the sysop roles in the Wiki community.

These white-male-geek sysosp are powerful not because of their knowledge, but ironically, it is the tool they are skilled at that can kill knowledge. The distinct between information and knowledge is smeared by the tool they are holding—computer programming language. Is the most basic requirement for contributing to Wikipedia, not knowledge. Once a Wiki contributor owns the great power, he/(with minor possibility, a SHE) then can operate his own worldview and random knowledge to judge if a Wiki page violates sensitive issues such as a NPOV. Under the community of biased sysop dominance, the price that Wikipedia readers have to pay is sacrificing “to know” to “to be informed,” along with “to know more” to “to know less.”

And even for people who don’t usually depend on Wikipedia, thanks to Google Search they are gradually programmed to retrieve their knowledge from Wikipedia. Jure Cuhalev’s analysis in 2006 shows that Wikipedia ranks highly and favorably in Google (and Yahoo) search. And according to Chris Anderson, the Wikipedia Foundation, which pays for the services and bandwidth that Wikipedia runs on, is a nonprofit supported by donors including corporate like Google[9]. It is therefore reasonable to argue that Google is abusing the non-profit Wikipedia to enrich the search engine’s key words and content, and Wikipedia is betraying its contributors by ‘selling’ their Wiki pages to certain stake holder’s interests. Internet users become more than a victim of inferior knowledge—their world view is also pathetically dominated by voracious business interests.

Would a Wikipedia sysop be a part of the common criminal structure? It would an interesting subject to understand the limitation of their power in this opensource community where individual, community and business interests entwined.

[1] Wikipedia,

[2] Wikipeida,

[3] Joseph M. Reagle Jr., Do as I do: leadership in the Wikipedia

[4] Wikipedia,

[5]Andrew LaVallee, Only 13% of Wikipedia Contributors are women, Study Says, Wall Street Journal. 31 Aug 2009

[6] Wikipedia,

[7] Nishant Shah, CPOV: Critical Point of View, The Centre for Information and Socieity. 10 Jul 209

[8] ibid

[9] Chris Anderson, FREE: The Future of a Radical Price, 2009: New York. p 218

Comments are closed.