Who edited the Queen’s Wikipedia page after her death? Meet the “WikiJackals” who document the latest news

In the days following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, her Wikipedia page was updated more than 558 times. The first change made – listed in the page’s revision history section as occurring at 3:40 p.m. UTC – came immediately after the first reliable sources confirmed the queen’s death.

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The first Wikipedia editor to update his death goes by the username Sydwhunte. According to another editor on Sydwhunte’s page, Sydwhunte managed to update the date of death within a minute of the royals’ tweet.

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“From one Wikipedian to another, I have to congratulate you for being the first past tense edition of Queen Elizabeth II,” said user Normal Name. “Very impressive speed.”

“Truly an achievement, albeit a strange one,” wrote user XyNq, “a notable sighting of a WikiJackal.”

The Wikipedia community is made up of volunteers who love to edit and improve the articles on the platform. There is no final editor – in fact, Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to reminding readers that this is not a reliable source. The majority of Wikipedia editors are anonymous, and the page editing process is meant to be collaborative.

There are levels of editors, depending on their specialties within the Wikipedia space. A WikiJackal or “deaditor” is someone who is the first editor to edit a personality or celebrity’s article to say they are dead.

Annie Rauwerda, the person behind the popular Twitter account, @depthsofwiki, noted in a thread this Dutch Wikipedian Hay Kranen is behind the name “deaditor”. In a blog post written by Kranen which Rauwerda shared, Kranen found that when a celebrity dies, more often than not a “very diverse set of people, often anonymous” are responsible for the first edits – “surprisingly often from their smartphone”.

Kranen speculates that while the Wikipedia editing user experience isn’t as good on a call screen versus desktop, these publishers typically spring into action immediately upon receiving a mobile news alert.

“Wikipedia is, for better or worse, the de facto collection of human knowledge, and the people who edit it contribute to the history of mankind,” Rauwerda told In The Know. “The publisher base isn’t huge, but there is a core of people who care enough about accessible information to volunteer their time.”

Although Wikipedia is self-aware enough to know that being a community-run source of information cannot be considered flawless, the platform remains an easily accessible resource with editors who genuinely want to make all information readily available and free.

@depthsofwiki is dedicated to sharing articles and unusual facts on Wikipedia with its 635,000 subscribers. She also helps edit some articles in her spare time.

“When I improve an article, I don’t really care about getting personal recognition,” she explained. It’s usually just a matter of annoyance that something isn’t covered well and then I want to fix it.

Rauwerda shared a big breakdown of what happened immediately after the Queen broke the news. She noted that within 15 minutes of the first change, more than 55 changes have been made on page – including changing verbs to the past tense. Rauwerda noted that two hours before the official announcement, another Wikipedia editor had already edited the page for “Death of Elizabeth II.”

Spikes in traffic on Wikipedia are directly related to the announcement of the death of an important person. Within 48 hours of singer Prince’s death in 2016, his Wikipedia page had more than 11 million page views.

Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 is known to the Wikipedia community as the “cache stampede”. Called “The Michael Jackson Effect”, at the death of the singer, his article on Wikipedia broke visitor records – more than a million people visited for an hour. The traffic caused overloads on the site and caused it to crash.

According to Rauwerda, the death of the queen increased traffic to 929,000 views per minute but did not crash the site.

For some numbers, it can take weeks for traffic to their Wikipedia pages to return to normal. When Tom Petty died in 2017, it took seven weeks to get his page views back to pre-death numbers.

Publishers working on these pages that experience a spike in traffic are not recognized. Their names are not listed as bylines like in traditional news media and no single editor is responsible for all the work that goes into an article.

“Most engaged editors don’t do this hobby for fame,” Rauwerda noted.

The process isn’t for the faint-hearted either – Rauwerda added that aspiring editors should consider working on “relatively low-stakes topics” instead of delving into breaking news.

“If you dive into a fast-paced news event and don’t understand Wikipedia styleyou might end up creating more hassle than help,” she explained, recommending that new editors start by changing “the wording of articles, adding citations and cleaning up outdated information.”

But there is no set process or series of tasks to be completed in order to earn WikiJackal status. The Wikipedia community does not respond to anyone in particular.

“There are different levels and privileges that Wikipedia editors can earn, but there is no “main Wikipedia editor” that gets [the] last word,” she said. “Wikipedia’s content decisions are quite democratic compared to most other places on the internet.”

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