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RIP, Queen Elizabeth II. There’s a lot to do in the digital realm when a monarch dies, and one of the first places people go when a famous person dies is Wikipedia. While some on the internet were glued to Twitter or the BBC, checking the news or watching planes en route to Balmoral Castle, a group of dedicated Wikipedia editors sprang into action to update the page of the late queen within minutes of Buckingham Palace breaking the news.
Wikipedia editors who rush to change a deceased person’s page are playfully called “deaditors”. Annie Rauwerda, the creator of the well-known and beloved Depths of Wikipedia Twitter account, on Friday took a while to explain to his followers what was happening on Queen Elizabeth’s Wikipedia page behind the scenes on the day of her death. For those unfamiliar with the work done (for free) by the countless editors on Wikipedia, Rauwerda’s story was gripping – an online soap opera in which users debated which image to use, created additional articles about death and subsequent reactions, and wondered what to call Charles.
According to Rauwerda, the late Queen’s page had been “pretty exciting” the whole day she died. Editors would choose, for example, a historical image to update the Queen’s page in the event of her death. As Explain by Rauwerda, “Once someone dies, wikipedia usually uses a good historical photo instead of a recent photo of an old person.”
“Might be a little early to discuss this,” wrote a Wikipedia editor, as shown in the screenshot shared by Rauwerda, “but I think we can get ahead and discuss the images he suitable for use in the infobox after the Queen’s death There are quite a number of photos on Commons and a bunch of them from different parties are included below.
her page had been pretty exciting all day, though. here’s a post from hours before where people decide which historical photo is best (once someone dies wikipedia usually uses a good historical photo instead of a recent aged photo) pic.twitter.com/nedB8nlLSX
— depths of wikipedia (@depthsofwiki) September 9, 2022
However, the editors did not limit their work to the Queen’s Wikipedia page. A six-member working group called “WikiProject London Bridge” appeared and began creating and maintaining new articles, “Death of Elizabeth II” and “Reactions to the Death of Elizabeth II”.
As Rauwerda said, Wikipedia editors then began discussing whether to merge the “reactions” article with the main “Death of Elizabeth II” article. They decided to keep the two separate.
“Let’s remember that everyone does it for free. they just think it’s fun and important”, Rauwerda tweeted.
And then there was Charles, the queen’s son who waited to become king for what seems like an eternity. “What name would he take as king?” wondered the editors of Wikipedia. They changed his name in the Queen’s article – from “Charles, Princes of Wales” to “Charles III” to “Charles, King of the United Kingdom” – several times. (Charles opted for “Charles III”.)
There are other examples of the crazy weather Wikipedia editors had on Thursday, which Rauwerda shares in his now-viral Twitter feed. Besides learning more about the oddities of the internet, I also loved how Rauwerda described what Wikipedia editors actually do (again, for free).
“[I] think it’s cool to see how editors write history in real time,” said.