News and notes
Outing of editor causes firestorm
- Editor's note: Outing and other privacy-related issues are taken very seriously on the English Wikipedia. Given the sensitive nature of this story, readers are requested to respect these policies in any comments they make below.
"WP:OUTING", the normally little-noticed policy corner of the English Wikipedia that governs the release of editors' personal information, has suddenly been brought to wider attention after long-term contributor and featured article writer Cla68 was indefinitely blocked last week. This snowballed into several other blocks, a desysopping by ArbCom, and a request for arbitration.
- Alleged outing
The saga stems from a post by Cla68 on the talk page of User:Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and its sister sites. There, Cla68 asked her to comment on a post published on Wikipediocracy, the successor to Wikipedia Review, which outed User:Russavia.
Wikipediocracy includes articles written by current, blocked, banned, and retired English Wikipedia editors. Its mission statement says that it exists "to shine the light of scrutiny into the dark crevices of Wikipedia and its related projects; to examine the corruption there, along with the structural flaws; and to inoculate the unsuspecting public against the torrent of misinformation, defamation, and general nonsense [from Wikipedia]." The site's founders conceived Wikipediocracy as a successor to Wikipedia Review, seeing the reincarnation as an attempt to return to Wikipedia Review's "better days" (as opposed to its worse days, when it gained a reputation as a toxic attack site). In at least one part, the project succeeded: the Signpost notes that Wikipediocracy is more active than Wikipedia Review, which has not allowed new registration since April 2012 and has one moderator left.
Long-time Signpost readers will remember Russavia's involvement in several arbitration cases, including Russavia–Biophys, Eastern European mailing list, and enforcement of the earlier Eastern Europe. He was blocked for 12 months from the English Wikipedia in May 2012, but this was lifted on 7 March by the Arbitration Committee after a successful appeal. He is also a prolific contributor, administrator, and bureaucrat on Wikimedia Commons.
Twenty-two hours after the post, User:Beeblebrox oversighted it and blocked Cla68 indefinitely. In most cases, an outing is accidental and the situation is swiftly resolved with an apology and promise to not do it again. Cla68, however, asked for an unblock in a statement on his talk page that again could be construed as outing. The names Cla68 used in this statement were quickly suppressed by Someguy1221. A second similar appeal was also rejected, and Cla68's access to his talk page was revoked.
The oversighting team was hampered by long-standing conventions that prevent them from publicly discussing oversight actions, but Beeblebrox pointed out that the block "was discussed at length on the oversight mailing list and there is broad agreement that the oversighting, the block, and the revocation of talk page access were all not only permitted by policy but the right thing to do."
- The net widens
The story quickly gathered pace, with watchers of Cla68's talk page chiming in on both sides of the debate. Cla68 told the Signpost that he did not see the original post as outing, as "[Russavia's] real name was linked to his [Wikipedia] username on two official, public mailing lists that are hosted on WMF servers. Since links to those mailing lists are used in Wikipedia and many, if not most, are presented as being an official part of Wikipedia, then it appears that he self-outed on Wikipedia." Cla68 also highlighted other self-outings that, in his view, suggest that Russavia had already outed himself and that Cla68's subsequent unblock request was within the outing policy.
Defenders of Cla68 used much the same reasoning. Beeblebrox rebutted these arguments to the Signpost, saying "whether the information is available on some other website is not the point—there has never been such an exception to the outing policy. Each of us has the right to choose not to use our real name on Wikipedia regardless of whether or not we tie [our] account name to our real name elsewhere." Cla68 noted, though, that "each individual Internet user is responsible for their own privacy. If someone is at least making an effort to be private, then Wikipedia should try to help them ... however, the editor in question was not making much effort ... to protect his privacy. In that case, it makes Wikipedia's administration look very foolish to act like a serious violation of privacy had occurred."
Supporters of the block additionally discovered that Russavia had previously blocked Cla68 on Wikimedia Commons, leading to accusations of petty revenge. Echoing similar positions, Prioryman stated that "while Cla68 didn't write the blog post in question (I assume), his act of posting a link to it also clearly constitutes an act of harassment ... Honestly, none of this is rocket science."
Discussion on Cla68's talk page has led to nearly 100,000 bytes of text, while the snowball has also been rolled large enough to capture User:Kevin, who unblocked Cla68 without approval from ArbCom's Ban Appeals Subcommittee. This led to his desysopping under Level II procedures and even greater amounts of debate. The saga has led to a request for arbitration, and a motion proposing the return of his administrator rights is pending and currently succeeding. The committee is allowed to refuse a reinstatement of the administrator right, but for this a full arbitration case is required.
Beeblebrox told the Signpost that he believes Kevin's unblock was an "extraordinarily poor idea. This should have been handled by the ban appeals sub committee ... because they are experts [who] specialize in handling difficult or sensitive block situations like this." For his part, Kevin told the website Examiner.com (in an article written by banned English Wikipedia editor Gregory Kohs):
||One of the policies of Wikipedia is that blocking is only used to prevent disruptive edits, so once the threat of disruption was removed, the block became unnecessary. The other reason [for unblocking] is that [Cla68] was blocked from responding on his own talk page. All the while, discussion raged on that page about what should be done with him, of course he was unable to respond. I find this situation offends my sense of natural justice, and is one of the more obnoxious aspects of Wikipedia.
Also caught up in the controversy was User:MZMcBride, who was blocked by User:David Fuchs for "Disruptive editing: WP:OUTING, IDIDNTHEARTHAT, trolling" in regards to comments made on the Arbitration Committee's noticeboard.
- The Wikipediocracy question
The Signpost asked Cla68 to provide a hypothetical reply to editors who think Wikipediocracy is unhealthy for the Wikipedia community. He told us:
||I can't imagine how corrupt and incorrigible Wikipedia's administration would be if not for Wikipedia Review and Wikipediocracy. These two forums have exposed so many issues that Wikipedia's and the Wikimedia Foundation's administrations have tried to sweep under the rug, including mailing list cabals, BLP abuses, COI abuses, and unethical shenanigans in at least one of the foundation's chapter organizations. ... Editors who speak up on-wiki about abuses have often been threatened with sanctions, blocks, or bans or been ganged-up on by cabals of activist editors. I have personally experienced it, so I know how it feels. Having an independent forum allows people a place to expose and highlight issues that need to be addressed where they can't be bullied or intimidated. I believe the threat of exposure has influenced Wikipedia's administration, the foundation, and chapter organizations to be more transparent and straightforward in their operations and procedures.
Commenting on the same topic from another point of view, User:Risker stated:
||Speaking personally, ... I am not particularly in favour of knee-jerk removal of all links to such sites. On the other hand, I'm also pretty much opposed to providing them with much of a platform here, particularly given the poor quality of their blogs and the discourse in the forums. Unfortunately, [Wikipediocracy] has never really been terribly valuable as a criticism site, unlike Wikipedia Review in the 2008–2011 era. It's been pretty obvious for a while that a lot of the links people were adding that led back to [Wikipediocracy] pages were being inserted in the hope that they'd recruit more readers and participants. Guess they've got their wish now.
- AFT RfC rejects expansion of the tool: On 28 February, the widely debated Article Feedback Tool (AFT) request for comment (RfC) was closed by Geni. He concluded that the community said "no to full roll-out but there is a large enough minority to support continued experimentation if the foundation wants to do that". The decision was also noted on the German Wikipedia, which is currently undertaking an AFT-pilot—in which oversight policy issues take center stage—of its own.
- OmegaWiki RfC: A RfC on whether to adopt OmegaWiki as a Wikimedia project is underway on Meta, the coordination website for the Wikimedia movement and its various projects. The main points debated concern the potential relationship of the project to the already established dictionaries (the Wiktionaries) and Wikidata.
- Individual Engagement Grants review results: On March 4, the WMF released aggregated scores of the application assessments delivered by the volunteers of the IEG advisory committee. The new grant scheme, designed to empower individual and small groups of volunteers to tackle large and time-consuming structural community issues, attracted 23 eligible proposals and a wide range of additional ideas under development in the scheme's open ideas lab. Funding decisions by the WMF are set to be published on March 29.
- Teahouse anniversary: The Teahouse, a forum to assist new editors, has reached its first anniversary. The Wikimedia Blog stated "One year later, the data show that Teahouse indeed has a positive impact on the new editor experience for English Wikipedia, and demonstrates some promise as a gender gap strategy."
- Steward appointments, reconfirmations: The results of this year's stewards election were announced on 28 February. Six new volunteers, including QuiteUnusual of the English Wikipedia, will have global access to all tools. In addition, the annual reconfirmation of all stewards resulted in three removals and two resignations.
- WMF ends recognition of Kenya chapter: The foundation has declined to extend its provisional recognition of the now-former Wikimedia Kenya, as the chapter failed to meet the condition to legally incorporate within one year. The WMF stated that "the provisional board disintegrated (with some people leaving the chapter entirely) and no replacement announced, almost no activity took place this past year, casting doubt on the group's sustainability as a chapter, and certain personal issues added much confusion and demoralization, which no doubt contributed to the inactivity." They encouraged the participants to form a user group instead.
- Chapters association chairmanship election: On 6 March, the nominations phase among chapter representatives to the chapters association ended. Three contenders, Kirill Lokshin of Wikimedia D.C., Lorenzo Losa of Italy, and the German chapter's representative Markus Glaser, will contest the election, in which the 22 council members will decide who will succeed Ashley Van Haeften as the group’s chairman.