User:Dtobias/Why BADSITES is bad policy

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NOTE: This essay was originally written in 2007, so some of its specific references may be dated, but it remains relevant given that conflicts over the same issues continue to erupt here. Some newer updates are near the bottom of the essay.

Why BADSITES is bad policy... or, link bans considered harmful[edit]

An ArbCom case on this topic has concluded without recommending any blanket link bans, but recommending that the community draft a policy. A policy proposal is now under discussion about this issue.

Lately there's been a whole lot of hoo-hah over the (alleged) policy against linking to so-called "attack sites" -- once a remote site is declared (by whom?) to be such a "bad site", it is supposedly a Very Bad Thing to ever link to anything in it -- anywhere, in any context, for any purpose, to anything under the same domain name as something that's deemed improper. The fact that this has never received anything approaching an actual consensus doesn't faze its supporters, who think that if they just keep repeating their claims loudly and shrilly, that will make it so. Having a "politically correct" position on this issue has even been made into a litmus test for administrator nominations, such as this one (which seemed originally to be passing anyway, despite efforts to torpedo it; however, the opposers ultimately became numerous enough to keep it from getting the required high percentage even though they were still in the minority). The whole thing has all the hallmarks of a moral panic, and is pursued by some in a zero tolerance manner.

What's an 'attack site'?[edit]

So, just what is an "attack site"? Is Stormfront, a neo-Nazi site (have I triggered Godwin's Law yet?) that's been accused of being a place where people organize to plot violent acts in an allegedly upcoming race war, such a site? Naw... Wikipedia links to it... right there in its article on the site. How about the site of Ernst Zündel (how do I type those umlaut thingies?), a Holocaust denier whose writings are banned in many countries, including his native Germany where he's presently in prison for expressing his views about the Nazi holocaust. His site's still online, however, and, though it might just be illegal to access it depending on what country you're in, it's linked from Wikipedia. Speaking of Nazis, some nice swastika images are in Wikimedia Commons, with notes on the image description page that the display of them may be illegal in some countries. Some may regard any appearance of such symbols as emotionally assaultive... but they're part of history, so they're part of Wikipedia.

But the real Nazis were defeated over 60 years ago, and the present-day neo-Nazis are more pathetic than truly threatening for the most part... so let's look at a group, and a Web site, that's actually harassing real, live people now... Westboro Baptist Church. Don't let the name fool you... it's not connected with any mainstream Baptist denomination. Those are all Godless flaming liberals, according to Fred Phelps, who brought the church into prominence from the 1990s on with its slogan "God Hates Fags". As the slogan implies, their big push is to hassle, harass, and attack homosexuals, and anybody else they think supports the "homosexual agenda" (in which category they actually include the United States military, despite its anti-gay policies). This is a group that the Ku Klux Klan has actually denounced as overly hateful and intolerant. And did I say they're harassing "real, live people"? Actually, the harassment doesn't stop when you're dead; it's only getting started then. They're well known for picketing the funerals of gay and lesbian people, to inform their loved ones that the "dear departed" is burning in hell. They're also known for using (or abusing) the laws regarding civil rights and civil liberties to sue (sometimes successfully) anybody who interferes with their God-and-Constitution-given right to engage in this harassment. (The U.S. Supreme Court has even affirmed their free-speech rights with regard to funeral protests.) Their site assists in their efforts by announcing the time, place, and subject of future hasslings of theirs so outside hatemongers can join in... and Wikipedia links to it.

And that's a good thing![edit]

The fact that Wikipedia links to such vile stuff is, ironically, actually a good thing about it. You see, the world is full of nasty things, and any site that's trying to present a thorough picture of it must therefore include content that's not all bunnies and ponies. Wikipedia's style (at least, what it aims for even if it doesn't always achieve it) is to present a balanced and objective (neutral point of view) presentation of everything it writes about, so that readers can make up their own minds about it. This includes giving links to the relevant outside sites on the subject, both "official" sites from the written-about entity's point of view, and notable criticism sites. Sometimes, as in the case of some of the groups I mentioned above, the group's own site does a better job of showing them for the hateful fools they are than any outside "hatchet job" could ever do.

It's not just a bad idea... it's the law![edit]

Sometimes, a site like Wikipedia will come under great pressure to weaken or remove the neutral point of view from some subject that, in the opinion of somebody -- maybe somebody very powerful -- is beyond the pale. I've already mentioned Nazism and holocaust denial, which are illegal in various countries. Then, there are all the subjects deemed sensitive by the government of the People's Republic of China, such as Taiwan, Tibet, Tiananmen Square, and Falun Gong. To the people in power there, the "wrong" views on these subjects make any site that expresses them an attack site... it attacks the legitimacy of the leaders of the glorious revolution of the people. They've gotten such big players as Google and Yahoo! to buckle in to their censorship, but Wikipedia doesn't go along... and as a result, we're blocked for access by their billion-plus people most of the time. But we're not giving in, because Wikipedia is not censored... not for minors, not for workplaces, and not for governments.

Well, there's one government we've got to respect, isn't there? Our servers are located in the United States, so we're bound to follow the law there, right? Well, yes, in general... but apparently even that is not absolute. Some claim that the HD DVD encryption key recently posted all over the Internet is illegal to disseminate in accordance with the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but, after much controversy and debate, this hexadecimal number was inserted in the relevant article and has stayed put there. Now we're an "attack site" from the standpoint of people in the entertainment industry who think the publication of this information attacks their industry's livelihood by "outing" private information on how their products are encrypted. Some say that it's senseless to try to suppress the number now... you can't get toothpaste back in a tube, and closing the barn door is futile after the horse left, but The Law Is The Law, isn't it... even if The Law Is an Ass?

So, what sort of attack site isn't allowed, then?[edit]

So there you have a veritable cornucopia of vile, hateful, dangerous, immoral, illegal, and/or harmful sites, images, and data. Mix them all up in one big mish-mosh, and what have you got? No, not Hungarian goulash... it's Wikipedia!

But none of this is the target of the pushers of the anti-BADSITES policy. So just what horrible menace is out there which requires the sort of absolute, draconian, zero tolerance policy that is not needed or sought for dealing with Nazis, or the God-Hates-Fags crowd, or things breaking the law in Germany or China or America? What is just so unspeakably evil that we shouldn't even be talking about it over here? Newbies just stumbling onto this essay without prior knowledge of the politics of Wikipedia probably have no clue. The answer is... sites that attack the editors of Wikipedia. Yep... we're neutral-point-of-view when it comes to Holocaust victims, or gays harassed by ersatz Baptists in Kansas, or the Chinese government, or the U.S. movie industry, or anybody else... but we give ourselves special protection none of them get.

Wikipedia gazes at its own navel (is that what the U.S. Navel Observatory does?)[edit]

It hasn't always been like this. When I first came to Wikipedia a few years ago, one thing that favorably impressed me was how it wasn't afraid of criticism; there's even a page in the main article space called Criticism of Wikipedia. While self-references to Wikipedia are generally discouraged in mainspace (it's hard for Wikipedians to objectively judge, from the inside, the degree of importance anything directly connected with the site has in the outside world), the increasing importance of Wikipedia in the world (it's in the top ten sites in most Web rankings now) means that some mention is necessary, and, like everything else in Wikipedia, it at least attempts to be balanced. This means writing about some of the critics and criticisms of the site, its concept, and the people involved with it. Now, once you get out of the mainspace and into the "wikipedia:" namespace, where Wikipedians discuss Wikipedia with other Wikipedians, you see a lot more commentary, most of which isn't sufficiently notable to deserve a place in the main article space; there is a proper place to bring up all manner of outside commentary, both positive and negative (and both rational and stark raving loony!), Wikipedia has received.

I found this to be much more open-minded and free-spirited than many other Web sites, forums, and communities I had encountered, some of which were run in an iron-fisted manner by bosses or ruling cliques who went so far as to build up "enemies lists" of people, companies, organizations, rival sites, or other things that were so "taboo" that they weren't allowed even to be mentioned, on pain of getting banned from the site. Sometimes they even programmed their site's "bad words filter" to censor out mention of whatever people, places, and things were in disfavor with them.

What would Dumbledore do?[edit]

This tabooing-out of the very name of somebody about whom your community has some sort of collective hatred or fear reminds me of a passage from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Philosopher's Stone in the original British edition, but I have the American one). At the conclusion of his adventure, Harry is recovering in the school infirmary, and has this conversation with headmaster and mentor Albus Dumbledore:

"Sir?" said Harry. "I've been thinking... sir -- even if the Stone's gone, Vol-, I mean, You-Know-Who --"
"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."

Dumbledore is a very wise man. Later in the series, when the establishment of the Ministry of Magic is out to "deal with" the return of the Dark Lord by putting their collective heads in the sand and pretending it didn't happen, and imposing a state of censorship with regard to information that might disabuse the public of this notion (their agent, the odious Dolores Umbridge, bans a tabloid newspaper that "spills the beans", which results in it becoming the most popular reading matter at Hogwarts), Dumbledore sticks steadfastly to the attitude of acknowledging that evil exists and confronting it head-on (Apply directly to the forehead...), not pretending that if you ban all mention of it, it will go away.

I'd much rather have Dumbledore as my role model than Umbridge... wouldn't you?

Update: In the seventh and final book of the series [*** SPOILER WARNING!!!! ***], the "bad guys" manage to get a curse in place that actually does cause Bad Stuff to happen whenever anybody dares to say the accursed name, including the "outing" of the location of the person who said it. When that sort of thing happens, one can argue that it may justify extreme measures of censorship to prevent it, and some "BADSITES" advocates have cited things involving what happens when you "Google" a name as being analogous situations. That's worth some thought, though in my opinion it still falls far short of a "Voldemort in Deathly Hallows" sort of situation and the extreme measures that requires.

(But verbal taboos have a way of catching those trying to enforce them...)

2020 Update: Now J. K. Rowling is herself getting "unpersoned" in some circles due to her politically incorrect views on gender; in some Potter fan sites she's now "The Author Who Must Not Be Named", and another Dumbledore quote about the bravery of standing up to one's friends may apply.

How did we end up with a "bad-sites ban" anyway?[edit]

Good question. Policy around here is usually made by community consensus, occasionally (but rarely) overruled "from the top" by Jimmy Wales or the Wikimedia Foundation. However, no consensus has ever developed for a policy banning links to "attack sites", and nothing but endless bickering has ever resulted when any attempt to get such a consensus was made. Nothing on the subject has been dictated down from Jimbo or the Foundation either, to the best of my knowledge (certainly, if such a thing existed, it would be trumpeted by one of the vociferous supporters of this policy). The slender reed that the proponents have to go on is a "principle" agreed to by the arbitrators in an ArbCom case that "A website that engages in the practice of publishing private information concerning the identities of Wikipedia participants will be regarded as an attack site whose pages should not be linked to from Wikipedia pages under any circumstances." (Ironically, in 2008, the site that was the focus of that case finally got an article about it here again, and got linked to on that article as is usual for articles on Web sites, by community consensus despite stringent opposition at every step of the way from the "Zero Tolerance of Harassment Sites" crowd.)

However, there are lots of problems with this. First of all, the ArbCom, by its own admission, doesn't exist to make policy. They neither make nor follow precedent, but merely rule to the best of their ability on particular conflicts between particular people that are the subject of their cases. Their rulings are binding only on those participants, and only for the specific case they are ruling on. Anything they state as "principles" and "findings of fact" are merely preambles to their decision, explaining their reasoning; they are not rules that are binding on everybody for all time, and in fact there have been other ArbCom decisions that acknowledged the possible abuse of an absolutist policy such as they advocated in their other decision and counseled a more careful approach. Anything they decide, based on their interpretation of what they believe consensus policy to be at the time they make a ruling, is capable of proving to be no longer applicable in the future due to changes of consensus.

This fact is commonly ignored by supporters of this alleged policy, who have often asserted that consensus is unnecessary because "the ArbCom has ruled, and the law is the law! Now shut up and let me go remove all links to sites I don't like!" When backed into a corner and forced to admit that consensus does indeed play a part in determining policy, not just ArbCom fiat, they then claim that "consensus" means "the stuff I and my friends have been doing and getting away with, because we intimidated all our opposition into backing down from edit-warring about it". Well, as Humpty Dumpty said in Through the Looking Glass, "a word means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." If I say "consensus" means "a nice knock-down argument", who's to dispute it?

Right now, after an attempt to enact a separate "WP:BADSITES" policy page, and some vehement edit-warring over whether it was "approved", "rejected", or just an essay, it ended up being redirected to WP:NPA, the no-personal-attacks page, where a section was added and edit-warred over (at present it has a "disputed" tag in it). There's no telling exactly what it will say at this moment if you go there and look at it, since it's been in a state of flux.

Some want to go even further and add those sites to the "spam blocklist", something normally only reserved for the likes of "herbal Viagra sellers" that have no logical place as legitimate links and are only being used by spammers. This, however, was a little too controversial to be enacted given that this blocklist wasn't specific to the English Wikipedia but applied to all Wikimedia projects, many of which see no reason to go along with a purported community policy on just one project. However, there is currently an English-specific spam block list too, and that has occasionally been attempted to be used for politically-motivated site blocking (though as far as I am aware there is no such thing in it at the moment).

A new ArbCom case in late 2007 found some sites to be "harassing" and urged as a guideline that such sites not be "frivolously" linked, but declined to directly impose any flat link bans or penalties. That case also observed that earlier policy and rulings have sometimes been misused to suppress criticism rather than harassment, and the community was urged to draft a new policy on the issue.

How has it been used and enforced?[edit]

Policy or not, it's been vigorously enforced on a few occasions by editors who go on a rampage doing a scouring of the Shire of all of those pesky "attack site" links, going through hill, dale, user page, talk page, user talk page, archived talk page, closed AfD, closed RfA, essay, and generally leaving no stone unturned in rooting out all of these evil links, generally mostly ones that were not being used in the context of any sort of personal attack. In doing so, the rampaging dark knights end up drawing much more attention to those sites than the deeply-buried links ever did, since various people with those pages in their watchlist, or who monitor the new-changes page, will notice the massive amount of link deletion and be curious about it. That is, in fact, how I became aware of the issue in the first place.

Just what sites are banned by this?[edit]

Another good question. Well, there isn't actually any official "attack sites list" anywhere. This would be a silly thing to have; if it were out there in the open, publicly visible, then it would amount to a central, prominent set of links to the sites that the proponents of the policy don't want anybody linking to... kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? If it were kept secret, it would be the sort of "star chamber" thing we don't really want to have in a wiki. So we end up with a "I can't define it, but I know one when I see one" attitude (like Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once expressed with regard to hard-core pornography). Once a site has been so regarded by the enforcers of this "policy", it's pretty much impossible to get it off; you'll have better luck getting off the no fly list of the Department of Homeland Security. Even if a site is not presently hosting anything that "outs" personal information about Wikipedia editors, the enforcers will say "That's irrelevant; it has done it in the past, and probably will do it in the future." Any attempt at discussion is futile; it's hard to do without actually citing links to the sites in question, and the policy has quite definitely been enforced on people in the course of engaging in debate about the policy itself, so that's out.

Actual applications of the policy have included removing a link to one of Daniel Brandt's sites from a Signpost article about him and his site (even though a link to the very same site was on Brandt's article itself, though the entire article has since been deleted after much fighting); and a removal (quickly reverted) of a link to Kelly Martin's blog on her own user page (somebody decided that this constituted an "attack site" because she criticized the actions of another editor).

Especially controversial was the case of the official site of notable science fiction editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden, which includes a blog that happened to critique a particular Wikipedia editor (Nielsen Hayden has some issues with Wikipedia), causing that Wikipedia editor to declare everything from that site to be an "attack site" and attempt to remove all references to it. This caused a major flap extending to articles on a wide variety of subjects where things in Nielsen Hayden's site were used as reliable sources. (A very ironic coda, years later, is that the editor in question, fervent in his insistence that "attack sites" be suppressed due to their evil harrassing of Wikipedians, eventually got banned from Wikipedia for "outing" personal information about another editor with whom he was in a dispute. That's just the sort of activity that those "badsites" are hated for engaging in.)

More recently, people have attempted to argue that Perverted Justice, an anti-pedophile site that has criticized Wikipedia for not rooting out and banning all pedophile editors, is an attack site. This situation is made more complicated by the fact that they've been redirecting links with a Wikipedia referer to their anti-Wikipedia page rather than the particular other pages being linked to, which makes their site hard to use as a reference and gives a valid reason to avoid linking to it, but some still go beyond this reasonable point and try to whip up general anti-attack-site hysteria against it. Another recent case is that of the official site of Michael Moore, which attacked a particular Wikipedian and prompted various people to edit-war over whether it should remain linked on the article on him (and lots of other places where it's linked). And somebody has been trying to delink the official site of Don Murphy from the article on him... but ironically also linking to things on that site several times on talk pages while discussing why he considers it an attack site. (These last three cases were part of a very busy week in which some other things were also attempted to be delinked as attack sites, including the above-mentioned Nielsen Hayden blog again.)

On the other hand, not all vehemently anti-Wikipedia sites that "out" real names (and locations, and sexual fetishes, among other things) of editors seem to be created equal; Wikitruth does that stuff, but still has an article on Wikipedia, complete with an external link to that site. (Well, it did, at least until an apparent single-purpose troll sockpuppet making a WP:POINT went and removed the links and put the article up for deletion... but it was speedy-kept and the links restored. This didn't stop one of the anti-BADSITES editors from subsequently removing a bunch of links to it from other project, talk, and archive pages, though. At a much later date the article was finally deleted for good as lacking in long-term notability.) And when Slashdot published an article repeating claims from some of the "attack sites" regarding the identity of a particular administrator, there were some futile "closing the barn door after the horse left" attempts to suppress links to and discussions about that particular article, but nobody was so foolish as to insist on a total link ban of that notable "geek site" as a whole.

Where does it stop?[edit]

If you ban all links to some set of "bad sites", should you also ban all links to any other sites that link to those sites? After all, the bad site might just be one more click away. In the manner of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, just about everything in the Web is just a few clicks away from everything else, so maybe you'll end up banning all links if you take this logic to its ultimate conclusion. You should also ban links to Wikipedia revision diffs which involve adding or removing attack-site links (even when you're using them to show how some user is doing such adding or removing in the course of a debate about this user's status), since those links give you a link to the "bad site". And you shouldn't even mention the name of the bad sites (shades of Lord Vold... er, The One Who Must Not Be Named), since that would make it too easy to either guess its URL or Google it.

Don't laugh... some of the above-named reducio-ad-absurdum extensions have actually been seriously brought forward by people in the course of their vigorous campaigns against the Evil Editors who Add Attack Links.

Meanwhile, respectable journalists such as those at The New York Times put no stock at all in such taboos... they've casually linked to the same sites we're agonizing about when covering the disputes, scandals, and controversies the sites are relevant to.

Knocking down a straw man: Why would one ever want to link to such a site?[edit]

A popular statement of this policy's supporters is that "I can't see why anybody would ever want to link to such a site." They often go on to mention the non-notability of the sites in question, and their unsuitability as reliable sources. These are all straw men and non-sequiturs; these concepts apply only to links and references in the main article space, while the efforts to eradicate these links have been primarily concentrated in other spaces such as user, talk, and project pages, where the rules and principles are very different. While there have been rare occasions where links of this sort have been appropriate in mainspace articles (like in Daniel Brandt as mentioned above -- the one place where the sites are reliable sources is in presenting the views of their creators, so if those creators happen to be notable enough to have an article, or a mention in another article, then the links may make sense in conjunction with this), the main area where the battles have raged over inserting and removing the links have been in pages where people are conducting "meta-level" discussions about issues connected with the encyclopedia. These aren't part of the encyclopedia proper, and are not subject to the same conditions.

Some of the reasons people might see fit to link to a so-called "attack site" include:

  • To laugh at (or with) stuff there, if it's funny (intentionally or not). There can be plenty of good comic relief there.
  • To learn from it, if it's educational; believe it or not, there has been good constructive criticism in those sites. It isn't always intended constructively; sometimes the aim is to denigrate Wikipedia, but if it results in, for instance, somebody compiling a public list of known plagiarized articles in Wikipedia, we ought to look at it and remove any dubious material so highlighted.
  • To fight it, if it's evil; "know thine enemy" is a good proverb.
  • Some people actually like to link to personal attacks on themselves that others have made, on and off wiki, seeing them as a badge of honor. (There are even userboxes out there declaring the nasty stuff the user has been called.)
  • Some may wish to encourage "right-thinking" people to engage in discussion and debate with our critics, finding this to be a much more constructive approach than vilifying them from afar.
  • When presenting evidence related to discussions that involve such sites, it may be useful to link to them. For instance, if the subject being discussed is whether some particular site is a "bad site" or not, or whether there are any "good things" in a site that would justify having less than a full link ban, having some actual links helps shed light on the matter. Another such case is when somebody is being accused of saying bad things in a bad site, and the accused party challenges the interpretation and wishes to defend himself by providing a link to what was actually said instead of how it's being misquoted or taken out of context. Some say that these things ought to be done by private e-mail, but isn't it the usual practice here to conduct discussions openly and above-board, not in a star chamber?

And reasons why removing such links can be a bad thing:

  • It makes us look like we've got something to hide.
  • It makes us look like we've got something to fear.
  • It gives our enemies something else about us to attack.
  • It does absolutely nothing towards actually getting bad stuff removed from the Web.
  • In any battle between two antagonists, where one of them freely acknowledges the other and encourages people to see their side of the argument too, while the other does everything they can to suppress all mention of their opponent, the one encouraging openness gains a large degree of moral high ground.

Of course, once a Reign of Terror against "attack sites" really gets going, some actual honest-to-goodness reliable sources will get caught in the net, as happened with the site of Teresa Nielsen Hayden mentioned above.

Yet another instance where a draconian insistence on suppressing all such links conflicted with the completeness and accuracy of the encyclopedia is in an ongoing conflict over the Essjay controversy article; this is one of the things related to Wikipedia itself that have become notable enough to have a mainspace article. It turns out that, before it hit such places as The New Yorker, the story there was actually first broken in one of the notorious "attack sites", as part of their general attempts to "out" the identities of editors. That creates a big bind over whether or not to link to it.

But note that, from time to time, even the most fervent opponents of linking to "attack sites" sometimes find reasons to link to them themselves.

Another straw man: "Google Juice"[edit]

Another questionable reason some give to not link to disfavored sites is the idea that doing so constitues an "endorsement" in some way; most notably, to enhance the Google ranking of the destination of the link. This is actually untrue; for a while now, Wikipedia has used a "nofollow" attribute value in all of its outbound links (this was being done for links from user, talk, and project pages even before it was extended to the mainspace), so if Google honors these attributes in their documented meanings (which they appear to do; however, like any deity, Googlebot works in mysterious ways, so I can't make an absolute statement) then no "Googlejuice" is being given. As a general principle, one should never regard a Web link as indicating "endorsement" of the site that is linked to; in my own personal sites, I have always linked to any site that I thought was relevant to the subject matter of a page, even sites that represented viewpoints completely opposed to my own. That's always been the way the Web was designed to work.

Commercial sites have often subverted the original intent of the Web by refusing to link to any external sites, or linking only to sites that paid for it, but we're not a commercial site here so we don't have to act like one.

Some notable quotes[edit]

Here's what people have been saying about this policy, and the warring over it:

...the BADSITES ploy, and labeling any site an "attack site" that contains comments wounding to adminiswiki feelings, seems to be a recurring theme. I'm starting to feel like I'm dealing with Scientologists, and that "attack site" is their equivalent of "suppressive person."
Teresa Nielsen Hayden on her Making Light blog
Except that item set off yet another edit-war, a "meta"-issue fight, having to do with a Wikipedia administrative faction deeming an "attack site". Which would make it liable to the penalty of having all its links purged from Wikipedia, as a kind of banishment. And that's scary. It's hard to convey to the acolytes within the cult of Wikipedia how petty and in fact, downright creepy, it can appear to outsiders.
Seth Finkelstein on his Infothought blog

And a good blog quote that isn't directly about Wikipedia, but still seems relevant:

I frequently make the assertion that it's impossible to successfully censor the Internet by trying to remove materials that have already been posted publicly after they've attracted attention. What's published is published, what's done is done. The genie won't just refuse to go back into the bottle, he'll stick his tongue out at you as well -- or worse.
Lauren Weinstein on his blog.

An interesting book I just read had this quote:

Disagreements in everyday life can threaten our sense of face, which is why our polite interactions center on topics on which all reasonable people agree, like the weather, the ineptitude of bureaucracies, and the badness of airline or dormitory food. Communities that are supposed to evaluate knowledge, such as science, business, government, and journalism, have to find workarounds for this stifling desire for polite consensus.
Stephen Pinker, The Stuff of Thought

A science fiction great had this to say:

Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy and censorship. When any government or church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man who has been hoodwinked in this fashion; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, whose mind is free. No, not the rack nor the atomic bomb, not anything. You can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
Robert A. Heinlein

On the general issue of "troublemakers", a 2012 Federal court ruling regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement held:

What a huge debt this nation owes to its "troublemakers." From Thomas Paine to Martin Luther King, Jr., they have forced us to focus on problems we would prefer to downplay or ignore. Yet it is often only with hindsight that we can distinguish those troublemakers who brought us to our senses from those who were simply . troublemakers. Prudence, and respect for the constitutional rights to free speech and free association, therefore dictate that the legal system cut all non-violent protesters a fair amount of slack.
Jed S. Rakoff, U.S.D.J. [1]

On "web snooping busybodies" and why "eating dirt" can be good for you:

Anonymous and Wikileaks are like catching the flu--they hurt us but we learn to be "transparency robust" from them.
MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito [2]

And then, there's this classic literary passage that describes pretty well the way the controversy developed and continued around here:

...the two great empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Which two mighty powers have, as I was going to tell you, been engaged in a most obstinate war for six-and-thirty moons past. It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty's grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments. During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: 'that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.'

And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion to be left to every man's conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate to determine. Now, the Big-endian exiles have found so much credit in the emperor of Blefuscu's court, and so much private assistance and encouragement from their party here at home, that a bloody war has been carried on between the two empires for six-and-thirty moons, with various success; during which time we have lost forty capital ships, and a much a greater number of smaller vessels, together with thirty thousand of our best seamen and soldiers; and the damage received by the enemy is reckoned to be somewhat greater than ours. However, they have now equipped a numerous fleet, and are just preparing to make a descent upon us; and his imperial majesty, placing great confidence in your valour and strength, has commanded me to lay this account of his affairs before you."

-- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels

That's got everything... somebody getting hurt, an overly draconian policy being imposed as an overreaction to it, then lots of fighting with no end in sight, including the presence of an external site full of banned people who use it as a safe haven to attack and agitate in the original place... not to mention various documents (policy, guidelines, ArbCom rulings, quotes from Jimbo) being used and interpreted much like that religious book in the above parable.

Civilisation has to a certain extent depended on whistleblowers , and therefore you have to protect them. -- Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web

That's all, folks! (well, not actually...)[edit]

OK... that's all I have to say for now. Comments are always welcomed on the talk page. (Oh, one final late addition... Jimbo said himself that "BADSITES" is a justly-rejected policy... so why do some admins keep trying to enforce it anyway?)

Ironic epilogue[edit]

Well, the above was all I had to say at the time, but 2012 brought something new that makes an ironic coda to the whole thing. Wikipedia Review, the site that was the focus of much of this "anti-links-to-BADSITES" activism, itself had a bit of an internal tiff, resulting in some of its contributors either quitting or getting kicked out, and starting a new Wikipedia-criticism site called Wikipediocracy. This didn't seem to "sit well" with WR's moderator, Selina, who started enforcing a draconian policy against not only linking to but even mentioning that other site. Amazing how the historical cycle of the persecuted becoming the persecutors continues to repeat itself. Anybody can support free speech for people who they agree with; it's the test of true commitment to freedom when you support the same even for those you are thoroughly revolted by. (WR seemed to be dead as of October 2012; it just goes to a domain parking page. This has happened several times when either the domain or the hosting account expired, but it has so far always come back from the dead afterward. It remains moribund, though, and the real wiki-critic action is elsewhere.)

And the drama keeps going and going and going (like a bunny with the right brand of batteries)...[edit]

Back in Wikimedia properties, history repeated itself in 2012, as Commons contemplated a policy of blocking links to "badsites"... though this time it was decisively turned down.

This sort of thing is hardly limited to Wikipedia/Wikimedia and its critics, though; yet another 2012 flap involved Reddit banning links to Gawker because it was "outing" a Reddit admin involved in creepy stuff with pictures of kids and women. And then there's Escapist's draconian ban on even mentioning ad blocker software, which they slightly eased up on but didn't entirely lift on a thread specifically discussing an on-site video about ad blockers.

And in 2013 we're back to wikidrama over here as User:Cla68 got blocked for linking to an article that mentions a Wikipedian's real name (that he himself has mentioned publicly, just not on-wiki), and an admin was desysopped for unblocking him, and agitation for adding Wikipediocracy to the spam blacklist is proceeding; meanwhile, anything that even obliquely mentions or links to the "real name" in question gets fervently scrubbed by the oversighters like it's anthrax contaminating a building. The drama never ends, and the Streisand effect is in full display every time somebody tries to suppress "outing and harassment" here. Every time the drama seems to be cooling down somebody does something silly (like another block or desysopping or blacklisting) and heats it up again. (After a month or two, Cla68 was unblocked, with silly conditions against linking to any blog or forum in any circumstances, in order to save ArbCom face.)

And then there's the Salon article which "outs" the real name of a Wikipedia editor involved in severe conflicts of interest (he's a novelist who's edited both his own article and those of rivals); fortunately in this case, he ended up coming clean and outing himself on his own user talk page, so it's possible to link to that article and take on-wiki action based on it (the user in question has now been blocked and a permanent ban is under discussion), where if he hadn't self-outed it would still be a blockable offense to link or mention that mainstream-media exposé. The "anti-outing" policy has severe problems, particularly when it collides with anti-conflict-of-interest policies.

Wikipedia, however, is is somewhat good company when it imposes excessively sweeping site bans in a futile effort to close barn doors after horses escape; the entire United States military has blocked the British Guardian newspaper site from being accessed from any of its installations because that publication leaked U.S. secrets. And, for that matter, the Obama administration ("The Most Open In History"?) has banned U.S. officials (even former ones) from citing any leaked info even from the mainstream press.

And there's the case in late 2013 of somebody getting banned for offsite so-called-outing of somebody who has been pretty open about their true identity, and who has gotten in trouble for alleged-outing themself (and was fervently against the BADSITES policy)... the WP:GOOSE essay applies here too. I won't say who any of the involved persons are, for fear of getting tagged as an "outer" myself. (But it involves somebody mentioned earlier in this article, on the opposite side of a similar controversy.)

To pick this up in a new decade: In the hellish year of 2020, Twitter and Facebook went "BADSITES" on the New York Post, suppressing links to a story there connected to the U.S. presidential election because it contained "hacked" documents related to the family of a candidate.

And in 2021, Reddit had a similar flap involving them overzealously guarding against "doxxing and harassment" of one of their employees who had been a public figure in British politics, in which somebody even got banned for posting a news article that mentioned that person. (This was later reversed.) This culminated in the employment of that person being ended.

See also[edit]

No "attack sites" were injured, or linked to, in the making of this essay.