Wikipedia:Role of Jimmy Wales

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Jimmy Wales in 2019

Jimmy Wales holds a special role in the English Wikipedia community, due to the central and vital stake he had in its founding. This has in the past included a number of roles in the community's governance, including originally having sole authority to ban editors from the site. Wales's various powers were assumed over time by the Arbitration Committee and the community. Successively, his direct involvement in the running of the site decreased considerably. His role since May 2023 is essentially as a respected senior community member and representative, a source of institutional knowledge, and the holder of the Founder's seat on the 12-seat Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, the ultimate authority over all Wikimedia projects. He is the sole member of the local and global founder user groups in recognition of his status; at his request, neither group confers any advanced rights.[1]

Software and policy changes[edit]

In the past, Wales has instructed Wikimedia's system administrators to implement software changes that constitute de facto Wikipedia policy changes. For instance, in December 2005, in response to the Seigenthaler incident, Wales removed the ability of unregistered users to create new pages on the English-language Wikipedia. This change was proposed as an experiment, but it remains in place.

In February 2006, Wales created the T1 criterion for speedy deletion of divisive and inflammatory templates, which was repealed in February 2009.

In January 2009, in response to criticism over inaccurate information added to Wikipedia's Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd articles, Wales wrote an open letter to the Wikimedia Foundation, calling for the flagged revisions software feature to be activated. Wales solicited community input on this issue but did not formally submit the request to the board.

In July 2010, Wales marked Wikipedia:Child protection as policy, with the edit summary "Do not revert policy tag except on the explicit approval of me and/or the Wikimedia Foundation," seen as an invocation of WP:CONEXCEPT.

Wales maintains a very active talk page, more watched than the village pumps, which he uses as a noticeboard to publish his occasional "decrees" or announcements and where he facilitates discussion on all sorts of Wikimedia projects matters that he welcomes (from the broadest to the most specific; relating to Wikipedias in all languages, Wikimedia, Commons etc.); the latter often include appropriate notification of current or future discussions on the English Wikipedia or elsewhere to solicit more participation from the talk page's followers.

Founder flag[edit]

On 6 February 2006, Jimmy Wales was granted the 'steward' right on English Wikipedia by Danny, and was granted the 'steward' right on Meta by Sj. In 2009, a 'founder' flag was established for Wales,[2] replacing his steward rights.[3]

The founder user group, to which only Jimmy Wales belongs, gives him a specific set of user rights on all projects including: abuse filter viewing, viewing deleted pages in the File and File talk namespace, and creating accounts. The rights associated with this flag were once much more extensive, including all administrative rights and user right editing, but were dramatically reduced in May 2010 following an incident where he deleted files at Wikimedia Commons without seeking consensus. In April 2023, these global permissions were again reduced at Jimmy Wales's request.[4] Jimmy Wales also agreed to the removal of his English Wikipedia administrator, CheckUser and Oversight permissions; and to modify the local Founder permission so that it was no longer able to grant permissions to himself or other users.[5]

Wikimedia Foundation[edit]

In June 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) was founded as "Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit corporation organized under the laws of Florida, United States."[6] The foundation's governance is a board of trustees, that in 2003 initially comprised of Jimmy Wales as Chair, Michael Davis (Mdavis), and Tim Shell (TimShell). Wales kept the position as Chair until October 2006, when it was changed to the role as "Chairman Emeritus".

Founder's seat on the Foundation Board[edit]

Since 2008, Jimmy Wales is (additionally to the Chairman Emeritus) granted the "Founder's seat" on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, the ultimate corporate authority of the Wikimedia Foundation.[7][8] Although Wales founded Wikipedia together with Larry Sanger, there is only one Founder's seat on the board.[9] The creation of the founder seat position came among controversies over the appropriate representation of volunteers and chapters within the WMF governance.[10][11]


Arbitration Committee[edit]

The members of the Arbitration Committee were originally appointed by Wales, and he at one time asserted the right to overrule or even dissolve the Committee. When it was founded in 2004, he said that he expected to exercise this right "basically never". In June 2008, Wales once again asserted the power to overrule the Committee if he deemed it necessary, but added that he did not expect that would ever come about. This was in apparent contradiction to a previous statement by Wales made in April 2007:

Here, let me by decree in this very instant make the following binding pledge upon myself:
In the event that the ArbCom makes a ruling against me, overturning any decision I have made in my traditional capacity within Wikipedia, the ArbCom's decision shall be final.

In January 2009, Wales stated that he did have the authority to remove sitting arbitrator FT2. Upon the arbitrator's resignation, the Committee declared that whether or not FT2 was to be replaced was a decision for Wales. That same month, the Committee restricted its official mailing list to "sitting arbitrators, the designated mailing list coordinator, and Jimbo Wales"; the position of designated mailing list coordinator was subsequently discarded, making Wales the only non-arbitrator privy to the list.

In July 2009, the Committee announced that it had convened with Wales's endorsement an Advisory Council on Project Development. A storm of protest from the editing community over the initiative led to its abandonment and the resignation of the arbitrator primarily responsible.

In August 2009, the Committee found Wales to be in breach of the blocking policy in his block of Bishonen, and acknowledged his "permanent abdication of the use of the blocking tool".

In September 2009, Wales declared that he wanted his role to appoint Committee members following the December 2009 elections to be "purely ceremonial".

The English Wikipedia community ratified a rewritten Arbitration policy in June 2011. In this policy, the only role Jimmy Wales held in relation to the Arbitration Committee was to act as an appeal body. He was able to hear appeals of remedies, and amend remedies.

Wales continued to assert implied reserve powers over the Arbitration Committee, including the hypothetical power to disband it. In December 2013, arbitrator-elect 28bytes resigned amidst a controversy over his status as a Wikipediocracy admin. Citing 28bytes's overwhelming support in the just-concluded election, Wales offered to exercise his reserve powers over ArbCom for the first time ever and call a special election to reconfirm 28bytes to his post. 28bytes, however, declined the offer, and no election was held. As a result, no determination was made as to whether Wales had the power to call a special election.

In December 2017, upon the conclusion of the 2017 Arbitration Committee Election, Wales confirmed that he no longer needed to appoint members of the Arbitration Committee and that the established community process is sufficient for their election. Appeals from committee decisions to Wales ended in May 2023, following a community-initiated referendum amending arbitration policy to remove a reference to such appeals. Wales had said prior to the referendum that he viewed his reserve powers as tied to his appellate role, and he did not argue during or after the referendum that these powers would survive a loss of that role.

Mediation Committee[edit]

The original members of the Mediation Committee were appointed by Wales in December 2003, at the same time as the original Arbitrators were selected. All new mediator nominations were subject to the final approval of Wales, although he rarely commented on nominations and has never overturned a consensus of the Committee. Jimbo held a subscription to the private mailing list of the Mediation Committee, Mediation-en-l. The Mediation Committee was disbanded by the community in 2018.

Functionary actions[edit]

Banning users[edit]

Historically, Wikipedia:Banning policy § Authority to ban included a line that stated: Jimbo Wales retains the authority to ban editors. In April 2022, Jimbo Wales removed this line from the policy at his own volition, stating in a village pump discussion regarding that line: In order to prevent any further controversy on the immediate question, though, I have personally removed the line in question from the policy and assert affirmatively that I do not have the right to ban users unilaterally.

Blocking and unblocking users[edit]

When he was an administrator on the English Wikipedia, Wales had the technical ability to block editors. However, in August 2009 he decided to permanently renounce these powers. In May 2010, he used them again.

On 21 September 2011, he unblocked an IP "Limited unblock for purpose of participating on my talk page only".

User rights[edit]

Until April 2023, Wales had the technical ability, through the unique permissions flag of "founder", to add and remove all user rights. Wales has not invoked this power often, and his most recent for-cause removals of admin rights, in 2008, provoked varying amounts of controversy.[12] The question of whether the English Wikipedia community could revoke advanced permissions from User:Jimbo Wales arose during a Request for Arbitration in April 2023; Wales voluntarily arranged to have his advanced permissions removed by WMF staff, and to have both the Global Founder and English Wikipedia Founder group permissions limited.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As of May 2023, local founder grants only redundant read rights and the ability to enable 2FA. Global founder grants rollback, the ability to view deleted files, some permissions associated with autoconfirmed, and permissions similar to IP block exempt exemption.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ See April 2023 Statement by Jimbo Wales, made in the context of an English Wikipedia arbitration case request
  5. ^ Phabricator task, Global Founder rights log, English Wikipedia log
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Bylaws - Wikimedia Foundation". Retrieved 2017-02-25.
  8. ^ "Board of Trustees/Restructure Announcement Q&A - Wikimedia Foundation".
  9. ^ "Wikimedia Foundation Board Handbook - Meta". Retrieved 2017-02-25.
  10. ^ "Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2008-05-02/Board restructuring". Wikipedia. 2015-07-10.
  11. ^ "Wikimedia chair Jimmy Wales steps down - Wikinews, the free news source". Retrieved 2017-02-25.
  12. ^ See past Administrators' Noticeboard discussions concerning Wales's removal of administrator privileges from individuals: the Bedford case (July 2008) and the Scarian case (November 2008). His desysop of Jasonr in November 2009, reversing his own unilateral action from the project's early years, was less controversial, as Jasonr had only 4 edits.
  13. ^ However, Wales has had his administrator and bureaucrat status revoked by the and English Wikinews communities, largely due to inactivity.