Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2008-03-13/Scandal fallout continues
Accusations of financial impropriety receive more coverage
Editor's note: The Wikipedia Signpost is an independent, community newspaper, and is not affiliated with the Wikimedia Foundation. The contents of this page are that of their authors alone, and may not reflect the opinion of the Wikimedia Foundation.
While coverage of a relationship between Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales and Canadian political columnist Rachel Marsden, and financial allegations made by former Foundation employee Danny Wool (see archived story) continued over the last week, an allegation made by currently-banned user Jeff Merkey was also reported by various press sources. Merkey alleged that Wales offered to edit his article favorably in return for a US$5,000 per year donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, an allegation that Wales has strongly denied.
Merkey announced on Sunday on the foundation-l mailing list that he had been in contact with the Associated Press, regarding interactions with Wales. He claimed that Wales had offered "special protection" to the article "Jeff Merkey" in exchange for a $5,000/year donation to the Wikimedia Foundation:
I am notifying the foundation I was approached on Friday by the Associated Press regarding statements attributed to me which are in some way, perceived to be related to Mr. Wales private affairs which seem to have gotten a great deal of press coverage. ... Since I am obligated to protect my own good name, I feel compelled to address various allegations in order to distance myself from this controversy involving Mr. Wales so the facts are not spun into something they are not. As such, I issued the following statement to the associated press in response to their inquiries regarding my involvement with Mr. Wales and his business dealings. This statement was sent on Friday, March 7, 2008.
"According to Merkey, in 2006, Wales agreed that in exchange for a substantial donation and other financial support of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, Wales would use his influence to make Merkey's article adhere to Wikipedia's stated policies with regard to internet libel "as a courtesy" and place Merkey under his "special protection" as an editor. Merkey later withdrew his financial support of the Wikipedia project after reviewing evidence of diversion and mismanagement of the charities funds by Wales and the Wikimedia Board of Trustees and was immediately banned from the Wikipedia site by the Arbitration Committee for frivolous and unsubstantiated claims after he terminated the payments of $5,000.00 per year to the Wikimedia Foundation."
Wales responded, in separate messages to the list:
I encourage anyone who is tempted to believe this story to consider the source.
Of course I would never offer, nor accept any offer, whereby a donation would buy someone special editorial treatment in the encyclopedia. I do routinely assist people with WP:BLP issues, and I do courtesies for many people. Donations have no bearing on that at all. NPOV is non-negotiable.
The story was first covered by the Sydney Morning Herald, in a March 11 article. The article presents Merkey's claims of paid proxy editing, and Wales' denial. It does, however, say that "Wales placed [the article] under his "special protection". Protected entries can only be edited by Wikipedia administrators." This claim is inaccurate; the article was placed under semi-protection, allowing most registered users to edit the page. All revisions of the article were deleted, however, leaving editors to rebuild the article from a blank slate.
The claim was subsequently the subject of stories by other press sources:
- BBC News: Wiki boss 'edited for donation'
- CBC News: Wikipedia founder accused of agreeing to alter page: report
- The Daily Telegraph: Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales in donations row
- The Metro: Wikipedia chief 'edited entries for cash'
- United Press International: Wikipedia struggles with funding
The matter was also covered by tech website Slashdot, dubbing the matter "DonorGate". Wikimedia spokesperson Jay Walsh responded to the Slashdot article with an official statement from the Foundation:
"Current allegations relating to Jimmy Wales soliciting donations for the Wikimedia Foundation in order to protect or edit Wikipedia articles are completely false. The Wikimedia Foundation has never accepted nor solicited donations in order to protect or make edits to a Wikipedia article — nor has Jimmy Wales. This is a practice the Wikimedia Foundation would never condone."
Merkey has often been the source of controversy; his Wolf Mountain Group (now Timpanogas Research Group) was the subject of a lawsuit from Merkey's former employer, Novell, alleging confusion over the name of the group, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Merkey is also controversial within the open source community. In 2004, Merkey offered $50,000 for a copy of the Linux kernel that was not licensed under the GNU General Public License, an offer that many, including software freedom activist Richard Stallman, criticized. In 2005, Merkey filed a lawsuit against Slashdot, open source advocate Bruce Perens, and 200 John Does. The suit, alleging harassment by the defendants, was dropped in August 2005, with a subsequent motion to reopen the case against one defendant, Al Petrofsky.
On Wikipedia, Merkey has also been controversial. Under the account name Gadugi, he was indefinitely blocked in October 2005 by Fvw, with the block summary "Personal attacks, legal threats, harassment, disruption, ..." He was blocked while editing under the account Waya sahoni, as a reincarnation of Gadugi, but was allowed to come back in May 2007 under the account Jeffrey Vernon Merkey. After a July 2007 arbitration case, Merkey and two users who had harassed Merkey, Pfagerburg and Kebron, were all banned for one year.
While initial coverage focused on Wales' involvement with Rachel Marsden, very little of the coverage over the past week has focused on the relationship. It did, however, receive a mention from United Press International, and was mentioned on American newsmagazine Inside Edition. The New York Post also covered the story, with a new claim:
...[Marsden] blamed Wales for growing "extremely paranoid" about their relationship becoming public, to the point where he "threatened me with things like jail or deportation" if she revealed details about them. "I was pretty terrified," she told The Post.
Over the last week, Wool's allegations that Wales had improperly used Foundation funds have received mentions in various sources, including:
- CNET TV: Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner was interviewed; in the video clip; she calls Wool "a disgruntled former employee" and his claims "a whole bunch of unsubstantiated rumors and gossip".
- DailyTech: Wikipedia Founder Accused of Improper Edits, Lavish Spending
- Sky News: Wikipedia boss slammed for expense claims
- Merkey, Jeffrey Vernon. Thread:Statement to the Associated Press, foundation-l mailing list, March 9, 2008, 14:31:20 UTC.
- Wales, Jimmy. Thread: Statement to the Associated Press, foundation-l mailing list, March 9, 2008, 22:17:40 UTC.
- Wales, Jimmy. Thread: Statement to the Associated Press, foundation-l mailing list, March 9, 2008, 22:44:16 UTC.
- KDawson. "DonorGate" Is Latest Scandal To Hit Wikipedia, March 12, 2008.
- Dumped on Wikipedia, Inside Edition. March 7, 2008.
- Sheehy, Kate. Wild and Wiki Breakup, New York Post. March 4, 2008.
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