Chapters Association mired in controversy over new chair
Controversy over WCA chair
Fæ at the WMUK board meeting in August 2011
The election of User:Fæ
(Ashley van Haeften, chair of the Wikimedia UK
chapter) as the inaugural chair of the new Wikimedia Chapters Association
has cast a shadow over the organisation. The association was initiated during the WMF conference in Berlin four months ago (see previous Signpost coverage
) to promote coordination and accountability among the chapters, represent their common interests, facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience, and provide assistance and support in organisational development.
Last Wednesday, the first meeting of the association began with the nomination of Fæ, the UK representative, as the only candidate for chair, by Ziko van Dijk, the Netherlands representative. Fæ was elected with sixteen votes and two abstentions, apparently with no substantive discussion. This strong vote was despite the controversies that have surrounded Fæ on the English Wikipedia and Commons, most recently aired in a live case before the Arbitration Committee, filed by bureaucrat and steward MBisanz on the basis of "aggressive responses and harassment by Fæ toward users who question his actions". As a result of the ongoing case—now in its seventh week—Fæ has surrendered his adminship, which he gained only last year (his failure to reveal previous usernames at his RfA has been a matter of some contention during the ArbCom case). Other points made by parties have concerned:
- Fæ's uploading to Commons of semi-nude images, at least one of which bears a remarkable resemblance to him;
- observations that two months ago Jimmy Wales banned Fæ from his talk page due to "false insinuations about other users, and badgering responses";
- legal threats made by Fæ;
- claims that Fæ "has violated or supported the violation of (alleged) sex workers' privacy while complaining about comments about his own amateur pornography which he freely uploaded onto Wikipedia".
Two days after Fæ's election an email was posted to the non-public chapters mailing list, arguing that Fæ's election "will result in unnecessary and undesirable controversy for the WCA, [which] may even bring the WCA into disrepute". The email—a copy of which was provided to the Signpost by its author, Wikimedia Australia president John Vandenberg—concluded that "the WCA was created to bring more accountability and transparency and visibility to the operations of chapters. The chair ... has spent the last year trying (unsuccessfully) to suppress his previous online profiles after they caught up with him."
On Saturday the Signpost asked Ziko whether Fæ had informed him about the ArbCom case before he nominated Fæ at the meeting. Ziko responded that he "didn't know about the allegations", but was highly supportive of Fæ, saying "I have the feeling we will be a great team". Ziko characterised the email on the chapters mailing list as "harassment ... you know, making allegations easily falls back to the person who makes them." Deryck Chan, Hong Kong representative and member of WMUK, told us: "I believe a significant proportion of delegates—certainly all those from the English-speaking world—were aware of Fæ's arbitration case. Fæ's 'sudden' election was purely the result of a lack of counter-proposals. Ziko's election [as vice chair] was contested and well-discussed." Fæ replied to the Signpost's invitation to put his view on the matter, but made no substantive comments.
In dramatic developments, it appears that Fæ approached a foundation employee over the weekend suggesting that the foundation intercede in the proceedings of the ArbCom case, on the basis that the committee's refusal to agree to conceal his previous usernames is "an ongoing security risk". Just before this edition was published, ArbCom had decided that "for numerous violations of Wikipedia's norms and policies, Fæ is indefinitely banned from the English Language Wikipedia." Seven arbs supported the motion within the first ten hours after it was proposed (and four in the first ninety minutes), with no opposes and no abstentions, suggesting a high level of frustration in the committee about the matter.
Among the arbs' comments are: "Fæ has attempted to ask the WMF to intercede"; "two separate and unconnected allegations of attempts by Fæ to subvert the committee's investigations into his conduct were reported to the committee in the past couple of days, including an attempt to have a foundation official intervene in the committee's internal workings, communicated to that official while Fæ held a position as an official of a foundation-related charity"; "whatever Fæ wants to hide at this point likely isn't as bad as the extreme measures taken to prevent this Committee from reaching the truth of his conduct. What we know Fæ has done is bad; but the level of misconduct committed in the course of this case is so much worse that at this point there can be no choice but to separate Fæ from this project"; and "attempts to use the WMF as a way of avoiding scrutiny [are] beyond the pale." The Signpost has written to the WMF employee involved—inviting comment on the foundation's attitude toward the case, and on whether the foundation's general practice to preserve the self-governance structures of its communities was in question at any stage. At the time of publication we had received no response.
Deryck Chan told us: "My main concern with Fæ isn't the arbitration case, but the time he has for Wikimedia. With his election as WCA chair and continued involvement as WMUK chair, he needs to cut down his involvement with en.wp anyway. Fæ has suffered much harassment on various parts of the interwebs because of his position and advocacy. By all accounts, he doesn't handle them very well. ... Fæ is a very nice chap in person, and I believe that his exile from en.wp will let him focus on contributing to the Wikimedia movement in other ways, ones where he doesn't get trolled for every single thing he does."
A chapter member who preferred not to be named agreed to speak to the Signpost: "I've no idea how Fæ is going to function as chair. If you ask me, his indefinite ban is the nail in the coffin of the WCA's relations with the foundation. The entire mess is just more self-serving gossip, bureaucracy, and politics, with almost no focus on the true purpose of the chapters—to serve the foundation and endeavour in our shared mission to educate. At the moment they have all the dysfunctional workings of the United Nations, complete with a secretary-general."
Other proceedings and decisions of the first meeting
indicates existing chapters; dark turquoise
chapters that have been board-approved but not yet founded; green
chapters in planning stages; and light blue
chapters whose application is under discussion
The controversy over the chair has been in marked contrast with the little movement on the most important issues facing the establishment of the association during the Wikimania meeting. This first meeting comes after a strong majority of the 39 chapters signed their intention to join up to the Berlin Agreement
during the WMF conference in March (Signpost coverage
). At the Wikimania meeting 18 chapters
were represented. Deryck Chan told the Signpost
: "It's a shame that the developing nations have problems sending delegates to the US—I think visas were a bigger problem than funding. We saw that problem and therefore went for a soft launch which doesn't confine the definition of "founding members" to the 18 chapters at Wikimania." Most proposals, he said, will be discussed on-wiki anyway, among all participating chapters.
The job of secretary-general, who will be in charge of running the WCA's operative affairs, was not filled at Wikimania. Sebastian Moleski, the departing current chairman of Wikimedia Germany, had announced his interest in the paid position; and the chair of the WCA steering committee, Tomer Ashur, offered a joint interim volunteer solution together with the German chapter's treasurer Delphine Ménard. However, the representatives rejected both and the council settled on establishing an election committee to fill the post and find a deputy.
While Belgium has been proposed as the place of registration by the steering committee, no consensus was reached on this during the conference. Representatives pointed to high taxes and labour costs in Belgium. The task of making a final recommendation was assigned to the budget committee; and a resolution in favour of Belgium, proposed by the representative of Wikimedia Italy, was not voted on by the council after consideration of the tax argument.
The meeting did not agree on a budget during the conference. While a draft budget of 450k euros (US$560k) was proposed by Ashur and Ménard, the amount and other details were criticised. Personnel costs were judged to be too high: the secretary-general alone would have cost €180k ($225k), an amount greater than the WMF executive director's salary of approximately €160k ($200k);1 and the amount reserved for chapter development, the WCA's main purpose, was regarded as too low, at €21k ($26k). Instead, the meeting decided to set up a budget committee to examine the issue and report by 30 August.
1Note from the author: As pointed out on the talk page below, the comparison neglects to account for any difference in "on-costs" between the jurisdictions.
Check back for the next Signpost on December 1.