News and notes
Foundation to Wiki-PR: cease and desist; Arbitration Committee elections starting
Wiki-PR's attempts to obscure the nature of their Wikipedia editing through statements ("We do paid editing and not paid advocacy. We’re as boring as any other research firm.") and actions have been wide-ranging. As we reported nearly two months ago:
||Those who work for Wiki-PR have indeed gone to extensive lengths to hide their activities on Wikipedia. This has included altering their habitual behavioral patterns, frequently changing their IP addresses (apparently to avoid being caught by the "checkuser" tool), and bypassing the normal gatekeeping process by which editors police new submissions to the English Wikipedia. ... / ... Wikipedia's long-term abuse file on Wiki-PR ... shows that the company's employees have created and used a staggering 323 accounts, with another 84 suspected.
These revelations were quickly followed by a community ban voted on and enacted by volunteer Wikipedia editors, because Wiki-PR had "proven themselves repeatedly unable or unwilling to adhere to [Wikipedia's] basic community standards." To be unbanned, the agency would have to comply with three directives: (a) divulge a complete list of all past sock and meatpuppet accounts they have used, (b) divulge a complete list of all articles they have edited for which they have received financial benefit, and (c) pledge to edit only under transparent, disclosed accounts and to adhere as closely as they are able to all of Wikipedia’s content policies.
The letter reveals that this ban may have had little impact on Wiki-PR's operation. Since being exposed, Wiki-PR has continued to seek new clients—even while assuring the Foundation that they would comply with the ban:
||In your communications with me [Patrick Gunn, Cooley LLP attorney] and the Foundation, you have stated your intent to work with the community to satisfy its conditions for lifting the ban. Yet, yesterday, you admitted that Wiki-PR has continued to actively market paid advocacy editing services despite the ban—consistent with evidence that we have discovered independently. This is deeply troubling and suggests that Wiki-PR is circumventing the ban at the same time it professes to engage with the community about complying with it.
The problem was so extensive that the Foundation's executive director Sue Gardner issued a statement in October, which quickly received wide-ranging press coverage, and retained the high-profile international law firm Cooley LLP to assist in investigating the incident. Cooley advertises that it has expertise in trademark, copyright, user-generated content, intellectual property, and competition law, and Signpost readers may recall that they, at the behest of the Foundation, represented Wikimedia community members Doc James (James Heilman) and Wrh2 (Ryan Holliday) when they were sued by Internet Brands for their involvement with Wikivoyage. This action ended in "victory" for the editors.
The letter garnered much attention from the press, including the Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Independent, and Mashable.
Jordan French, Wiki-PR's CEO, told news outlets that "Wiki-PR is working with the Wikimedia Foundation and its counsel to sort this out", but the Foundation's Matthew Roth was quick to clarify: "They [Wiki-PR] mischaracterize the communication we have had. The Wikimedia Foundation has communicated with Wiki-PR, but we reject any implication that we are negotiating with them ... As stated in the cease and desist letter, Wiki-PR has been banned by the Wikipedia community, and must cease editing until it fully complies with the terms and conditions outlined by the community. Because of this, if Wiki-PR wishes to continue editing, they should talk with the community."
Late surge of ArbCom nominations, then five withdrawals
EXCERPTS FROM CANDIDATE STATEMENTS:
I imagine I am not anyone's ideal candidate
The WMF unfortunately already knows who I am
This nomination may scare a few people
If elected, I'm not going to be a terribly active arb
I am a terrible liar
I still reflexively think of myself as a casual hobbyist puttering around a monument built by others
I have a lot of things going against me
There are two hate videos about me on YouTube, all relating to my actions on Wikipedia
I have issued over 2,500 blocks
My education will take presidence [sic] over anything wiki related
I am, by nature, a deliberative person with a minimalist bent
After a year of quietly throwing things at walls rather than spend hours fighting something on the project, I am coming back on
I promise not to block anyone on ArbCom while I'm on it
In less than a day's time, at midnight UTC start of Monday, the two-week voting period for the 11th annual election of the English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee will begin. The election is being run by a group of self-selected community volunteer election coordinators, and a three-member panel—apparently called the "Electoral Commission"—to solve disputes and make decisions on unexpected problems. There are nine vacant seats on the 15-member committee, in which members have two-year terms.
As in previous ArbCom elections, the electronic interface SecurePoll will be used, with support–neutral–oppose ternary choice and the S/S+O formula. The use of this system has not yet made a difference to who is elected to the Committee compared with the more widely used binary system of percentage support among all voters (S/V).
Barely a day before the close of nominations at midnight UTC end of Tuesday 19 November, there were only 9, then 11 candidates. A late rush to nominate (one pushed the button only four minutes before the deadline) saw numbers grow to 27. As Ealdgyth wrote: "Sweet mother of all the gods—I go to the afternoon matinee of a movie ... and there are 7 more candidates!" Five of those candidates have since withdrawn, some of them writing that they had nominated only because the field had been so small. This has brought the total number of candidates back to 22, comparing with 21 last year, 17 in 2011, and 21 in 2010.
The candidate guide shows that two hopefuls are sitting arbitrators (AGK and Roger Davies); one is a bureaucrat; four are not admins (Kraxler, Isarra, The Devil's Advocate, and Guerillero); six are oversighters; eight are checkusers; one is an arbitration clerk (Ks0stm); and two are former arbitration clerks (AGK and Guerillero). The candidates between them have already had 11 unsuccessful bids for election to ArbCom. Fifteen prepackaged "general" questions have been asked of each candidate, and voters are still able to pose "individual questions".
Scrutineers have technical access to the SecurePoll system allowing them to check the validity of cast ballots and to certify the final results. Scrutineers are drawn from the ranks of stewards (highly trusted Wikimedia functionaries) whose primary editing side is not the English Wikipedia. Their task typically takes from less than a day to several days after the close of voting at midnight UTC end of Sunday 8 December. The scrutineers are Mathonius (talk · contribs) (Dutch WP), Vituzzu (talk · contribs) (Italian WP), Matanya (talk · contribs) (Hebrew WP), and Tegel (talk · contribs) (Swedish WP). For their instructions, thanks must go largely to Happy-Melon, who prepared the original draft in 2011, and MBisanz.
Found under the humorous shortcut ACECANDY, the candidates have each presented statements of up to 400 words. Badmouthing the committee was in vogue, if some of these statements are anything to go by. Georgewhilliamherbert wrote: "Something has gone wrong with Wikipedia. Arbcom has not been helping." For NativeForeigner: "Arbcom case pages give frustratingly little insight into the thought process or discussion involved in reaching a decision". Arthur Rubin said: "I think some of the members of ArbCom have lost sight of the concept that the purpose of Wikipedia is to add and maintain content". Seraphimblade said: "Over recent years, I've seen ... an erosion of trust in ArbCom ..."
Some candidates decided to thrust the knife in. Kww wrote: "I've always been disturbed by Arbcom's ability to miss the point and ignore obvious implications of all issues brought before it, ... This year, I'm even more disturbed by the rack of candidates running. Some of the names here would do more damage to Wikipedia than I can conceive of." But David Gerard was the stand-out in this respect, referring to "strange and disturbing decisions of the Arbitration Committee ... We see the reputation of the English Wikipedia dragged through the mud by bad Arbitration Committee decisions. ... / intemperate decisions, inability to acknowledge gross errors, abuse of powers (including oversight) to suppress criticism of their decisions, attempts to provoke the Wikimedia Foundation to confrontation and regulatory capture by trolls has led to palpable fear in its checkusers and oversighters, dismay and disgust from Foundation and chapter staff, and unwillingness of everyday editors to deal with them in any manner."
If voters were still short of opinions about the candidates, the election is adorned by no fewer than 20 voter guides. The Lady Catherine de Burgh, for example, has stepped out of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice to represent the sorely missed views of the English aristocracy at its most haughty. AGK, she is sure, "has nice legs and looks very dashing in his kilt". David Gerard, who apparently lives in the same city as the Lady, probably "mixes in a circle and place with which I am unfamiliar ... There is also something very unsavory in his woodshed". Gamaliel "sounds like an unfortunate disease of the leg", and Seraphimblade is a "peculiar name; probably foreign".
All editors who had a registered account before 28 October, have made at least 150 mainspace edits by 1 November, and are not blocked from the English Wikipedia when voting, are encouraged to have their say in electing new members of one of the most important bodies in the Wikimedia movement.
- The Signpost notes with sadness the passing of Jackson Peebles (right), a Western Michigan University Honors student of behavioural science and biology. Jackson was a Teahouse host, an instructor in the Education Program, and the lead on a Video Tutorials Project through the Foundation. More information on his life can be found here.
- Wikimedia Germany elections: Voting for the entire new board of the second-largest entity in the movement, Wikimedia Germany, will conclude on 30 November. Nine of the ten board seats are contested: two deputy chairs, a treasurer, and six ordinary members; the position of chair is uncontested. More than 1700 members are eligible to vote, although past elections have struggled to garner votes from half, who must post hard-copy forms to participate. The Signpost understands that some candidates are standing on single issues, and that one well-known candidate's stated policy is that the chapter reduce its financial dependence on the WMF to less than 50% within 18 months.
- Wiki Education Foundation: The former Foundation pilot project and program has been formally spun off into its own independent entity with the help of a nearly US$150k grant from the Foundation, including just over $100k for an executive director and program manager. The program has run into multiple problems during the transition: being spun off was postponed from June to now; their plan to apply to be a Wikimedia thematic organization was suspended after disagreements with the Affiliations Committee; and the Education noticeboard has been filled with questions on how beneficial recent student editing has been.
- Call for input on the possible new trademark policy: The Foundation is calling for community comments on what it hopes will be a new trademark policy. The current version is four years old and was based on Mozilla's; the proposed policy will be tailored for Wikimedia requirements, explicitly allowing the use of the trademark in wide-ranging scenarios. The draft on Meta features a host of FAQs and vibrant discussion.