- The Signpost firmly believes that the views of all sides in the recent banning and desysopping of editors from the Chinese mainland should be presented. We asked an editor currently in good standing on both en.Wiki and zh.Wiki to explain what he and some of his fellow mainland Chinese think about the current situation. We thank him for his courage in expressing his views. These views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of The Signpost or of other Wikipedians. This piece was edited for length and grammar and a minor reordering of a section.
I am one of the administrators desysopped on the Chinese Wikipedia on 13 September 2021 by the WMF Office account.
First, I would like to introduce myself. I come from mainland China and have been living abroad for several years. I only write articles, anti-vandalism, patrol new articles on Wikipedia. I never edit the disputed articles and never edit warred with others. I am a hardworking Wikipedian. I think these are the reasons why dozens of users supported me to become a sysop a few years ago.
I also care about Wikipedia's community development. I have joined two Wikipedia introductory meetups in China. As I have long lived abroad so I attended a few Wikipedia meetings where I live. At the same time, I also help new users in the Chinese community. It doesn’t matter which community I work with. And I have to say, the community or user group are not political parties. Anyone may join or leave without disclosing their political views.
I was shocked on 13 September by the WMF Office action which desysopped me and other admins, and banned 7 other editors. I don’t know what my guilt is. When another sysop sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for details, the WMF replied that they don’t want to explain the reason now, and won’t accept an appeal. So the sentence "Questions can be directed to email@example.com" in the log is just dark humour. When Maggie Dennis published her statement on Meta she said, her statement contained "ambiguity". "The security risk relates to information about infiltration of Wikimedia systems, including positions with access to personally identifiable information and elected bodies of influence", Dennis claimed. I really don’t understand how a sysop can influence personal security. We are not CheckUsers. The BBC published a report saying "Wikipedia blames pro-China infiltration for bans". Does that mean the WMF Office action has a political purpose? So our articles about Chinese history, culture, ancient architecture, are a type of "infiltration". That’s ridiculous.
I am extremely disappointed with the WMF now. Sysops on the Chinese Wikipedia who do the most work, got the most scolding, and finally were desysopped and even banned by the WMF Office. This terrible action is unprecedented and unbelievable. I won’t trust WMF anymore, today they desysopped me, tomorrow they may globally ban me as well.
I’d like to return to my off-Wiki life now and don’t want to attract attention.
What do other mainland Chinese think about the bans? We're a diverse group, so there may be many opinions. But there is a very long published open letter from WMC [Wikimedians of Mainland China – ed.]. I'll summarize what I consider to be the most important parts that I most agree with.
Many people may know, Wikipedia cannot be accessed normally in Mainland China. So when I first accessed Wikipedia via a VPN, I worried about it. But nothing happened. No Wikipedian I know has been admonished by the Chinese government. And the government never declared our meetings illegal. The government must know that we are just a group of volunteers who contribute knowledge. WMF banned 7 users and desysopped 12 administrators in an office action, WMF has accomplished something that the Chinese government didn’t manage to do. We try to enable more people to participate in editing in Wikipedia, we built mirror sites, we created tutorials, we develop communities. The Foundation has never shown compassion or support for us. Now we have to believe WMF wants to abandon China, they don’t care about us. I had free pizza because WMF pays for communities outside China, but when I was in China, everyone paid for their own food. When we were developing the community, we spent everything out of our own pocket, the WMF paid nothing, from VPN to coffee. But we were still happy because we weren’t here for politics, we were here to write actual articles and have fun. China has ⅕ of the world’s population, WMF’s budget was 100 million dollars a year, but WMF spent nothing and cared nothing about us. They were willing to pay for mobile data for Wikimania attendees, but not VPN for us.
They found a nonsense excuse, "canvassing", to take action against us. In their eyes, it’s only democratic when the vote goes their way; when a candidate they dislike won the election, they want to "stop the steal." These sysops either are good at writing articles, or good at anti-vandalism. They do practical things, they don’t gossip in the village pump. WMF never asked us for information before the bans, why do they trust the informer, how do they determine that this is not framed? Most admins who were desysopped had their RFAs years ago. How could these RFAs be fine for years, while the WMF just now announce that they were rigged?
WMF banned or desysopped 14 admins, this takes up one-third of all active admins on zh.Wiki. Does WMF insist that a third of all admins who were recently active on zh.Wiki were all "infiltrated" by the Chinese government? This is a crazy view. The most active admin on zh.wiki was banned. Four of the top 10 admins were either banned or desysopped. This is ridiculous and they don’t care if there will be maintenance work backlogs or vandalizers and long-term abusers celebrating one-third of all admins are suddenly gone.
This leaves a huge gap for maintenance work on zh.Wiki, since a third of all admins are absent now. Because newbies from mainland China use VPNs to edit and suffered IP blocks because Wikimedia’s policy to block proxies, they have to apply for IPBE (IP block exemption) to edit and they can’t register a new account on their own, they have to write an email to an admin to have them register an account for the newbies. However, I have heard from newbies that many of them haven’t heard back from the admins for weeks, because the admins who were working on registering new accounts and assigning IPBE for newbies were desysopped, too. Unless you think all mainland Chinese editors are "infiltrators", this disproportionate office action hurts the mainland users.
Maggie Dennis has no vision for developing Wikipedia in China. She mentioned nothing for future community development, saying she wanted to connect to the "international Chinese community". Other WMC members also share their emails with WMF and AffCom to me, and they often complained to me that WMF and AffCom rarely write back, and a reply usually takes more than a week. WMF and AffCom never contacted us asking if we need any help considering Wikipedia’s blockade in China or if we had any trouble with the government, and they only contact us when something very bad happened.
There is also a bug that only happens when someone is editing on VPN. This bug logs out the person’s account whenever they click the “save changes” button, so they can’t save any changes unless they change their device. Mainland Chinese admins had reported this bug to Phabricator over a year ago, but WMF still hasn't fixed it [Phabricator:T244635 – ed.]. IPBE and the bug are burdens that WMF can solve from their side, and it can improve mainland Chinese’s editing experience, but they still refuse to do them.
After this office action, there will be almost no pro-Beijing or okay-with-Beijing admins and bureaucrats on zh.Wiki. Its neutrality is going to suffer a huge hit, because the balance between the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan admins are broken. WMF didn't consider that the people who gossip to them had a political motivation to attack pro-Beijing and okay-with Beijing admins. WMF is calling a normal political view "infiltration" and voting blocs as "vote canvassing".
I know it was the Chinese government who blocked Wikipedia in China and I should express my dissatisfaction to them. But I think many of the points I made are irrelevant to the Chinese government. They didn’t send police to disturb our meetings, didn’t arrest anyone (anti-Beijing editors included), and VPN is cheap and convenient to use. However, WMF didn’t help us with money, didn’t fix bugs, didn’t improve the MediaWiki system, didn’t reply to our emails, didn’t ask if we are okay after Wikipedia was blocked, and they finally banned us and desysopped us. That is why I am angry with the WMF.