Wikipedia, the world’s most popular online encyclopedia, is facing controversy after banning a long-time editor for “off-site harassment.”
No details of the alleged offence were given to other Wikipedians, who now accuse the site’s quasi-official disciplinary committee of lacking transparency.
In an announcement on New Year’s Day, Wikipedia’s arbitration committee (ArbCom) proclaimed that “The Devil’s Advocate,” a veteran Wikipedia editor, had been banned indefinitely for “off-site harassment” related to the controversial Wikipedia article on GamerGate.
Other Wikipedians were provided with no details of the alleged harassment by ArbCom, the elected committee of editors who manage disciplinary action and dispute resolution on the site. Editors were quick to sound the alarm about this lack of transparency.
“Unless I am missing something (which is entirely possible), this action seems entirely opaque,” wrote one Wikipedia editor.
“Star chamber proceedings make folks uncomfortable” wrote another.
Another Wikipedia editor took the case to the Wikimedia Foundation, pointing out that ArbCom had made a public accusation of harassment – a potentially criminal offence -without providing a venue for the accused to defend themselves. “[The Devil’s Advocate] is a living person that ArbCom just publicly accused of harassment with no venue to respond to that characterization” wrote the editor.
“It seems problematic to me for a quasi-official committee to publicly accuse an editor of harassment (which can mean anything from “annoying” to “criminal behavior”)” wrote the editor, DHeyward, in a message to the Foundation. DHeyward urged the Foundation to take on responsibility for the case themselves.
Prior to his ban, The Devil’s Advocate had been editing Wikipedia articles for over eight years. Archives of his Wikipedia profile page also indicate that he was a gadfly for other editors, someone who would not stay silent if he perceived poor editing standards at the site. The Devil’s Advocate also contributed to Wikipediocracy, a site dedicated to holding the online encyclopedia and its editors to higher standards.
“The various situations I have confronted on Wikipedia have prompted me to show a more general concern over this site’s culture and governance. I have been involved in the Wikipedia criticism site Wikipediocracy for over a year because of this, although anyone there can tell you of the many times when I am not on their side either. My concerns about Wikipedia also mean I am more of a regular on various conduct noticeboards and sometimes weigh in on arbitration matters. Typically, I only become involved when I notice a particular problem is not being discussed or feel one or more editors are being treated unfairly.”
It seems that a perpetual thorn in the side of Wikipedia’s opaque editor aristocracy has, for the moment, been silenced.