Last week, Breitbart Tech brought you news of an extraordinary explusion of a Wikipedia editor, who was banned for alleged off-site “harassment,” despite the fact that no evidence of such behaviour was presented to the public.
The editor, who asked to be referred to be his Wikipedia pen name, “The Devil’s Advocate,” has spoken exclusively to Breitbart Tech about his expulsion from the site.
Extraordinarily, the editor claims he has yet to be presented with the evidence of the charges brought against him, which could cause significant damage to his personal and professional relationships if they were tied to his real name. Nor did Wikipedia’s arbitration committee, which orchestrated the expulsion, give him any opportunity to challenge the claims made against him.
The editor says he did not have many friends at Wikipedia, due to his tendency to challenge all sides of controversial topics on the site.
Despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, The Devil’s Advocate ultimately recommends continuing to fight for a politically neutral Wikipedia and casts doubt on the prospect of the emergence of a viable alternative to the online encyclopedia.
The full interview is copied below.
AB: How long have you been editing Wikipedia articles? Do you have a rough estimate of how many you edited?
TDA: I have been editing Wikipedia since the middle of 2007 and my first edits were to articles on geopolitical topics. While I have probably edited thousands of articles, most of those are minor edits or reverting vandalism. I have created about two dozen articles on Wikipedia, and made significant contributions to dozens of others. Eight articles I worked on appeared on the front page of Wikipedia in its “Did You Know” section, and two articles I created attained “good article” status.
AB: What motivated you to edit Wikipedia articles?
TDA: My first edits were just to update articles related to geopolitics with new information. There was no real motive other than to contribute content where contributions were lacking. I did believe in the idea of Wikipedia when I started out and I still do, even if my experience with the site has tempered my enthusiasm.
AB: Were there any particular topics you were interested in?
TDA: For the most part my editing has been about political topics, though I have also contributed a lot to articles about various shows I watch or books I read. Outside of those main topics I would just edit whatever struck my fancy and it could be about anything.
AB: When did you first hear of your suspension?
TDA: The first I heard of it was when the Arbitration Committee publicly announced the ban on their noticeboard. I was only a few days from seeing a block I was under at the time expire.
AB: You are accused of “harassing” someone off-site. Do you have any idea who this is? Is there any merit to the accusations?
TDA: I do have an idea, but the Committee has not confirmed my suspicions directly or had any communication with me at all about the ban. What I know is that on December 21st I sent a report to the Committee about an admin who has over the last ten years been fluffing up the bios of friends and colleagues as well as making negative and even defamatory edits to articles on opponents, all without disclosing a conflict of interest on these topics as required by policy. On more than one occasion this admin has abused administrative privileges on matters where the admin had an undisclosed conflict of interest. I had attempted on my own to prevent the admin from violating the site’s conflict of interest policies by saying via e-mail I would report this conduct to the Committee, and the admin only stopped editing those areas until I was subjected to a three-month block in October. Upon the resumption of this misconduct I requested by e-mail that the admin undo these new violations or disclose a conflict of interest to no avail.
A day after I sent an e-mail explaining all of this to the Committee, I received an e-mail from a Committee member saying the e-mail had been forwarded to the other members of the Committee for their consideration, which understandably led me to believe they were going to take action against the admin I reported. Until the ban notice was posted I received no further communication from the Committee about my e-mail. I do not know if the admin made counter-accusations, if other accusations of harassment were brought up as cause for a ban, or if it was based solely on the e-mail I sent them. Nothing I said to keep this admin from violating conflict of interest policies was any different from what an admin would do with a non-admin, so I have a hard time seeing how they could claim I was harassing this editor based on that alone. They also claim I was harassing editors plural, which would suggest that claim is either false or there were other claims being made that I was not informed about. I have been talking to various different editors to see what other claims if any might have been made about me, but have so far eliminated every other possibility I have considered.
AB: An accusation of harassment can cause problems for your reputation, and in some countries counts as a criminal offence. Yet you haven’t even been shown the evidence against you, or been given a chance to respond. ArbCom seems to be walking a dangerous legal line here.
TDA: Several e-mails I have sent to the Committee have made it clear that I consider their accusations of harassment libelous, especially if this is about the report I sent them. I did say while I have considered a libel suit that I don’t have the resources for it and am not prepared to do that at the moment. Either because of that or libel concerns I expressed to an admin connected to the Committee about public statements she made, a member of the Committee blocked my e-mail access on Wikipedia, despite having recused on my ban decision. Despite attempting to send several more e-mails to the Committee through another Wikimedia site expressing my concerns about the ban and the libelous accusations of harassment being made against me (the Committee member who blocked my-email access had falsely implied I was offered a chance to defend myself for instance), the only communication I have received from any member of the Committee is a single one after I asked if my e-mails were being received to confirm that they were being received.
AB: Prior to your suspension, you were particularly active on the widely-criticised “GamerGate Controversy” article. Did this earn you enemies at Wikipedia?
TDA: I had plenty of enemies prior to my involvement in the GamerGate dispute. Given my tendency to try and see all sides of an issue, which is the reason I chose my username, there are few major disputes where people on both sides have not attacked me at some point.
AB: We’ve heard the stories about feminist editing campaigns and “untouchable” editors. Is there a power-grab going on at Wikipedia?
TDA: A lot of the editing campaigns are one and done for those involved, but it has led to some long-term contributors. Wikipedia has had a problem with untouchable editors for some time and that is even more the case with admins. There is definitely an ideological power grab going on right now, though, using “anti-harassment” as a guise. For years I have been outspoken about harassment on Wikipedia, but I have also been right in the middle of situations where anti-harassment talk is abused to silence opponents or get away with misconduct. I am upset to see the issue has been co-opted by identity politics warriors as a way to push their ideology on Wikipedia, and they have gained a substantial amount of ground in the past year by playing to concerns about Wikipedia’s gender gap and pushing a false narrative about the GamerGate dispute on Wikipedia.
AB: Can any articles on the site be trusted? Which ones would you recommend avoiding, and why?
TDA: You shouldn’t just trust any article on Wikipedia. Not only do you have rampant editing by people with conflicts of interest, including paid editors, you also have a lot of people who edit Wikipedia to win ideological battles. The ways that bias creeps into Wikipedia articles can be hard to discern if you have experienced editors trying to slant it towards their beliefs. Not to mention there are hoaxers, vandals, and incompetents, who make all sorts of edits that limits the site’s usefulness. I don’t think people should avoid any article per se, but readers need to understand that Wikipedia is at best a gateway to more reliable information and it isn’t even successful at that sometimes. You may be able to find good quality articles on the site, but it is a gamble to take anything said there at face value.
AB: Wikipedia, like Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, has a near-insurmountable market penetration. Should efforts be made to fix its current problems, or is a competing online encyclopedia the way forward? Could such a competitor really attract the number of editors and readers to be successful?
TDA: There have been numerous failed attempts to create alternatives to Wikipedia. For now it seems it is the most insurmountable in terms of influence. Part of that is because Google’s search algorithms tend to put Wikipedia in the top results, and since the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees is gradually being taken over by people connected to Google, it is hard to imagine that changing any time soon. Until Wikipedia loses its privileged position with Google’s search engines it is unlikely to be toppled. Reform is therefore probably the only way to go for now. Wikipedia is great as an idea, but the people on the site are ruining it.