A Wikipedia editor who was banned from editing articles after unsubstantiated charges of “off-site harassment” says admins have changed their initial reasoning for banning him, over a year after the fact.
Wikipedia, a site run by a notoriously opaque, and largely unaccountable network of elite administrators, issued the editor with an indefinite ban after alleging off-site “harassment” in late 2015. This occurred despite the fact that no evidence was provided to the public, or to other Wikipedia editors, to support the charge. The editor was not given a chance to defend himself.
Prior to the ban, the editor, known by his public username “The Devil’s Advocate,” had been editing Wikipedia articles for eight years. The charges of harassment followed contributions he made the Wikipedia page on GamerGate, a controversy notorious for bogus charges of harassment and “online abuse,” typically made by feminists.
Wikipedia’s elite have now introduced new reasons for banning the Devil’s Advocate, over a year after the fact. Despite two appeals, they have informed the editor that there is “precisely zero support” for an unban amongst Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee (ArbCom), the body of elites that dishes out punishments to Wikipedia editors who step out of line.
In an email to The Devil’s Avocate, a member of ArbCom revealed new motivations for banning the Devil’s Advocate. The reasons cited include “tendentious editing” and “pouring gasoline on the fire” of controversial Wikipedia pages like GamerGate.
The Devil’s Advocate was one of the few voices of skepticism on the GamerGate page, which has been widely discredited as a collection of partisan leftist viewpoints on the controversy, which pitted third-wave feminists against anti-censorship video game fans.
This is the email sent by Euryalus, a member of ArbCom, to The Devil’s Advocate.
The Committee has considered your ban appeal and declined to unban your account. This is based on a review of your editing record as well as the various emails you’ve sent to the Committee since the ban was imposed. On balance, after reviewing your edits and emails we were unconvinced that you would change your tendentious approach to editing if the ban was lifted. You may appeal again in 12 months (ie March 2018). Emails sent to the Committee before then may not be responded to. This is also true of any emails intended for the Committee but sent to individual arbitrators.You also asked for clarification on a current community discussion on harassment. That discussion was not relevant to your ban appeal, and played no part in the Committee’s consideration of this issue.
The informal part:I appreciate this is an unwelcome message, but somebody had to send it. There’s presently zero support for an unban, but hope springs eternal for whatever you send in March 2018.As a personal view I agree with [Newyorkbrad’s] comment at the Gamergate case: “his days as an in-everyone’s-face devil’s advocate should end, because in that role he does a lousy job; but I think he could remain a useful editor if he changed his editing model of locating the editorial controversy of the moment and hurling gasoline on it.”I’ve no idea if you agree with that – for all I know you think it’s patronising nonsense. Either way: just offering a personal view on any future ban appeal, in addition to the formal wording above.
Gone from the email is any reference to the alleged “off-site harassment” the Devil’s Advocate was initially banned for. Instead, the email reveals that ArbCom’s true source of annoyance with the editor is how he edited and contributed to articles prior to his ban.
“Harassment” is often used as a red herring to divert from real political debates, but this is particularly the case at Wikipedia, where the identification of anonymous paid or politically-motivated editors can technically be considered “outing.”
This problem was acknowledged by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in a recent discussion on the topic, in which he noted the twin problems of describing the identification of biased editors as “outing” or “harassment,” as well as clamping down on anyone who takes a contrary view on a contentious topic – like The Devil’s Advocate.
Remember that conflict of interest … is only part of the problem – the problem is also whether we want to tolerate and (through poor decision making) encourage a culture of corruption to emerge in Wikipedia. Let me draw an analogy which many of you will have heard before – suppose a big case is pending before the Supreme Court involving software patents which might massively benefit one party in a case. And suppose it emerges that 3 of the 9 justices have lucrative consulting contracts on the side with that party. Would we accept in any way an argument saying “Oh, as long as they disclose the payments and show their legal reasoning in detail, it’s fine. A judge could be in the pay of a company and still be neutral in judging their case.” That’s incredibly obviously wrong and it is a very good analogy to this perennial and universally rejected proposal that we should allow whatever paid advocacy and just judge the results. Nonsense.
Instead we should recognize that anonymous editing is an important value in some limited cases, but that it comes with it a serious side effect in terms of people using anonymity not to feel more comfortable in pushing for NPOV [Neutral Point Of View] editing, but in terms of POV pushing.
And finally, note what the proposal for “beating the living shit out of POV editors as they emerge” would do to the intellectual quality of the debate on difficult topics. Are we going to start using the ban hammer every time someone comes into an article to say “Hey, this article is biased, and I don’t agree with the past consensus here. Here’s why…” Disagreeing with other Wikipedians on what actually constitutes a neutral presentation on a topic is our highest calling and our most important success.
According to The Devil’s Advocate, the “culture of corruption” Wales refers to has already emerged on Wikipedia.
“Given that I didn’t violate the policies at all, but was still banned for “harassment” is a pretty good indicator that he is right. I also feel his statement about a “culture of corruption” emerging through poor decision-making is sort of poignant, but outdated. My case would suggest that culture of corruption has already emerged.”
Wikipedia appears to have no problem with some forms of politically motivated editing. The site has done little to oppose “edit-a-thons” organized by left-wingers and feminists on American university campus.
Wikipedia elites are known to react harshly to off-site criticism. When software engineer and tech commentator David Auerbach wrote a number of articles critical of the online encyclopedia for Slate, the response of some Wikipedians was to attempt to get Auerbach fired.
Their complaint against Auerbach was, again, a bogus charge of “harassment” — apparently a go-to smear for the leftist editors who continue to dominate Wikipedia.