Wikipedia’s Secretive Governing Council Unbans Falsely Accused Admin – but Doesn’t Restore His Authority

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia
GIUSEPPE CACACE/Getty

In June, the Foundation that owns Wikipedia banned “Fram” who was one of the site’s veteran administrators, prompting an editor revolt with administrators resigning en masse and some using their advanced privileges to override the Foundation’s actions. The Foundation eventually backed down and allowed Wikipedia’s community-elected Arbitration Committee to review the ban, which they lifted, giving the revolt a notable victory — but Fram’s adminstrator privileges were not restored.

The highly irregular case was still criticized as the Committee would not restore Fram’s administrative privileges citing secret Foundation evidence and dubious “community” evidence. An attempt by Fram to be re-elected as a Wikipedia administrator following the case failed as editors cited past conflicts with him and the Committee’s refusal to restore his privileges themselves.

In banning Fram, the Foundation cited “harassment” without giving details or identifying the complainant. Wikipedia’s traditionally self-governing community revolted by overturning Foundation actions or resigning their positions. Pressured by co-founder Jimmy Wales, the Foundation conceded to the ban being reviewed by the Wikipedia community’s Arbitration Committee, likened to a Supreme Court. Editors celebrated and several administrators who resigned requested their positions back.

However, the Committee’s proposed review prompted more criticism. Cases usually involve people providing evidence publicly, unless it involves personal information. In reviewing Fram’s ban, the Committee announced all evidence, including a redacted Foundation dossier, would be provided privately and only summaries posted. Some accepted this as more transparent than the Foundation process, while others criticized it as insufficient.

Aggravating matters, when the Committee posted its evidence summaries, most community evidence appeared to be from a website collecting evidence against Fram. It included common errors, such as presenting Fram’s summary of another administrator’s insulting attitude as though Fram were insulting an editor. The Committee also stated that, while agreeing the Foundation’s dossier on Fram showed clear misconduct, a summary of it could not be posted. Despite these issues, the Committee still unanimously concluded the evidence did not justify Fram’s ban. In another unusual step, the Committee lifted Fram’s ban before closing the case so they could focus on whether evidence was sufficient to uphold the Foundation’s removal of Fram’s administrative privileges.

One Committee member pushing for action regarding Fram’s administrative status was Molly White, who goes by “GorillaWarfare” on Wikipedia. There was concern about White’s involvement in the case as she had received a temporary ban from Fram the previous year after baselessly accusing another editor of “misogyny”, though other editors had the ban overturned. Initially voting to uphold removal of Fram’s privileges, White gradually walked back her position as editors criticized her conflict of interest or argued evidence did not even support that decision. She eventually proposed another lengthy case to decide the matter with additional evidence.

White’s suggestion for another case prolonging the debate was rejected as other Committee members favored an initial proposal she made on upholding the removal of Fram’s privileges and closed the case with the removal upheld. Fram quickly sought to regain his privileges as numerous administrators agreed to co-nominate him for the position and Fram put his nomination before the Wikipedia community. Initially favoring Fram, the discussion quickly soured as other administrators with grievances from past conflicts came forward.

Most influential in opposing Fram was former Arbitration Committee member Michel Aaij, who edits as “Drmies” on Wikipedia. The two previously fought over the Committee’s decision during Aaij’s tenure to lift the eight-year ban of editor Guido den Broeder, who was banned for promotional editing. Broeder was re-banned for promoting his unrecognized “micronation” and an independent film he helped produce. When Aaij sought re-election to the Committee the previous year, Fram raised Broeder’s case and called Broeder a “pedophile” in apparent reference to Broeder’s edits about a child model starring in the film he co-produced. Broeder noted the child’s mother denied sexualizing her child by calling pedophilia a “Western phenomena.” Aaij’s re-election attempt failed. However, Aaij’s objection became the most cited reason for opposing Fram’s own re-election as an administrator.

Fram’s re-election was opposed by another former Committee member: Robert Fernandez, known as “Gamaliel” on Wikipedia. Fernandez allegedly sent anonymous sexual harassment accusations against Fram to a Wikipedia newsletter, which falsely distorted events from a previous dispute. Due to these objections and others, such as that of an Antifa supporter who had publicly praised an Antifa terrorist attack against an ICE detention center on Wikipedia and claimed Fram’s conduct harmed the site’s image, discussion switched from majority support to majority opposition and Fram withdrew his nomination. In response to the failure of Fram’s re-election effort, one administrator who nominated Fram resigned and expressed uncertainty about the “rules of engagement” for administrators.

Conclusion of Fram’s case has not fully resolved the dispute. A consultation on the Foundation process used against Fram has been initiated to seek future approval for similar actions and the Arbitration Committee proposed a discussion on how to handle “harassment” cases on Wikipedia in the future. Such discussions and Fram’s initial ban seek to address media criticism of the Wikipedia community’s toxicity and to improve “diversity” among editors, though no apparent effort to address the site’s existing ideological bias is intended.

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.

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