Wikipedia Will Ban You for Criticising Wikipedia

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales today released a brand new social and mobile network, which he calls TPO — The Peoples’ Operator. But his older, more famous creation still has problems that remain unsolved.

A blogger and Wikipedia contributor has been banned from editing the site’s pages after he wrote a string of blog posts criticising the site, its policies, and some of its administrators. Wikipedia administrator Gamaliel, who raised the issue,* took issue with the blogger’s off-site criticism, in particular his warning that some of Wikipedia’s policies may lead to negative media scrutiny.

The blogger, who goes by the pseudonym “Vordrak” on Wikipedia, has long been a thorn in the in the website’s side. He does not conceal his desire for radical changes at the online encyclopedia, and his blog contains a string of critiques of the site and its administrators. He also moderates a community on Reddit dedicated to improving the balance of Wikipedia articles, a community that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has personally visited.

But having Wales’ blessing is not enough, as it is Wikipedia’s top volunteer administrators who are the ultimate authorities on the site. These long-term users and administrators form what one Wikipedia contributor has called “The Unblockables”  — users who have carte blanche to engage in the kind of policy violations that would see newer users banned almost instantly.

Vordrak has spent a great deal of time chronicling how some Wikipedia contributors have enjoyed a protected or semi-protected status on the site. He revealed a string of conflicts of interest on the part of long-term contributor Mark Bernstein, who was found to have edited Wikipedia pages related to his own company, Eastgate Systems. Links between Wikipedia editors and the Guardian newspaper have also been uncovered by Vordrak.

Instead of welcoming scrutiny, Wikipedia’s admins have been doing their best to block Vordrak from the site. They succeeded last week, accusing him of failing to contribute anything to the site other than criticism.

Gamaliel, the Wikipedia editor who raised the issue, was particularly concerned by Vordrak’s scrutiny of the site’s enforcement of its child protection policy. Gamaliel accused Vordrak of using the issue as part of his “personal agenda.” He also took issue with Vordrak’s warning that the encyclopedia may face negative media scrutiny unless it improved its policies and transparency.

Of course, that warning is completely accurate. Negative stories about Wikipedia have been appearing with increasing frequency in the press, often making similar accusations — that the site’s vast collection of community-created rules and standards have made the editing community impossible for newcomers to penetrate, and that this has led to the dominance of a small group of long-term editors.

Breitbart has previously reported on the case of Conservative MP Grant Shapps, where a senior Wikipedia editor provided information to the Guardian which seemed to indicate that Shapps was editing his own Wikipedia page. After a review, Wikipedia found the editor’s judgement to be false — but not before the story had made national headlines, and not before Shapps lost his position as a Cabinet Minister. In no small way, Wikipedia’s byzantine processes had an impact on British politics and the British Government.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Slate’s David Auerbach has been drawing attention to the problems of the site for some time. Auerbach describes Wikipedia as a “legalistic anarchy, in which complicated rules, frequently invoked only through arcane acronyms … are selectively deployed by experienced editors in order to prevail in debates.”

The response of Wikipedia admins? An attempt to bar Auerbach from correcting references to his own work on Wikipedia, followed by an attempt to brand him a “fringe source” whose articles ought not to be referenced on the site.

Vordrak’s ban, therefore, follows an established pattern. The response of Wikipedia’s admins to external scrutiny remains one of knee-jerk defensiveness. Prominent critics of Wikipedia who venture into the community have, so far, faced rapid expulsion and/or censure.

Wikipedia describes itself as a “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” The latter claim is becoming increasingly hard to justify.

Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter. 

*Editor’s note: this article, when published, incorrectly stated that Wikipedia administrator Gamaliel “issued the ban” while correctly reporting later in the article that Gamaliel “raised the issue.” The former reference to Gamaliel has been corrected.