Who has “ultimate responsibility” for harassment on Wikipedia?

This is split off from the comment section of CSinders (WMF) leaves WMF to work on feminist chatbot art.

According to this comment by Renée Bagslint:

*Nobody* has “ultimate responsibility” for Wikipedia. That’s exactly what’s wrong with its community, that’s why it is not and never can be a reliable source of information, and that’s why it’s so dangerous and damaging to the knowledge eco-system.

The original context here was harassment/discrimination but here Bagslint uses it to make an argument about article content. The alternative would seem to be to make one person responsible for the content of some 5 million articles, in which case you could end up with an Alex Jones Infowars type of person with no way to remove them, as well as an easy target for defamation lawsuits. The other (current) way is to agree on a set of principles and have a way to enforce the principles.

But what about harassment and discrimination?  The focus of this blog is, after all, women.  Who has the authority there?

There are two (legitimate) influences: rules and principles.  In a consensus based model like Wikipedia, the volunteer section is supposed to be dominated by discussions leading to consensus, while the employee section will lean heavily towards the consensus mode but also have a fixed set of rules based on the laws where they are located, and occasionally interpreted by WMF Legal.

The original Gerrymander, a district created to favor one candidate.

The third (and illegitimate) influence is what I will call here the “Al Capone” principle. A group of individuals seizes power, along with the means of staying in power. This can be by vote-stacking (canvassing), by intimidation, or by surreptitiously getting rid of anyone with an unwanted idea.  On Wikipedia, all admins have unlimited authority to indefinitely ban/block anyone they want.  Unless the person has a protector, Al Capone-style, the chances of being unbanned, or even noticed, are slim and none.

In theory, there is oversight of admins by the arbitration committee, but in practice they rarely take any action as they themselves are either complicit in the abuse, or will be subject to retaliation.if they interfere.  This is complicated by the absence of an agreed-on definition of harassment.

This is what has happened on Wikipedia, the power structure having been seized by a group surrounding a local “culture” based on domestic abuse.

Now, back to the “rules and principles”. Here is a list, take your pick

And just for kicks, these were proposed more for non-binaries, (I’m afraid to ask, but good for them, and thank you to for proposing it ).  Like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it will probably have more impact on women than on the demographic they were meant to target.

In case anybody doesn’t remember about Al Capone, he may have had the local police and city hall under his thumb, but he had not been able to buy off the federal government. His crime empire was eventually stopped when he failed to file federal taxes on his illegally acquired gains.


4 thoughts on “Who has “ultimate responsibility” for harassment on Wikipedia?

  1. Well, I did mention the community first, before the content. But as far as the content goes: I don’t think I suggested having a single editor-in-chief as the only, or even a desirable, alternative. The real knowledge eco-system that has built up over the past few centuries, since the foundation of the Royal Society, say, does not have a single supreme editor, and a jolly good thing too. It has evolved a whole plethora of mechanisms which worked well enough in their way — a way which we would now see as deficient in several respects, and which people are working to rectify. Wikipedia is essentially a cancer on that system, and unless you want to kill the system in order to rebuild it from the ground up (which some people do, of course) then you need to cut Wikipedia out of it, and the sooner the better. As far as conduct is concerned, I don’t pretend to have the answer either. But I’m sure that people being given, and taking, responsibility, and a generally understood form of accountability, would be part of it.

  2. Sorry but not familiar with Royal Society, and looking at both the Wikipedia page and their website leaves me none the wiser. It appears to be a bunch of name-dropping. Also a sausage-fest, if this photo is any indication. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Royal_Society_1952_London_no_annotation.jpg

    Oh dear, “common rooms and faculty clubs were traditionally men-only…” also this: “In 1923, the Royal Society Club — a private dining group whose members were all fellows — extended a dinner invitation to that year’s prize lecturer before realizing that metallurgist and crystallographer C. F. Elam was a woman. She tactfully declined, and accepted “a very beautiful box of chocolates” instead.” https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-02746-z

    The chocolates does seem to be its best feature.

    But I digress, you seem to be proposing another Citizendium.

    And “a generally understood form of accountability”? Yes there is already WP:ADMINACCT a policy that, as they say, is honored more in the breach. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators#Accountability

  3. The Royal Society is the national scientifc academy of the UK, and worth mentioning in this context because its Philosophical Transactions, started in 1665, was the first peer-reviewed journal in the sense we currently understand it. The Royal Society does indeed reflect, not to say perpetuate, the existing gender ratio in science — currently some 95% are men — but that photograph from 1952 is from a conference of physicists held at their premises, not a group photograph of the Fellows themselves.

    Your menton of the Dinig Club is interesting. It is a feature of the British Establishment to create these little clubs within clubs where the in-groups gather to discuss matters and where many decisions are made or discussions are framed: where networks are formed and strengthened and little deals and arrangements are made. The Nature article is spot-on in identifying how such arrangements feed into disadvantage.

  4. Peer review is certainly better than no peer review, also reproducible scientific studies, but I have to admit my understanding of these British institutions has been shaped entirely by Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey. Our own Skull and Bones or Bohemian Grove can boast no such veneer of decorum.

    But back to accountability. How to do it? Who has the authority? Power has been seized, who has the means to seize it back? And on behalf of who?

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