Does Wikipedia eat its own babies?

Every hero becomes a bore at last. -Emerson

Two aphorisms.  Here is the first piece, from Twitter:

Don’t grieve because reality isn’t what you thought it was. Don’t cry because your heroes were hollow and complicit. Be grateful the truth is out. Now you have choices.

When the pain of things staying the same is greater than the fear of change, things change. It is up to you and me to make change happen.

This tweet, picked out of Katherine’s Twitter feed, is about the MIT/Joi Ito/Jeffrey Epstein scandal, as well as Lawrence Lessig’s inexcusable defense of Ito (but not the underage girls who were sex-trafficked) (Lessig’s eccentric campaign for president was endorsed by Jimmy Wales), but it strikes a chord, about leaders, about choosing allies, about Framgate of course, and ultimately about trust, misplaced or otherwise.

pandora - Linsey Messecar
Linsey Messecar: Pandora

How do you stop harassment without re-victimizing the harassed?  Some things can only take place in private. So how are those decisions made, and who decides?  Ultimately, without safeguards and review processes, it all boils down to trust.  We are asked to trust decision-making that takes place in the dark, but who can you trust?

Arbcom?  Trust & Safety? Or is it too early to place hope in the Strategy process, which represents a much broader swath of The Community than the band of brigands that has taken over Wikipedia’s inner city, and turned it into a rock-throwing slum.

The second piece, from Sucks:

So Fram is the kind of person, who attacks new products in their infancy, instead of helping out? The kind of person, who demotivates good-willing, hard-working contributors by criticizing the early issues, that are part of any new project, and unavoidable? Anybody who nurtured a project into adolescence knows this is part of the process, and respects the hard work behind what’s been achieved. It seems he has no such experience, and does not know what it takes to make it work.

This is about the new Fram bogpost on Wikipediocrazy. “Wikidata: Melania Trump was a ‘former sex worker and porn star’”.  Quite obviously Fram does not understand what is going on with WikiData and is trying to turn back the clock to a day when WikiData didn’t exist. It was kind of weird though for Wikipediocracy to publish the thing after the Fram arbcom case started, and before it was closed. But this is not just about Fram, although Fram may be the most obvious example right now.  It is about the way users are treated, the way that the inevitable problems that always surface are to be solved.

This huge philosophical difference, I think, can go a long way to explaining some of the WMF other controversial moves, for instance the Brill Lyle ban. Bril Lyle was also hugely critical of startup programs, not offering constructive criticism, but just trashing people who were trying something new, without much in terms of analysis or suggestions for the future.

And in the end, an organization that doesn’t try new programs and new ways of reaching people is going to die from lack of new blood. The old blood of course may try to find ways to keep its entrenched privilege and whatever small perks they have managed to hoard — the smaller the perk, the more cutthroat the competition. But if Wikimedia doesn’t find a way to give these new voices some breathing room, and figure out how to onboard them without taking casualties, they will eventually grind to a halt just from attrition, failure to adapt to changing circumstances, and reputational damage among those who are best placed and most inclined to lend their expertise.

No one yet seems to have pointed out the irony of Fram handling problems by getting rid of the person he disagreed with vs. T&S handling the Fram problem by getting rid of Fram.

And the arbitration committee has once again proved it is incapable of solving any of Wikipedia’s problems.  This time they are about to deprecate the word “harassment“, which is an actual policy with a clear definition.

Because the word “harassment” spans a wide variety of types of behavior, and because this word as used off-wiki can carry serious legal and human-resources overtones, at times it may be better to describe allegedly problematic on-wiki behavior such as “wikihounding” with more specific terminology.

What kind of arbspeak is that?  And “Overtones”?  They don’t want to police civility, which is an actual pillar, but they will police “tone”?  Oooh it’s a Wikipedia article, :  The category is relevance fallacies.

lmao lmao lmao lmao lmao lmao

And they don’t say what kind of “more specific terminology” might be best utilized to protect their friends, and insulate them from the consequences of their “allegedly problematic” bullying.  May I suggest “fluffy bunnies”.

bunny with club evilbunny bunny with ax 1
And since this is your paper doll and coloring connection, here is your fluffy bunny mask, so you too can pretend to be an arbcom hat-collector and protect your harassing, er, “more specific terminology” friends. It’s not too early to start planning that Halloween costume!bunnies_mask

14 thoughts on “Does Wikipedia eat its own babies?

  1. Not one of your best efforts!

    First, only a true-believer, die-hard Wikipedian would suggest that someone who’s a “bystander” in the face of Wikidata’s complete, systemic, built-in cultural failure to even minimally police its own site – conveniently ignoring the fact that he pointed this stuff out on WP multiple times – and then submits a blog post to Wikipediocracy about it after all else has failed, should be “shunned” for it. So it’s no surprise that such a person would be posting such BS on WikipediaSucks. If people want to trash Fram, fine – but trash him for his poor behavior, not that.

    Second, your characterization of BrillLyle’s criticisms of WMNYC are, at best, superficial and overly simplistic. At worst, they’re simply wrong. BrillLyle never had a problem with trying out new ideas, she welcomed them. What she disagreed with was hiring people with virtually no experience on Wikipedia whatsoever to implement and foster those new ideas. And she was right: Most of those ideas were never implemented at all, including “Editathon-in-a-Box,” something I vaguely recall you supporting. They banned her because she spoke up – no need to overcomplicate it. They do stuff like that all the time.

    Third, Fram didn’t block User:LauraHale; he might have wanted to, but AFAIK he never actually suggested anything beyond a “limited” ban to keep her from submitting DYKs and later, GA reviews. We’ve since found out that she was submitting every single article she wrote to DYK and GA because that was in her job description with the Australian Paralympic Committee. There’s no “irony” there, it’s a simple question of priorities, civility vs. quality control. That’s all this has ever been about, really.

    As for why we put up the blog post when we did, I guess I’d rather have that remain a mystery.

  2. This was put up hastily, true. I have been much occupied lately with the daily drip drip drip of marriage proposal spam, which hopefully will be coming to an end very soon. But I stand by what I have written. I posted it initially because it struck a chord, but the more I think about it, the more I believe this is the core “cultural values” problem that is at the root of the current Fram thing, and much else, if the issues can be teased apart.

    “… Wikidata’s complete, systemic, built-in cultural failure to even minimally police its own site…”

    Interesting that you assume a police state as the organizational model. For a volunteer organization no less. And a top down authoritarian system of people – all male – who do not actually write articles bossing the other people around, and without giving any reason, much less being backed by a community-agreed policy/guideline or RfC.

    How about a model based on quality improvement circles? The initial effort is to get a product out the door. Start class articles, stubs. Get the item into Wikidata so the cataloging freaks can play with it (and work on their dissertations). That is what article assessment is about. There is a process for bringing articles to “good” or “featured” status. And as your people are discovering on the WikiEd thread, there are also in-person opportunities for assessing a topic area and making broad improvements to coverage of the topic, whether it is a semester-long academic course or a three-hour editathon with a partner that has some type of unique expertise and access to specialized libraries and archive materials.

    Also I would point out the WikiData talk pages use Flow/Liquid Threads, which I would argue provides a technical barrier to some of’s worst excesses.

    “BrillLyle never had a problem with trying out new ideas”

    Maybe it was a mistake to mention Brill Lyle, because the first thing she has admitted is that she can be abrasive, and at this point she probably just wants some privacy. But I believe you have a thread with all the links and when I started following the links I was appalled at the type of interactions I was seeing. You cannot treat volunteers even the same way you treat paid employees. The only way you can keep them is by providing a positive experience so they will enjoy coming to work. Just making blanket statements that people are not qualified, and therefore their work is crap, without being able to say exactly why, basically smothering it before it has a chance to get off the ground, well, you’re working with volunteers here. If even 10% of what is proposed ends up working, you have come out ahead. Why rain on someone else’s parade, and try to prevent programs that might actually turn out to work.

    “’Editathon-in-a-Box,’ something I vaguely recall you supporting”

    No idea what this is.

    “They banned her because…”

    The fact is, no one knows why, except for the people who did it, and they are being very tight lipped about it. And rightly so. So again the question becomes “who do you trust”. If you ask someone something and they don’t answer, sometimes the way they don’t answer, their body language etc, says everything about whether you trust the outcome. And so far at least, I do trust the outcome, based on what I know about the people involved. Whether my trust is justified or not I cannot say, I have been disappointed before and will probably be disappointed again. I think everyone would agree that some things must take place in privacy. But what is the alternative to blind trust? There must be one, but I don’t have time to work it out right now.

    “Fram didn’t block User:LauraHale”

    She is gone nonetheless, because Fram. That’s how lynch mobs work. How many more? Didn’t Rich Farmbrough get tangled up with Fram? Dr Blofeld, of de-stubation contest fame. Gorilla Warfare – that was a nasty sexist block with no warning, no discussion. And if it can happen to someone with her collection of hats, what chance for garden-variety women. On Commons there is a user with the sig “Sander.v.Ginkel’s revenge”; Sander v. Ginkel was another of Fran’s victims I have meant to write about, maybe I will have time once the comment spam is under control.

    “it’s a simple question of priorities”

    Whose priorities, who decides? Where is the discussion, the planning? It is authoritarian rule, and by fear. What are the rules? Again, no one knows. Not a good look for a volunteer organization, one that claims to want to recruit new users, especially from marginalized groups. I would have a lot more respect for Wikipediocracy’s “research” if it actually looked at various examples of Wikipedia-based job descriptions, or the intersection of DYK or whatever as a survey of common practices, or innovations, instead of singling out someone who is female/gay and obviously following them around looking for something to complain about.

  3. Wait, what? “Editathon-in-a-Box” was the greatest thing Wikipedians ever conceived of. They’d get a bunch of Wikipedia editors, put them in a big cardboard box, seal it up with packing tape, and mail it off one-way to the Yukon, or Siberia, whichever was cheaper. But the kicker was, they’d still have their mobile devices with them the whole time, so they could still edit! It was all win-win.

    I honestly don’t understand why they abandoned the idea, other than maybe there was a cardboard shortage or something.

    But as for who decides whether civility or quality control is the priority, I think you’re reading too much into what I wrote there. The admins (and occasionally the Arbcommers) have always decided this on, at least until now, when it looks like the WMF aren’t so happy with that arrangement and want to make civility the clear #1. Sounds good in theory, maybe… but my position, at least, hasn’t changed. They think they can make their site more welcoming to n00bs and/or less-privileged groups by removing “a few bad apples,” starting with Fram as a test case, but in fact there are waaaay, way more bad apples than they want people to believe. And unless they change the system that attracted those bad apples in the first place (which they show no sign of doing), they won’t fix anything, all they’re really going to do is bring in new, even-badder apples and further alienate the few people left there who are doing most of the maintenance work.

  4. Maybe you’re thinking of internet in a box.

    There is also a Kiwix version with medical articles in various languages.

    It’s for reading though, not for editing.

    There is no coffee inside a box, so you can forget that model. No one is going to edit without coffee. Pizza is also good, many people will edit for pizza, and other types of Free Food, as they do not have to leave the room, and it makes them feel appreciated.

    No one knows why Fram was banned. Everyone was talking about how horrible he was–on both sides of the pond, from what I hear, and then it just happened. No one was surprised because there had been so much back-channeling about it beforehand.

    So when Fram was unblocked, did he start editing? No. When he got his tools back (I think someone did that, no? Floq?), did he use them? No, he laid low. So if he gets a blessing from arbcom, do you really suppose he’s home free, or is he still WMF-banned. Does he dare test it? (Yeah I know what Jimbo said, and it has the same effect as an essay.) Or will Jan and those guys be on him like a chicken on a June bug?

    What the admins and arbcommers have been deciding on wiki is massively out of step with segments of “the community” that don’t have the time or the temperament (or the stomach) for the drama boards. How many editors are there and what types? Who do the admins represent? You have already started to see how huge wiki-ed is. There is 1lib1ref, groups that do nothing but data, on and on, and who represents them? You saw how ACTRIAL was pushed on “the community” by enwiki governance just as one-sidedly as Visual Editor and Superprotect by the devs. It may have made some patroller types happy, but not the Wikipedian-in-residence types. Worse, the “inner city” of rock throwers does not want to share the platform with everyone else in the suburbs and the countryside, they want to be the gatekeepers, and make it just a private club for themselves and their friends. Yet they do none of the heavy lifting, and make obstacles for those who are doing it.

  5. So yeah, we pretty much said the same thing. If you rely on banning you will always be playing whack-a-mole, and always destroying your leadership. Especially when they do the ex post facto thing and everyone is trying to read the tea leaves over what is acceptable and what is not, and why something happened. That is the real problem, no ground rules. And when they do have ground rules, no one will implement them, they just use the ban-hammer to enforce their own idea of what the rules should be – it’s all supervote – and again destroying people as a form of rule-making after the fact.

    Who wants to work in a field of land mines. The structure will have to change.

  6. re: Editathon-in-a-Box

    I first heard about Editathon-in-a-Box during a presentation that Dorothy Howard gave in Europe. Basically the concept is that you automate and templatize some of the administrative details and functions that are involved in running editathons, you translate what works into practical solutions so people running editathons who are new to the community or new editors themselves don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

    It was a brilliant talk, and I’ve always been very impressed with Dorothy. I think she was a really great example of creative ideas to combat a lot of the more arcane approaches to outreach.

    Dorothy also wrote a great paper about free digital labor that Wikipedia editors do, if you’re interested.

    re: claims that I supposedly trashed new initiatives and discouraged new efforts

    Well, I’ve not heard this one before. I was very critical of Art+Feminism, which i would not characterize as a new initiative, especially by the time I was involved with supporting their efforts.

    That’s the true backstory, actually. I was Secretary of WM NYC and was told that part of our mandate was to support A+F (as well as AfroCROWD). So dumb naive me, I did that. I helped get their landing page on Wiki:Meetup more organized, so events were listed and linked clearly. I tried to help make the individual event pages more consistent and make sure helpful facts and resources were on the pages. I went to an organizational meeting with Michael Mandiberg and others, and was given tasks by them to complete.

    During at least 2 years of A+F I did an enormous amount of work to support A+F editathons. I thought I was (a) doing my job as WM NYC secretary (and later board member) as well as helping address the gender gap.

    Also, in my time at WM NYC, I made sure the food was better (not pizza and pop ad nauseum). I reorganized and improved the information on the chapters Wiki:Meetup space, though it is no longer as clean or organized. I WikiFacilitied COUNTLESS editathons and was an enthusiastic and productive presence in encouraging new editors to edit. I would give them my contact info and help out with pages where their edits were deleted, or with AfDs.

    I’m not going to go on and on, but it got to the point where Mandiberg denigrating me publicly and being nasty personally — and his co-hort Mabey screaming at me in front of a packed A+F MoMA event when I asked her a question about the agenda — that it was clear these were unpleasant, self-serving people who I wanted nothing to do with. So I asked to have my name stripped from their list of helpers, and was not shy about expressing my concern for their mismanagement of their initiative. And my dismay of WMF providing so much grant funding with such lower than necessary results.

    I am the first to say I was abrasive at times, was a kid in a candy store, and didn’t get along with people who I think are real snakes in the grass, yet mystifyingly beloved by WMF. I am guilty of a lot of things, but I was none of the things you describe.

    If you want more info or details, I’m happy to provide. I’ve been public about what happened, and it’s all on Wikipediocracy.

    But please do a better job, and maybe contact the people you accuse to confirm basic facts before publishing them like this.

    – Erika f/k/a BrillLyle

  7. O hai, I see you have been trash talking me over at the Other Place.

    So if you necro-post on an inactive blog, and your comment does not appear immediately, you

    a) email the moderator who you already have an introduction to and ask them to look into it.
    b) follow the contact instructions on the sticky post at the top of the blog.
    c) shit-post about them on a site that has previously threatened them with legal action and let them try to figure out why they are suddenly getting page hits from that site.

    Obviously the latter.

    If you think someone should be contacted because they have been accused of something-or-other, go ahead and contact them. In the meantime I have fished your rather mean-spirited post out of the spam filter and unmoderated it.

    Merry Christmas.

  8. Thanks for mansplaining what I should’ve done, in your opinion. I stand by what I said on Wikipediocracy, especially given the fact that this blog post is so inaccurate and scurrilous. I was upset and the folks on Wikipediocracy have been supportive and kind. As opposed to you. Who also could’ve emailed me just as easily as I’m pretty easy to find online. And am NOT anonymous like you. At least I stand up publicly and don’t hide behind a blog.

    And thanks, too, for that. All of what you said in your response really adds that additional nastiness to your very uninformed slander of me and my work within the Wiki community. Because let’s be clear – this blog entry is slanderous. It’s sloppy and not researched. It’s also wildly imbalanced. So yeah, great job on all fronts.

    You should have apologized for doing a hatchet job on me.

    I know all about Project X, as Harej aka James Hare from WM DC was instrumental in trying to implement it. He told me about it over a quick meal at the first WikiCite in Berlin in 2016, which I was invited to by some kind and smart people. I’m very sorry that he got burnt crispy on the project, as I think the concept was very interesting, though I had a lot of concerns about the functionality and implementation. They used the interface (I believe) for Women in Red’s Wiki page, and there were a ton of issues, IMO. But again the concept is solid.

    Wikipedia-in-a-Box was more manual and simple, IMO. Template pages for events, with an adequate amount of support, would reduce the stress and strain on organizers of editathons. A+F has something similar but they are not focused on on Wiki pages, which is problematic, again IMO.

    As for the OCLC project, also at WikiCite I met the OCLC woman in charge of the project Monika was working on. She was incredibly unfriendly, hostile, unprofessional, and wanted nothing to do with being collegial at the event, even though there were few women there. And WM NYC had an ongoing relationship of support to OCLC in various iterations. As the Secretary and Board Member of WM NYC I thought she might be courteous, but nada. Another great leader of an initiative who has zero interest in regular volunteer editors.

    So forgive me when I saw the decisionmaking process and methodology of implementing the OCLC initiative that I was very unhappy and felt like they were squandering this great opportunity. Replicating many mistakes of A+F. And not calling upon many of us who had expertise in putting together and WikiFacilitating editathons.

  9. And please do not pretend that I did not contact you, through one of those people who has a Wikipediocracy mailbox, and that you did not decline to comment.

    But I see that you have more than made up for it here.

    The “OCLC woman” who failed to consult you as to how your own program was such a failure and should be defunded, I believe might be Merrilee Proffitt, who was the keynote speaker at Wikiconference North America in San Diego, and whose 1lib 1ref program has also been a resounding success, so much so that they have added a second campaign to coincide with the school year for the southern hemisphere. I understand the other program you trashed, turned out to be a success, in spite of your efforts to take it down and get it defunded during the test phase, and they have the metrics, and that it was used as a basis for a later program with the medicine wikiproject.

    But why these people do not want to work with you I have not been able to discover. It will have to continue to be one of the great mysteries of life.

  10. WTH are you talking about? I was never contacted by you.

    You contacted me through someone at Wikipediocracy?

    I’m on there often. I saw no communications.

    So yeah.

    Whatever fantasy world you want to believe in is obviously your choice. I did a lot of good, I helped a lot of people. And I did a ton of really productive work for both WM NYC and A+F.

    Maybe this is your shtick, here. To write something wildly judgmental and full of false conjecture.

    The problem is that you hurt people this way. I couldn’t let this go without saying something. I have been very up front about the mistakes and miscalculations I have made. But my intentions were to be productive and helpful.

    I don’t see this here. Q.E.D. indeed.

    I am decidedly not a fan.

    Erika f/k/a BrillLyle

  11. Well, I doubt if you would publicly call me a liar and launch on such a vicious personal attack if you had not gone back in your files and actually checked. The only other explanation is that one (or both) of these individuals claiming to be BrillLyle is an imposter.

    Ordinarily I regard emails as private and do not publish them, but given the gravity of these accusations, and since there seems to be some question of impersonation, I will put this much out in public.

  12. You know what? I’m just going to shut this down. At this point, no good can come of it. If BrillLyle wants to say anything more to me, she can do it by email. There are all kinds of people who have been damaged by Wikipedia and are constantly being triggered, and I think this is what we are seeing here. It is also pretty clear she got on the wrong side of someone with an awful lot of influence behind the scenes.

    To me the one lesson of Art + Feminism – and I do consider it to be a success – is that they organized invisibly and off wiki, on a separate website, and not on a ‘transparent’ WMF platform where Manchester insiders and their minions could stalk it, track it down, and destroy it, and go after the careers and reputations of the women participating.

    If BrillLyle really wants to say something about the lessons to be learned from Art + Feminism, or for that matter about WMNY, she wouldn’t have to wait for the leadership of some other program to approach her. If she still really has something to say, I’ll bet Wikipediocracy would be willing to publish it in one of their blog posts.

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