Thursday, July 3, 2008

Herd mentality

I have noticed a sort of "herd mentality" that reigns on Wikipedia in some circles. Someone says "all pro-science and pro-mainstream editors are unCIVIL and unfair to the poor FRINGE advocates!". And everyone just mindlessly repeats this, and every time they see an outburst from a mainstream editor, they claim "See! It is absolutely true!" using confirmation bias. They do not notice the hours, or days, or weeks or even months of provocation that went on before this leading to the outburst. Or if they see it, it is all discounted.

I have had many people tell me I advocate getting rid of WP:CIVIL. Not true. I never have. But it fits their politically correct mindset, so they repeat it over and over.

I have had many people tell me I am in favor of WP:SPADE. Not true. Again I never suggested this. But it fits their politically correct mindset, so they repeat it over and over.

I have had many people tell me I am in favor of WP:BADSITES. Not true. Again I never have been in favor of this policy, and only vaguely know what it is. But it fits their politically correct mindset, so they repeat it over and over.

The same is true with charges of "cabalism". Where is the proof? I have been told over and over that a group of editors with the same views, who have the same articles on their watchlists, could not be the explanation for this group of editors editing the same way, or editing an article together. Huh?

In all these instances, and in many more, people are ready to convict the accused based on no evidence or highly biased evidence just because there has been an accusation. We even saw it with the recent "secret trial" of Orangemarlin and Odd nature where no defense was allowed, since "of course they have to be guilty so why bother with a defense".

This is clearly just baloney.


I continue to get snide remarks and nonsense from those who want to post comments to these blog posts. Sorry, but if you cannot make your comments rational, I will not be bothered.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Disagreement is forbidden!

A somewhat disturbing trend on Wikipedia that I have noticed is an increasing intolerance of disagreement. This has manifested itself in a number of ways.

On RfAs and similar kinds of polls, it has become accepted practice to "badger" and argue with those who vote in what is deemed to be the "wrong way". The "wrong way" is usually identified with those who have voted to "oppose" the candidate. I have even recently seen some claim in discussions that to vote "oppose", in particular with little if any explanation of the vote, is effectively equivalent to bullying of the candidate [1]. This is an amazing position, in my opinion.

Even more disturbing, I have noticed that there seems to be a growing tendency to attack other editors in vengeance for perceived "wrong" votes on RfAs and RfBs [2][3][4]. I was even attacked for voting incorrectly on two RfAs I did not vote on at all [5]. Interestingly, although I brought one of these incidents to the attention of Arbcomm as part of an Arbcomm proceeding over a month ago [6], and although this behavior is strictly against Wikipedia policy, Arbcomm has not even issued a hint that they intend to enforce this policy, or would like to see it enforced.

I have seen it frequently claimed that disagreeing with someone who is advocating a FRINGE position is a violation of the CIVIL policy on Wikipedia. What sort of reasoning is that?

Now I have even been attacked for defending others, and this is the main complaint about me included as part of an RfC: [7]. The same sort of accusation was placed on an Arbcomm proceeding talk page [8]. Also, during a "peace conference" that was held in association with the RfC, the charge was made that I was guilty of mounting a defense, and so I published a blog post containing my side of the story. Even my blog post defending myself was deemed offensive and I was asked to remove it, so I did [9].

An even more amazing example is the recent "secret" Arbcomm trial of Orangemarlin and Odd nature. Neither Orangemarlin nor Odd nature were allowed to post any evidence in their defense, and were not even notified of the existence of this secret proceeding, or of the charges against them. According to the arbitrator who posted it, they were not interested in hearing a defense [10].

Incredible. Just incredible.


What I find even funnier, given the predictable turmoil and outrage that this caused, is that the arbitrator who posted it claimed they conducted the trial in secret, denying the accused a chance to defend himself, because they were trying to avoid "drama". Avoid drama?? What planet do you live on?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pondering Harassment

As Wikipedia has become more prominent and as the community involved in creating Wikipedia has become larger, problems like harassment, intimidation, threats, extortion, coercion, stalking and vengeance have started to surface.

Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation have very few resources to devote to this kind of problem, but there are probably some simple things that do not cost very much that could help a lot. I have made a list of suggestions off the top of my head for how to deal with harassment and intimidation problems. Some of these might actually be worth trying. If everyone made similar lists, and we started discussing them, we might actually come up with a few worthwhile ideas to try to improve our current situation.

One of the things that must be addressed initially is defining what is meant by harassment. We should not include trivial examples of bad or mischevious behavior, which include statements like "Tom's mother has a big nose", in the same category as threatening and disturbing statements like "Tom, I am flying into Cleveland next week and I know where your mother lives, so I am going to pay her a visit, rape her and kill her and you can't stop me".

By setting too low a threshold for inclusion of behavior into the harassment category, which might be addressed by a special harassment policy, we dilute our effectiveness and overcommit our very limited resources. Also, we create a situation where no one respects our policies. The somewhat dubious recent efforts to impose ever more stringent standards for CIVIL behavior can start to appear ridiculous. For example, it was being regularly claimed that edit summaries including words like "silly" were a violation of CIVIL. Some even claimed it is uncivil to suggest that the Klu Klux Klan is a racist organization. Obviously, as the definition of "uncivil" expands to cover more and more cases, communication is impaired and the very concept starts to lose meaning.

However, the threshold for harassment should not be too high either. Coercive statements like "If you don't do X for me, I will do Y to you" create a less- than-pleasant environment. Assertions that it is the "right" of a "wronged" editor to seek vengeance can also be problematic. For example, this reasoning leads to statements like "Since you voted against Z for RfA six months ago, I am going to do bad things to you now". Obviously, these kinds of statements can create a bad atmosphere and lead to further problems.

One of the frequently-asserted reasons for cracking down on CIVIL violations is that uncivil comments and personal attacks lead to an unpleasant editing environment on Wikipedia. If stating that someone's argument is "amazingly" incorrect is uncivil and sanctionable, or stating that someone is involved in "self promotion" is judged to be sanctionable [1], then surely coercive statements and statements meant to intimidate like "I am going to attack you out of a desire for revenge" should be similarly sanctionable. Also, if we do not respond to these sorts of statements with any sense of urgency, a general impression develops that any kind of threat or vengeance for some perceived "wrong" is permissable. And once these kinds of behaviors are allowed, it is tantamount to encouraging them, and they will escalate.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Comparing a threat to the accusation of canvassing

Someone posted a comment to my blog post, "Wikipedia Review, reviewed" that raised some issues I thought should be addressed. They wrote:

Filll, it's puzzling to me that you continue to bring up Cla's supposed threat. I read what he said, and in isolation it could be read as a threat, but in the context of that thread it was clearly not. Furthermore, Cla clearly indicated it was not a threat and apologized for his wording. What else can he do? You're in the same situation with the canvassing charge - you are clearly frustrated that others keep bringing that up weeks after your apology. But then, you're doing the same thing with Cla, refusing to accept his apology. Why are others expected to accept your apology and move on, even as you continue to raise Cla's so-called attack long after he's apologized?

There are a number of things that I disagree with in this comment. The first is, my cutting and pasting a webaddress to a subsection of a webpage rather than to the webpage itself by accident is a little bit different from repeating a threat over and over and over and over, explicitly, in a variety of different ways.

Cla68 was asked and asked and asked repeatedly what he meant. Cla68 either just repeated the threat in different words, or made the threat more egregious, or sometimes Cla68 did not even answer the requests for clarification. A couple of times Cla68 did sort of half-retract the threat, but then immediately followed it up with further threats. Finally after a few days, Cla68 published a sort of vague, half-hearted alleged "apology" that is open to interpretation in a number of ways. Cla68 was clearly very reluctant to retract his threat, and still is reluctant to make it clear that he is not threatening anyone and did not intend to threaten anyone and will not threaten anyone in a similar fashion in the future. At least one admin has scrambled his password and left Wikipedia because of Cla68's threats. Cla68 has not yet made it clear that he resolves to avoid any further efforts at coercion or extortion. Cla68 has not made it clear that he will drop his own personal efforts to take "justice" into his own hands and to punish those who he deems to be evil-doers, like those in the Intelligent Design Wikiproject or those who are working on the global warming articles or those involved in any number of other topics. In all of these cases, Cla68 has indicated that he intends to step in to mete out whatever punishment he personally decides should be delivered. Cla68 needs to distance himself from all these sorts of statements and pledge never to make these kinds of statements ever again.

There is a slight difference between threatening people's lives and livelihoods, and possibly by accident creating the impression I was campaigning for an RfA vote in one direction or another, in a poll for a position that is supposedly no big deal, right?

Contrast Cla68's half-response several days later, which might still be interpreted as a pending threat, to my immediate communication of the details of my mistake to Arbcomm, within a few minutes of learning of it. I also published a public apology about a day later. There is a slight difference between a few minutes and a few days, right?

I made an accident, for which I apologized. Cla68 made no accident. Cla68 defended his statement, over and over and over. That is a slight different, right?

What else can Cla68 do? Well Cla68 can, even at this late date, come clean and fully apologize and make it very clear that he will no longer threaten others in the manner he has clearly been doing over and over. He can turn over a new leaf. He can distance himself from the troublemakers at Wikipedia Review, and avoid the temptation to go over there to brag to them about some "ass that he kicked" at Wikipedia, or otherwise gloat in some similarly unseemly fashion, or to engage in other forms of unproductive discussions at Wikipedia Review. That might present him in a better light. Cla68 can acknowledge that he went to the press at least twice in the last few months to sew the seeds of discord and attack other editors and organizations, and resolve to never do it again. Cla68 can apologize to those he hurt with his statements in the press, and make a public pledge that he will not repeat this.

I have not complained about people not accepting my apology. I do complain that people have not read it accurately or misinterpreted it, and I have corrected them for this when it happened.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Civility examined

I believe that civility on Wikipedia is important, but not necessarily for the same reasons that are endlessly and brainlessly spouted. I have often heard it claimed that uncivil behavior is responsible for driving away new editors, and creating an unproductive editing and working environment.

However, I think it would be good to get some data on this, instead of just making this claim without much thought. We have some anecdotal evidence that is a bit contrary to these claims:

*Militaries, such as the United States Marine Corps, seem to be quite productive and have not done anything over the centuries to try to squelch incivility in in the interests of a better and more productive working environment. If this contributed to winning wars, surely this would have happened.

*Academia itself is very uncivil. And yet, academia seems to do good work and seems to be respected. Wikipedia tries to emulate academia and uses peer-reviewed academic work as the gold standards in its references. And yet, academia has not been the subject of any civility drives and movements.

*The halls of Congress and "Big Business" are quite uncivil. And yet, there are no massive drives to stomp out the incivility "behind the scenes" in Congress and "Big Business". By contrast, Congress and "Big Business" are quite sensitive of projecting a civil face to the public, of course.

*New York City, London and Paris are famous for being rude uncivil environments. And yet, these cities seem to function and even attract new residents. People do not flee these cities because of incivility for the most part. In fact, New Yorkers who move to other places frequently state they miss the incivility.

I do think civility at Wikipedia is important, but not for the reasons most often given. Clearly, being the 7th most popular website on earth and the number one destination for all kinds of information, Wikipedia is very visible. And just like Al Jazeera and CNN and the BBC and the New York Times and Google and Yahoo and other high visibility information sources, Wikipedia is under scrutiny as a result. And just like other high visibility sources, Wikipedia has to present a certain inoffensive public image. A public relations disaster is just around the corner if we allow uncontrolled incivility and profanity behind the scenes at Wikipedia, since it is so easily accessible.

For example, why should Wikipedia care if editors advertise racist personal beliefs, or personal beliefs that some associate with racism, rightly or wrongly? Why should Wikipedia care if editors have controversial user boxes on their user pages and controversial user pages? The one unifying principle operating is the need to project a positive public image. CIVIL obviously has little to do with productivity, because the misuse of CIVIL, the Wikipedia civility policy, or the excessive application of CIVIL can be terrible for productivity. CIVIL obviously has little to do with BITE, the Wikipedia guideline suggesting that Wikipedia should be welcoming to new editors, since many newbies have run afoul of CIVIL rules that they were not familiar with. This has happened more frequently as the CIVIL rules have become more inconsistent and increasingly minor offenses are viewed as violations of CIVIL [1].

Interestingly, I have been angrily attacked repeatedly for questioning the standard reasoning behind the changes in the application of CIVIL, the Wikipedia civility policy. Some of the greatest proponents of CIVIL behave in ways that are quite contrary to CIVIL even when discussing CIVIL.

For example, I have been viciously attacked by one of the most prominent proponents of CIVIL in private emails which were positively venomous and laced with profanities. What was he so angry about? That I had cautioned another editor who was misusing CIVIL and NPA as weapons that it was not generally civil behavior to do so. I have seen other emails from another great proponent of CIVIL that claim that adding the modifier "amazingly" in front of the word "incorrect" in a discussion means that I have committed a CIVIL violation. This same CIVIL champion claims that using a bold typeface in discussions is a violation of CIVIL, but uses the bold typeface himself. Finally, I was told in a private conversation that I should never have asked at AN/I for uninvolved administrators to look at one editor calling another a "f_ckwit" because it was completely understandable and reasonable for them to do so, since they had been provoked. I was told that even raising this issue made me look bad. Huh? Does anyone honestly believe that any of this makes any sense at all?

What does it matter if people do not have a realistic view of CIVIL? I think that one of the dangerous undercurrents at Wikipedia is the making of decisions of all kinds based on intuition, and on who can scream the loudest, and the ignoring of evidence. For Wikipedia to mature as an enterprise, it has to move beyond intuition-based management and towards evidence-based management. And for people to respect CIVIL, it has to make sense, be more or less consistent, and not be used as a weapon against one's fellow editors.


Here is an example of why I will rarely if ever post comments here and reply to them. This is a part of a reply I received to this blog post:

I believe you are tilting at windmills by arguing that CIVIL should be abolished. I think instead you would be better off examining how the policy could be made more effective for encouraging good communication and less likely to be gamed.

Well I hardly know how to respond to that bit of insight. However, this person might find that he has more of a positive impact if he actually reads the blog posts he is responding to before he responds.

Comments on comments

I have received a number of angry ranting incoherent comments in response to my "Parable" blog post. I have also received some basically irrelevant comments in response to the "Parable" blog post.

At first I was going to publish them all, and reply to each one, rebutting the more extreme nonsensical statements. I even prepared a long blog post precisely for this purpose. However, on reflection I have decided not to do this, basically for two reasons

(1) Doing so would likely just escalate an already ugly situation and flame war.

(2) Responding is exactly what trolls want; they want the attention, like naughty children throwing tantrums. Publishing their comments and responding to them would just encourage more temper tantrums, which are unproductive.

However, I will allow myself to make some general comments about the comments:

(a) If you want me to publish any of your comments, make them rational and reasonable and lucid. Try to actually think first before posting.

(b) I will not publish trolling, unless it is in highly expurgated form, at my discretion, as an example to make a point.

(c) Several people have attacked me for being involved somehow with the BADSITES policy. I am not nor have I ever been involved with the BADSITES policy. I am not now nor have I ever been involved with any of the discussions of the BADSITES policy. I do not know what the BADSITES policy is and I don't care (I have described more of my thoughts on this issue in my "Wikipedia Review reviewed" blog post).

I also think that the more people that the rabid anti-BADSITES agitators and activists fallaciously attack over the BADSITES policy, and the more furious, frothing at the mouth, incontinent, lunatic wretched spews raving about BADSITES are published, the more people will be persuaded that maybe BADSITES was not such a lousy idea after all. Making repeated spurious accusations about BADSITES claiming that there is a BADSITES advocate hiding behind every tree has the exact opposite of what you presumably intend. Angry irrational BADSITES opponents are the best possible recruiters for a revival of the BADSITES proposal.

(d) It does not matter how you phrase it or how you couch it or how much you try to obfuscate the issue, the New York Times is a reliable source. There is nothing stopping Wikipedia from including a statement like "The New York Times reported X on date Y" if it is a verifiable fact that the New York Times did so.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Wikipedia Review, reviewed

I have been confronted over and over by people who are furious that there are those who have negative feelings about Wikipedia Review. I wanted to describe my own feelings about this website.

*I have no problem with anyone who wants to review Wikipedia or point out problems with Wikipedia. Clearly, Wikipedia has plenty of problems and I have been actively involved in discussions to try to improve Wikipedia at Raymond arritt's Expert withdrawal page and Raul654's Civil POV pushing page and at the WP Challenge and several other research projects.

*Of course many respected Wikipedians have decided to go to Wikipedia Review for a variety of reasons, and although it is not something I would do, I understand the desire to read their hidden threads, or to try to engage them in a dialogue or to calm down the craziness that erupts there.

*I have some uncomfortableness with rumors that Wikipedia review collects IP addresses and rumors about what those IP addresses have been supposedly used for.

*I have some uncomfortableness with some of the activities of some of the more extreme members at Wikipedia Review. In particular, reports that some Wikipedia Review members have used spyware, or outed anonymous Wikipedians is not particularly reassuring.

*I am somewhat disquieted by the "attack threads" that target prominent Wikipedians at Wikipedia Review

*I am dismayed by the repeated vilification of Wikipedians in good standing at Wikipedia Review for really trivial or nonsensical reasons.

*I am uncomfortable with the organization of attacks on Wikipedia from Wikipedia Review.

*I am not happy with the threats against Wikipedians from those at Wikipedia Review.

*I have seen people who are very friendly to assorted Wikipedians on Wikipedia speak very badly about the same Wikipedians on Wikipedia Review. This two-faced behavior really takes me aback.

*I have had some people try to tell me that Wikipedia and Wikipedia Review are identical and just two sides of the same coin, or even mirror images of each other. If so, I want to know where is Wikipedia Review's Encyclopedia? Does Wikipedia Review have a foundation and raise money? Does Somey, the founder of Wikipedia Review, have just as many google hits as Jimbo? Has Somey given testimony in front of Congress? I guess I missed that Congressional hearing.

I have noticed a tremendous defensiveness about Wikipedia Review among some Wikipedians. They feel bad that Wikipedia Review has acquired a negative image. Well do you think part of that might be due to some of what goes on at Wikipedia Review? Do you think that some of the discussions there and threats and attacks and unethical behavior (approaching criminal activity in some cases) that finds a haven at Wikipedia Review might not create a negative image? Do you think that the fact that some of the worst trolls and POV pushers and disruptive editors that Wikipedia ever had are regulars at Wikipedia Review might help to create a negative image? Is any of this surprising to you?

If you do not like the fact that Wikipedia Review has a negative image, change the things that have given it a negative image. Do not demand angrily that no one think bad of Wikipedia Review while the reasons that people have misgivings about the website are still in place. If you are unhappy about the current situation, you can change the site, or leave the site.

I do not demand that everyone else like strawberry-flavored ice cream. You should not demand that everyone else accept Wikipedia Review as an innocuous carefree environment full of misunderstood peaceful productive souls who only want the chance to write wonderful encyclopedia articles. It will not happen. And you can hold your breath until you turn blue in the face and pass out, and it is not going to happen. Get over it.

My understanding of BADSITES
I gather that there is, or was, some sort of policy, or proposal for a policy called BADSITES about what sort of websites Wikipedia could link to. I also gather there was a fairly large and rancorous debate at Wikipedia about BADSITES.

I was not part of this debate. I was not part of any discussions about BADSITES. I do not know when or where the BADSITES discussion took place. I do not know who was involved in the BADSITES discussion. I do not know what sides various parties were on in the BADSITES discussion. I do not know what the arguments were or are about the BADSITES policy. I do not know explicitly what sites were or are considered to fall under the BADSITES policy. I know very little about BADSITES and frankly, I do not care to know very much about BADSITES.

I have some personal beliefs about what sorts of sites that Wikipedia should not link to, which might or might not have anything to do with BADSITES. I do not know since I do not know the BADSITES policy. I think that Wikipedia should probably not link to sites that install malware on people's computers. I think that Wikipedia should be careful about linking to sites that are involved in criminal activity, such as planning terrorist attacks or trading child pornography or planning hacking attacks or trading hacking information. Are these types of sites covered under the BADSITES policy? I have no idea. And I am in no rush to find out if they are or if they are not covered under the BADSITES policy.

Badmouthing and Threats
I have been attacked for making comments about Wikipedia Review. Frankly, I am much more concerned with some of the activities that take place at Wikipedia Review than Wikipedia Review itself. Here are two that give me pause:

*Orangemarlin worked very closely with an admin at Wikipedia on several articles in paleontology and together, they brought these articles up to FA standards, and had a lot of fun doing so. Later this admin went to Wikipedia Review and joined in a discussion talking about how awful Orangemarlin was and incompetent and made many other negative assertions about Orangemarlin, discussing Orangemarlin's editing of some medical articles.

This was very hurtful. It does not matter whether the discussion took place at Wikipedia Review, or on Wikipedia itself, or on a blog, or another kind of website, or in the newspaper or in a magazine, or on a radio show or a podcast or on television or in a live panel discussion or in email or in the regular mail. It really has nothing to do with where the discussion took place. What matters is that the discussion took place, and someone who had supposedly been Orangemarlin's friend and who had worked closely with him, joined in on an attack on Orangemarlin. Frankly, this was hurtful.

*Cla68 made some fairly overt threats against members of the ID Wikiproject on Wikipedia and Wikipedia Review. As far as I know, making threats of the form "Do X or I will do Y" are bannable offenses at Wikipedia [1].

Again, it does not matter that part of these threats took place at Wikipedia Review or somewhere else. It does not matter whether the threats took place at Wikipedia Review, or on Wikipedia itself, or on a blog, or another kind of website, or in the newspaper or in a magazine, or on a radio show or a podcast or on television or in a live panel discussion or in email or in the regular mail. It really has nothing to do with where the threats took place. What matters is that the threats were made. And a threat is a threat is a threat. Period.