Seasons greetings to all (even you, Jimbo), and to all a good night!
Friday, December 21, 2007
Seasons greetings to all (even you, Jimbo), and to all a good night!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I have given Cade two telephone interviews, and we have exchanged a number of emails. Cade has been fastidiously honorable in his reporting; he has been careful to quote me accurately and has not attributed to me any statement which I have not given him permission to do so. He has done nothing to abuse my trust, and I feel safe that he can be trusted.
Anyone with any doubt that Jay is one of a "cabal" of editors who seek to control the content and tone of articles about Judaism needs to put that doubt to rest, now. Wikipedia's articles about Judaism are embarrassingly biased, and Jay's convenient little slip-up is just the smoking gun that proves it.
Jay, I reiterate my call from August: Please leave. When I recently wrote that Wikipedia should "get rid of people who are using Wikipedia as a battleground for their personal wars", you were one of the people I was thinking of.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
And, it's probably also enough. Yes, it's well short of the $4.6 million that is budgeted for the upcoming year, and it's even well short of the 2.5 million that is allocated to "technology". But that number is larger than is absolutely required; it includes significant expenses for hardware replacement and expansion that could, if necessary, be deferred. A more realistic number for the absolute minimum required to provide the core services is about $1 million, although that number probably entails some reduction in service quality. With over $800,000 down from the fundraiser, it seems reasonable that ongoing base ratea donations will net the remaining amounts to meet core services over the next year. So while the situation certainly is not rosy, it's not dire either. The Foundation can continue its core mission, although perhaps with some compromise of quality of service.
On one condition: it must not squander money on extravagances that are outside that core mission. I've seen lots of talk from people about the "educational opportunities" that have been passed by. And the simple fact is that now is not the time to go chasing them. The Foundation still doesn't have the infrastructure to be looking to expand its scope of operations. It still needs to build a solid infrastructure to support its core mission (publishing Wikipedia and its sister projects) before it tackles other lines of activity. And it still needs to develop a stable, coherent system of community-based governance. Until such time as Wikimedia can complete an audit on time and without pain, it's not ready to do that. It's bad enough that the Foundation is already committed to an expensive cross-country move; that will absorb a lot of money that could otherwise be spent elsewhere.
And that's going to remain the case even if someone comes up with a bunch of "angel money" from somewhere. Setting aside issues related to the "public support test" (charities in the US aren't supposed to take more than 2% of their income from any one source), the governance just isn't there yet. In some ways, the two are related: the lack of governance is why the money isn't there yet. After all, it was a lack of governance that led to the books being in total disarray in the first place. Throwing money at the problem won't solve it; the culture has to change. And I don't see that it has yet; too many people have been actively trying to prevent the development of effective governance.
As to why that would be going on, I think I will wait until the next post.
Not long after Jimbo made his demand, I was notified of it—by at least three people. Jimbo's "plea" for the "leaker" to come forward is laced in moral condemnation for the malfeasor. He promised to keep the confessions confidential. Why he would make such a promise eludes me; clearly anyone who does come forward will be immediately struck from Jimbo's "trustworthy" list, which means that he or she will not be invited to join the "really internal" list that Sue has already proposed creating; this list would contain only "really trustworthy" people and formally require nondisclosure of its participants. Failure to come forward is painted as a grave moral offense: "Anything less is a moral offense against people who have trusted you." The whole approach and language used reminds me terribly much of the inner workings of some of the cults I studied back in the 90s, especially the use of the threat of withdrawal of the good will of the founder as an incentive to act against personal interest.
Upon hearing this, I decided to send Jimbo another email:
You're not going to get anywhere with your witchhunt. Multiple people leaked that email to me, including at least one person who, as far as I know, is not actually on the internal-l list. Even if you find one of the leaks, you'll have missed two or three more.Jimbo's response was to forward my entire email, without comment, to the internal mailing list. In a normal environment, this would make no sense. In a cultic environment, however, it's perfectly reasonable: it serves to reinforce the need for immediate action and for the person who has sinned against the founder to come forth and confess his sin. Until the guilty party comes forward, all parties present are considered to share in that person's guilt, so the others would be strongly incented to identify the malfeasor and push him or her forward. Evidence that the leak is ongoing just amplifies the need for immediate compliance. Fortunately for Wikimedia (and for my plentitude of sources, as well as all the others in the community that rely on this unofficial channel to find out what is really going on in the Foundation), there are enough people on the internal list who haven't bought into Jimmy's cult, too many for Jimbo to credibly declare all of them untrustworthy. In a followup demand, Jimbo said, "I just want to understand who thinks that sending internal stuff to this person is a good idea... and why". The way he used "this person" just reeks of "disgusting slimeball that nobody in their right mind would talk to". It's quite obvious that Jimbo has declared me a "suppressive person" and is expecting others to act accordingly.
Internal-l leaks like a sieve. There's over 100 people on that list and lots of them feel free to share all sorts of information from it with others not on the list. This is nothing new.
All you will accomplish with this witchhunt is increase hostility, decrease trust, and hurt even more feelings than you have already. And people will still leak to me.
There's over 100 people on the Wikimedia "internal" mailing list. I've never been a subscriber, but I've been privy to a significant portion of its content, simply because people on it have felt that I had a need or right to know, for whatever purpose. I don't go asking for people to tell me what's going on there; people come to me unbidden and tell me. I'm not the only one, either; I often hear about internal goings on from people who, as far as I know, aren't on the internal list themselves. Wikimedia has a very powerful gossip engine, it would seem; small surprise, that. Ironically, the reason why there is so much unofficial communication like this going on is the gross lack of transparency in official communications from the Foundation. At this point, it should be glaringly obvious who is to blame for that, so I won't go to the trouble to actually say the name. The answer is left as an exercise to the reader.
Jimbo, just one parting request: can I please have a copy of my SP declare? I think it would go down in nice irony next to my Wikimania 2006 Speaker's badge. Too bad Wikimedia never issued membership cards.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
This situation brings up a number of issues, but I think trying to talk about all of them in one blog post is a bad idea. So we'll drag this out over a few days, just so people don't get too confused. Let's start with process.
Deputy director? There was no listing on the Wikimedia Foundation wiki for this position. Apparently nobody, outside of Erik and Sue, knew that the Foundation was looking for a deputy director. My contacts in the Board tell me that the Board (except for Erik, and maybe Jimmy) was not aware that the Foundation was looking for a deputy director, and so far as far as I can find no specific authorization exists to hire for this role or to fund the position. The conclusion is that Sue has elected to staff this role herself and to fund it out of the Office of the Executive Director's budget, without consulting anyone except, presumably, Erik. This is perhaps within her discretion, but it certainly seems like a bad idea to go about this process in such a nontransparent way. Closed hiring processes are not a good way to comply with equal opportunity laws, and there are aspects of her announcement that raise at least yellow flags in the EOE sense. I also can't see how she can show compliance with immigration regulations; before she can hire Erik—who, as a German national, needs a work visa to work in the United States—she has to prove that she searched exhaustively for an American who could perform the role, and was unable to find one. With no public posting for the position, it beggars belief that she can honestly make the required affirmations for the visa application. Especially troubling was Sue's decision (as reportedly indicated in an email to the Foundation's "internal" mailing list) to make "preferably not an American" a qualification for this position; not only does that violate the Foundation's own EOE policy,
There's also the appearance of impropriety issue. There's always inurement concerns when a nonpaid member of the board of a nonprofit organization is hired by that organization into a paid role, because there's the possibility that the board member influenced the decision to hire himself or herself, which would be an disallowed inurement under nonprofit law. In this case, I don't believe that Erik actually used his formal power as a Board member to influence the decision; as I stated above, the Board appears to not have been involved in the decision at all. However, there is still the appearance of impropriety, and given the Foundation's long history of playing hard and loose with such principles of governance, that's exactly not the sort of thing that the Foundation needs.
All in all, I find this entire episode remarkably ironic, given the near-total lack of transparency surrounding Moeller, who has run twice for the Board promising both times to increase transparency. I suspect the only reason the weight of all the irony hasn't crushed Erik outright is that his own ultraexpansive ego exactly counterbalances it.
Erik's departure does mean that the Board needs a new secretary. We can only hope that the new secretary will be more open about the Board's minutes. Perhaps now that our advocate for transparency is gone, we can actually get some transparency in the operation of the Foundation.
Update: I'm advised that the Foundation, as a "small employer", is not subject to EOE regulation, and that some of the immigration rules don't apply to them either. Doesn't change the fact that they have an internal policy that prohibits discriminatory behavior. So they're legal here -- just not terribly ethical.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The details should be out in the next day or so, or so I'm told. Stay tuned.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The only real question now is, how long before the Foundation rewrites history to claim that Carolyn Doran was never an employee?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Wikipedia, too, has its "terrorists": so-called "cyberstalkers". These really do exist: there are a handful of very unpleasant people out there who have stalked and harassed Wikipedia editors. Some have done so to get revenge; others have been out of sheer malice; and yet others are likely grounded in mental illness. I know of at least one case where a very old USENET feud got extended into Wikipedia. And other cases seem to me to be cases where someone's obsession with their pet cause simply allows them to justify in their mind the use of "all possible measures" to defeat an opponent. There aren't all that many cases of this happening. Many of the cases are actually serial offenses by the same person. The problem is that the response to these events has, likewise, been both inappropriate and disproportionate.
Initiallly, Wikipedia did at least a semblance of the right thing: the individuals in question were as formally disinvited from Wikipedia as Wikipedia's informal culture of governance allows, and the Foundation turned over to the appropriate authorities such information as it had for those authorities to use in the appropriate criminal investigations. However, Wikipedia didn't go far enough. It failed to warn its members of the inherent risks of editing an online encyclopedia (especially one that contains articles about living people), nor did it establish and enforce policies that would limit risk or curtail known existing risks. The Foundation also failed to take the appropriate actions that would have allowed the direct filing of criminal charges against the stalkers. Hadthe Foundation formally notified a stalker that he or she was denied permission to access Wikipedia, the Foundation could then press charges for computer trespass against the stalker when he or she subsequently accessed the site. Such charges would give the authorities leverage to put the perp away; proving that case is far easier than proving the much harder stalking or harassment case -- especially when the victim refuses to personally identify himself or herself to authorities.
Instead of actually dealing with the stalking problem by taking steps to reduce exposure (by strictly enforcing Wikipedia's existing policy regarding biographies of living people and its existing policy of forcefully ejecting those use Wikipedia as a battleground for outside disputes), Wikipedia instead established its own investigative office, where they basically sanctioned the stalking of people they identified as stalkers. In seeking to destroy this perceived enemy, Wikipedia became one as with it. In so doing, they destroyed the collaborative environment and the assumption of trust that Wikipedia was founded upon. Just as George Bush has done with the Constitution, Wikipedia's leadership chose to sacrifice the core principles of the encyclopedia project in order to save the community that was founded to create it.
And just as George Bush cries that "we cannot be soft on terrorists" anytime someone talks about rolling back one of the restrictions on civil liberties imposed in the name of fighting terrorists, the counterstalking crowd whimpers about blaming the victim and generally invokes "rape victim" imagery whenever someone objects to their investigative strategies. As someone who has been a victim both of rape and of "wikistalking", I assure you that there is rather little in common, and I'm quite offended at the ready willingness that some of the counterstalking crowd has to make that parallel.
The real solution? Several steps are needed. First, get rid of people who are using Wikipedia as a battleground for their personal wars. Wikipedia is overrun by editors who will stop at nothing to win their point of view battles. We've seen this most strongly in people editing to push jingoistic points of view, mainly with regard to Eastern European nationalism, but I've also seen it with regard to animal rights issues, nuclear energy, global warming, creationism, Zionism, and really all sorts of other highly controversial topics.
Second, strictly enforce the "biography of living people" policy. It is my impression that the majority of cyberstalking incidents have been the result of the subject of an article being extremely upset about the article. Put plainly, there are enough people out there who will react poorly to being written about that once in a while bad things will happen. There are enough other good reasons to tightly control articles about living persons anyway that this is just a pleasant side benefit of a responsible editorial policy.
Third, clearly warn editors that their actions are not without consequence. Editors who edit articles about controversial topics, and especially about controversial people, need to be warned in no uncertain terms that their activities may draw attention to them, attention that they do not want. While it would be nice if the Foundation could "protect" editors in such cases, in reality it cannot, and pleas for the Foundation, or the community, to do so are misplaced.
Fourth, make it clear to editors who wish to remain anonymous that it is their responsibility—and theirs alone—to protect their anonymity. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to remain fully anonymous on the Internet in general. This is doubly true with respect to a project like Wikipedia, where reputation is so important. It is possible to establish and maintain an anonymous reputation, but doing so is very difficult because the sort of activities that help to build one's reputation are exactly the same activities that tend to reveal information about oneself that might lead to being deanonymized. Furthermore, anonymity is like virginity: once lost, you cannot get it back; the only option after a disclosure is to disappear and start over. The community is justified in making rules for its own members that prohibit efforts to reveal another member's identity, but they cannot expect those outside the community to observe those rules, and they certainly cannot hope to stuff the genie back in the bottle once it escapes. Losing your anonymity is distressing, but it's not nearly so bad as being raped (trust me, I know). Editors who seek leadership roles should be especially warned that their anonymity is likely to come under attack; Wikipedia is a very prominent website, one which draws both media and legal attention, and it is simply human nature to attempt to identify prominent anonymous people.
Fifth, absolutely stop all vigilante stalking actions. Editors who edit nondisruptively must be allowed to do so unhindered. Editors who edit disruptively should be dealt with fairly and appropriately. The key must be the behavior, not the perceived identity of the editor—and not whether the editor "appears to be too experience" but rather whether the editor is actually causing real problems. One of the unfortunate consequences of counterstalking is that it has made it very difficult for an editor who is actually being stalked to abandon their identity and start a new one, because the counterstalking people are likely to latch onto the disappeared editor's new identity as a "possible stalker" and investigate it, which merely repeats whatever injury led the editor to disappear in the first place. (This is exactly what happened with !!.) If an editor does, in fact, engage in behavior which qualifies as harassment or as stalking by a reasonably objective standard, ban the editor and turn their information over to law enforcement. Until that threshhold is reached, leave them alone and let them edit. (Even if they edit badly. Lots of Wikipedia's editors edit badly.) Oh, and for the record, mere disagreement over a policy, no matter how spirited, is not stalking. Neither is being rude. Neither is calling someone names, even vile names (although that might be harassment). It's not stalking until you get to the level of publishing information that one would normally expect to be private.
The main key in all this is to stop treating stalkers the same way George Bush treats terrorists. Wikipedia won't work if it turns into a police state. Or a cult, which is the other thing I think Wikipedia is very much in danger of turning into—but that'll have to be a followup article, I think.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
- Nominated Angela Beesley's article for deletion (claiming a "personal communication with Angela")
- Made a very public display of asking for the deleted content of Daniel Brandt's article for a "Harvard PhD candidate" that she's supposedly helping
- Continually argued with Giano, in many cases gratuitously
- Commented broadly on various Arbitration matters
- Vigorously defended Mercury as "not her meatpuppet"
It is plainly obvious to me that Durova is seeking attention -- that is, trolling. It does seem that she is attempting to make herself seem important ("I receive communications from Angela Beesley as well as important Harvard students"). Her choice to go public on the request for Brandt's article was clearly drama-seeking; she could have easily gone to any of a number of people (say, Guy Chapman, who is still an admin last I checked) to obtain the deleted revisions for this anonymous individual privately, which would have served the needs of this "friend" without any of the drama. I suppose she could argue that her choice to make the request publicly is respecting "transparency", but I believe the real reason is to create drama.
Add to this her very dramatic publication of a satirical sockpuppet report, and it's all very clear that she's going for maximum drama. Good show, dear; I didn't think you had it in you.
An unanswered question (and one that I don't expect will be answered) is what Angela's role in the deletion request really was. Did Angela really ask Durova? Was the deletion request Angela's idea, or Durova's? Does Angela really think that this was a good idea? Is Angela trying to help rehabilitate Durova's image? If so, why?
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Slashdot ("we haven't broken a new story since 1997!") has, of course, an article about the Register article. Normally I don't read Slashdot, but just this once I did. Most of the comments are crap, of course, but this one was actually insightful:
Most of us have some idea that there is a class of people who, to a varying degree, want to be part of an "in group". To create an in group you also have to create an out group. Then you differentiate the in group and the out group, ascribe exaggerated virtue to the in group and look for scapegoats in the out group. You do this because in this way you focus power into the in group. It's essential to have secret, restricted means of communication between in group members.
These people will of course seek to infiltrate and take over any organization perceived as having any kind of power, whether it is over ideas, money or people. That's because, after all, this is what they are after.
It makes no difference whether it is religion, politics or an Internet encyclopedia, offer an entry for the people with psychopathic tendencies and they will come. The rant quoted in the Register article is simply typical of the breed.
To get people to do moderation work unpaid, you have to offer them something. That something is described above -a small amount of power and the feeling of being in an in-group and privy to secret knowledge. Depressingly, what I conclude from this is that the only real answer is to pay people and have competition. Payment offers rewards to people who do not care about power or exclusivity. Competition means that disgruntled customers and competitors go elsewhere, i.e. they can escape from an abusive in group. What Wikipedia needs is a commercial model and competition. That way, the psychopaths and compulsive neurotics are unlikely to take over the shop (and the ones on the staff can waste their energy litigating, which seems to be the main way we keep psychopaths out of trouble in the English speaking world.)
I don't know who Kupfernigk is, but he (or she) is spot on here. Unfortunately, he doesn't offer a viable solution to the problem. That's been my problem, too: I can readily see that there's a problem (unlike so many Wikipedians, who insist that all is well in Wikiland despite evidence to the contrary) but I have no idea what the solution is. (Well, actually, I have some ideas for solutions, but no idea how to make them happen. The power dynamics of Wikipedia are really deeply entrenched.) What I do know is that the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that it exists. So far, Wikipedia refuses to do that. Until it does, there will be no improvement.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
I've sent you a couple of private emails previously, but your really quite lunatic rantings on Wikipedia deserve a public reply as well. So, here we go:
- I have never tried to out another arbitrator on my blog. In fact, I have never tried to out anyone. This is defamatory, but as you are not a credible person it's not actionable.
- As far as I can recall I've never published on my blog any information that came to me directly from someone on the ArbCom that I didn't confirm by another source first. Any information in my blog that you think I got from the ArbCom I actually got from some other source. Wikipedia leaks like a sponge; I sometimes hear the same rumor from three or four sources. (No, I will not identify my sources.) The closest I've come to revealing information from ArbCom was to discuss my own reactions upon rereading an email from a former arbitrator on the ArbCom's lists. I don't believe that discussing my own reactions to an email is the same as revealing the email.
- I still haven't seen Durova's screed against !! (nor do I particularly care to; I've seen summaries of it from people who I have no reason to distrust that are more than sufficient to satisfy my curiosity), but I do have a very good idea who leaked it outside your circle of security. That person is not on the Arbitration Committee. There are people close to you who you evidently cannot trust, and those people are not on the Arbitration Committee.