February 27, 2015

Thumb on the Scale, Fingers in the Pie

Apparently, the Wikimedia Foundation has been caught red-handed, employing staff members to write puff pieces promoting its own philanthropy. Imagine that.

Meanwhile, the GamerGate people have petitioned to have me banished from Wikipedia because ArbCom forgot me, or because I keep looking at them funny, or because I’m really mean. Last week it was verse; this week, declamation.

Before this cunningly-contrived midnight trial in absentia concludes, perhaps I might review the choice that is offered here. On the one hand, you have an editor whose poor vocation as a knowledge seeker should be plain from his eight years of work here and his publications elsewhere. On the other, you have a barbarian horde of nameless trolls, openly colluding for months to exploit Wikipedia as part of a public relations campaign to threaten, shame, and punish women in computing.

“Next time she shows up at a conference we … give her a crippling injury that’s never going to fully heal … a good solid injury to the knees. I’d say a brain damage, but we don’t want to make it so she ends up too retarded to fear us.” -- Simon Parkin, “Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest”, The New Yorker, 9 September 2014.

Wikipedia's official response has been ineffectual and infamous.

“I (and Wikipedia) neither support nor oppose [software developer Zoe] Quinn. Wikipedia is not a battleground.” – Jimmy Wales

Impartially to support or excuse a conspiracy notable only for threats of assault, rape, and murder, is to support those threats. Wikipedia can be a hobby or an entertainment, but for those against whom Wikipedia is weaponized it is neither. They cannot drop the stick and walk away; they can only submit to its repeated blows and hope that you will eventually raise your hand to restrain their assailants.

That’s the choice you have. But it’s not your choice alone: there are higher courts than yours, and in one tribunal you have already been taken to AN/I and sternly censured. With thought for Wikipedia's defenders and care for the damage Wikipedia has done, you can resolve to amend your behavior and return to productive membership in the community of ideas.

This is, of course, entirely consistent with -- and indeed mandated by -- Wikipedia's core principles. We are building an encyclopedia; we do not, and should not, employ that encyclopedia to attack blameless individuals, to intimidate people considering a potential career, or to improve the image of a so-called “movement.” Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a public-relations platform for the use of shadowy and shady causes. We are neutral, but that neutrality never extends to promoting falsehoods or excusing -- much less abetting -- criminal mischief. We follow sources; we never seek (as so many have been seeking on these pages) to "rebalance" them in light of an imaginary and universal conspiracy among the media. We seek consensus, which is incompatible with repeating the same failed proposals incessantly for months on end in the vain hope that something may have changed from the previous week, and with the fervent quest to sanction the five horsemen -- and me, and anyone else who stands in their way -- for defending the Wiki.

The problem is not insoluble or even difficult, but it does require resolve, hard work, and thorough sweeping. It’s time for you to choose.