January 29, 2015


The final decision of the Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee is out. Despite some tweaks and additions, it remains an infamous mistake. The toothless plank against harassment of wikipedia editors (only) did sneak through with ten votes. Of the key feminist editors whose heads GamerGate demanded, all are sanctioned. In the wake of public outcry, a few disposable GamerGate accounts were added to the sanctions as a fig leaf.

All the sanctions extend from Gamergate to "any gender-related dispute or controversy." This innovation, introduced by ArbCom to much surprise, shows that ArbCom believed this dispute to be about feminism. They’ve recently had another case regarding a feminism task force, which may have put the topic in their head. But, this was not really about feminism until ArbCom said it was: not unless you believe (as some arbitrators apparently did) that the right of women to work in computer science and software development is an open political question in 2015, one in which both sides should be carefully weighed.

Somehow, time was found in the process for issuing a bunch of press releases and statements, not all of which accurately described what turned out to be the result. Memo for files #1: if you’re telling the press nobody is going to be banned, it’s bad form to change your mind and ban someone.

“Now with less infamy!”

The Wikimedia Foundation press office might be advised to take a fresh look at Miss Manners. Sending out statements describing someone as “banned blogger Mark Bernstein” might make you feel good, and it might score points in a talk page debate, but you aren’t on Wikipedia now and you’re talking to reporters, not some kids in their parents’ basement. Reporters are going to find my doctorate anyway. They’ll find my affiliation and title, too. If they care, they’ll find the research papers and all that. Making them jump through extra hoops just makes them wonder why you’re acting as you are.

And, not to repeat myself, but: “Now with less infamy!” isn’t the best messaging, but it’s better than what you’ve got now.

Memo for files #2: if you’re sanctioning a bunch of editors for zealously defending your encyclopedia from people universally described as dangerously misanthropic – even in Wikipedia – it might be unwise to make “Civility” the centerpiece of your foundation’s presser.

Taking Care

Wikipedia fails – even now – to show any sign of thought for harassed editors or care for its victims. Making matters worse, Wikipedia’s foolish embrace of needless anonymity makes it more difficult for us to take proper care, either.

In my work, I review a lot of scientific papers for conferences and journals. I care about writing – I care more than most of my colleagues, I think – and in my reviews I try to argue for better writing and I try to show people how their drafts might be improved. Sometimes, this is best done harshly; at other times, humorously. But one rule I try to observe is: don’t make fun of the mistakes of people who aren’t native speakers.

On Wikipedia, I had a shadow from GamerGate, a guy who’d follow me around and try to step on my toes. He was good at that, but he’s a really inept writer, given to hilarious complaints about “conspiracing” and also putting plenty of carts before his horses. I could write a funny little blog post about it. But I have a sneaking suspicion that he might be a kid who writes perfectly well in (say) Croatian or Nynorsk and who has a few problems with his English and with his logic when he gets carried away.

Occasionally, I’ve been torn: is a Wikipedian pretending to be stupid in order to be obstructive, or are they simply stupid? Are they acting like a petulant child because they are a petulant child? Are they saying the same thing over and over, day after day, in order to run out the clock of a debate, or might they have a real disability, doing the very best they can with a mind that’s breaking down under the weight of age and disease?

Routine anonymity makes it harder to take proper care.

The Encyclopedia Where Anyone Can Call Your Mother A Prostitute, Or Not Call Her A Prostitute.

Wikipedia doesn’t care. Just yesterday, Wikipedia honcho Jimmy Wales said:

I (and Wikipedia) neither support nor oppose Quinn. Wikipedia is not a battleground.

Quinn is a software developer. A former boyfriend once wrote an angry, rambling blog post which falsely accused her of seducing a reporter in order to get a good review.

As a result, GamerGate fans have endlessly discussed ever facet of every rumor of her life all over Wikipedia — at Gamergate, at her page, at 4chan — a talk board where GamerGate people like to hang out, at 8chan – another talk board. They discussed it a Arbcom for an hour until I screamed bloody murder all over the Internet. Every week or two, a “new” GamerGate editor shows up and starts the whole thing again.

This is not an isolated case — I talk about this one because (a) it’s spilt water, and (b) Quinn has a stiff upper lip, for which everyone owes her thanks.

But Wikipedia is not a battleground. We should sit around and calmly discuss again, at every greater length and in ever greater detail, every speculation and rumor. And if we run out of things to talk about, GamerGate has a binder full of women and a briefcase full of sex.

I know other other allegations exist but will not state what those on Wikipedia are because that would be a violation at the current time.

We need to be aware that there are other things the pro-Gamergate side would like Wikipedia to say but we are nowhere close to having any sources to even speak of them, much less cover them. I don't believe any of said things are true in any remote way.

Above all, let’s always be civil.