January 21, 2015


Supplemental to: InfamousThoughtlessCareless

I’ve been blocked at Wikipedia — ostensibly for posting the following comment, but obviously for writing Infamous, Thoughtless, and Careless – and for the further offense of having these become so widely read. (The GuardianGawkerPandoDailyThe Mary SueWil WheatonDer Standardde VolkskrantDr. Clare HooperP. Z. MyersFayerWayerThink ProgressStacey MasonThe Verge)

Thank you to the tens of thousands of new visitors here; your interest is very welcome. If you're interested in software, I hope you'll visit often.

Here’s the passage that drove Wikipedia nuts. It’s in a thread titled with my name and discussing my work on Jimmy Wales’ page, which had apparently been designated by ArbCom as the place to discuss the Proceedings – provided, I guess, that the discussion heaped praise on the arbitrators.

Mark Bernstein’s weblog post

… (many comments from various people)…

That the proposed decision of which I wrote is infamous, is an opinion widely shared. Yes, some of its most extreme measures might not pass and some additional, disposable accounts may be sanctioned to give the impression of balance. Whether or not widespread public indignation at its measures has played some role in that, I cannot say....

Wikipedia has been and continues to be used as a weapon against women in computing; I see little in either the proposed decision or the current revision that recognizes, much less remedies, this, and much that lends assistance to those who would like nothing better than the opportunity to intimidate women with the threat that their own sex lives might be the next topic for Arbcom publicly to scrutinize. — Mark Bernstein

Yesterday on Wikipedia, a new Arbcom case was filed. The complainant observed that Wikipedia now mentions the “false accusations” that a particular software developer prostituted herself, following the example of the New York Times and the New Yorker. Would it not be more neutral, he proposed, to say, “unproven accusations”? And why did people unfairly insist on “false”? (“Greedo8” surely knows more about journalism than the legendary fact-checking department of the New Yorker, right?)

Of course, the point was simply to call this developer a prostitute somewhere on Wikipedia. Every time this is done, people can send anonymous emails to the developer’s aged mother, or to classmates of the developer’s school-age children, or to the developer’s managers, pointing to the discussion.

Editors, administrators and arbitrators sedately discussed the question: should Arbcom start a formal case on the question of this developer’s putative prostitution? I accidentally discovered the filing, contacted Wikipedia’s emergency channels, and began to scream bloody murder on Twitter. A few minutes later, an arbitrator finally blanked the page, No sanction has been taken against the perpetrator, and the old version is still online.

Yesterday on Wikipedia, a Men’s Rights advocate edit-warred the page of an artist who is the husband of another software developer. He said that the artist’s wife "was raped by her family and gave HIV to her husband". Again, this remained as part of the encyclopedia for quite some time. The perpetrator used a disposable account which was blocked for one week; this will not even inconvenience his next effort to harass software developers who happen to be women.

Two days ago on Wikipedia, an edit was made to suggest that one software developer, having been threatened with rape and murder, had not in fact been “forced to flee her home” (as reported by the Boston Globe, among others) but rather had merely “chosen to leave her home.” This remained in the article for quite some time; it is now being discussed at length (again) on the talk page.

Today at Wikipedia – almost a week after the publication of the proposed decision – a clause was finally added concerning “Harassment”. It is good that ArbCom recognizes (at last) that harassment is wrong. Unfortunately, this clause only condemns harassment aimed at Wikipedia editors.

There is still no mention of care for innocent people against whom Wikipedia is wielded like a sword, including the software developers mentioned above. The harassment continues today.

That clause — innocuous and toothless as it is — has thus far mustered only six of fourteen votes.

Arbcom today is busy trying to negotiate clauses that protect itself from inconvenience but that fail to acknowledge, deplore, or take even the feeblest steps to discourage harassment of other people – harassment that Arbcom knows has been and continues to be specifically coordinated to drive women out of computing.

After all, why do these people accuse a software developer over and over again of prostituting herself? Sure, it's to punish her and to discourage female students who might want to pursue a career in computer science. But it also makes an argument: women should stay out of computing because their presence could tempt men to give them preferential treatment in exchange for sex.

Wikipedia is instrumental to a campaign to drive women out of computing.

Wikipedia administrators are too busy to enforce obvious policy violations that do real harm to people who have done no wrong, but they find plenty of time for retribution against their critics.

In the last few days, I’ve seen hundreds, probably thousands of emails and tweets and Facebook posts, asking what can be done. I don’t think Wikipedia can be saved at this point, but I might be wrong.