Recycling Troll

Suspicion of banned user's return prompts block war until Jimbo steps in

Another block war resulted in an arbitration request last week, after a user was blocked on a disputed theory that the account was a reincarnation of a permanently banned user. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales settled the issue by banning the account under his authority as the final source of appeal in disputes, but the appropriateness of this intervention was also a matter of debate.

Early allegations of "stalking" and username issues

The incident began with an account named The Recycling Troll (TRT), which was created on 21 September 2004, and had been used sporadically to make small flurries of contributions roughly once every few weeks from that date until late December. Two months later, on the last day of February, TRT returned and began a distinctive editing pattern. Each day, TRT would go to articles last edited by Wikipedia administrator RickK and make minor changes--normally grammatical adjustments or wikilinking existing words and phrases. By the first week of March, RickK had begun to complain that such behavior constituted a form of stalking. When he confronted TRT with this accusation, TRT's response was that RickK was merely a user whose edits he wanted to "check" -- TRT characterized his behavior as "collaborative", but RickK disagreed.

On the 3rd of March, events began to escalate, as Wile E. Heresiarch blocked TRT indefinitely on the grounds that TRT's username violated Wikipedia policy by using the word "troll". The Wikipedia community has long been divided over whether the word "troll" in a username is grounds for a ban, and the Arbitration Committee declined to rule in a previous case that such a name alone could justify a ban. Several editors raised this concern on the Administrators' noticeboard, and after some discussion, the block was lifted by Michael Snow. Snowspinner then applied a 24 hour ban to TRT for "disruptive editing": after this block expired, TRT returned to his editing pattern of making minor edits to articles recently touched by RickK.

Yet another blocking/unblocking war, plus the possibility of a reincarnation

On the 9th of March, TRT again was blocked by Snowspinner, this time for 7 days, on the grounds that he was stalking RickK and therefore being disruptive. Mark Richards lifted this block soon thereafter, on the grounds that the block was not within policy. Discussions began at Wikipedia:Requests for comment/Snowspinner and Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents concerning the appropriateness of the block on TRT.

A number of users joined Richards in criticizing the block as a unilateral action not supported by community consensus or a decision of the Arbitration Committee. Another group of Wikipedians defended the block as an appropriate exercise of common sense, and contended that such judgment calls are a part of what administrators are needed for at Wikipedia.

Early in this discussion, arbitrator David Gerard presented another argument in support of the block. Convinced that TRT was a reincarnation of previously banned user 24/142.177.etc/EntmootsOfTrolls (142 for short), Gerard then permanently blocked TRT's account on that basis. This block was quickly reversed and reapplied several times, with a number of administrators involved on both sides. Several users felt that Gerard had not offered enough evidence that TRT was a reincarnation, while others either shared Gerard's opinion or felt that TRT's behavior towards RickK warranted a block regardless.

Rholton, one of the administrators involved in unblocking TRT, inquired on the wikitech mailing list to see if a developer could check TRT's IP address. Developer Brion Vibber replied that TRT was not using an IP in the 142.177 range. This technical evidence, combined with Michael Snow's assessment (based on his familiarity with the banned user's modus operandi) that TRT was not a reincarnation of that particular user, convinced the majority of admins in the discussion (David Gerard included) that TRT was not 142. Disagreement continued over whether or not TRT's pattern of editing constituted "stalking" (and, if so, whether or not such behavior was blockable under current policy).

Arbitration and intervention from above

The discussion concerning TRT, which, by March 10th, was already occurring at the Administrators' noticeboard, the Requests for comment page, the wikien-l mailing list, and several user talk pages, branched out further when BM filed a request for arbitration against David Gerard (eventually Neutrality and Cyrius were added to the request), who had blocked TRT on the grounds that he was a reincarnation. BM contended that due process had not been followed, and that insufficient evidence existed to prove that TRT was a reincarnation.

The Arbitration Committee moved almost unanimously to reject with only one member (Fred Bauder) voting to accept the case. The two arbitrators who were named as respondents to the case recused themselves, as did arbitrator Theresa knott, who had been involved in the discussion at WP:AN/I earlier. Knott also finally unblocked TRT after it was generally agreed that he was not a reincarnation. After concerns were raised about the Arbitration Committee ruling on a matter involving its own members, Jimmy Wales stepped in to take over the case.

In a statement posted in place of the arbitration request, Wales blocked TRT permanently for disruptive editing (he singled out TRT's behavior towards RickK) and disruptive posts to the mailing list. He noted that he felt Gerard and others had acted in good faith by blocking the user when they did, and that no consequences were necessary. He further commented that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia project, not an experiment in democracy, and that good faith actions taken by administrators to protect the work of building an encyclopedia are therefore allowable even if outside the strict limits of currently established policy.

The aftermath

Wales's comments ended the discussion at the arbitration page, but conversations continued on the Administrators' noticeboard. Rholton said, "I am very relieved that Jimbo decided to take this upon himself. It probably was the only way to achieve a satisfactory conclusion." By contrast, BM argued that the way in which Wales stepped in to take the case "needlessly weakened the consensus and social sinews of the project, and in the end hurt the project." However, the discussion tapered off, and it remains to be seen whether any changes or clarifications to policy will result.

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