Office actions

Confusion over office actions as veteran contributor briefly blocked

An intervention by the Wikimedia Foundation office over two related articles last week resulted in a flap over miscommunication and the blocking and de-sysoping of developer and long-time contributor Erik Möller. Amid confusion over whether the case fell under the domain of the "Office Actions" policy, and following a chorus of complaints, these actions were reversed, while the affected articles are now semi-protected and conditionally open to editing.

The Office Actions policy was instituted by Jimbo Wales a little over two months ago and has been used a handful of times, sometimes prompting additional controversy (see archived stories). As publicly stated thus far, Wales and Danny Wool, executive assistant for the Wikimedia Foundation, are the primary people authorized to invoke the Office Actions policy. Wool is one of three full-time Foundation employees (developer Tim Starling was recently hired as the third). The Wikimedia Foundation's outside counsel, Brad Patrick, has given help and advice regarding some of these situations.

Erik Möller (left) and Danny Wool in happier times at Wikimania 2005, Frankfurt (photo by Zuirdj)

How it unfolded

On Monday, 17 April, Danny Wool protected two articles, Christopher Ruddy and (a website Ruddy founded), after removing all of the content except for a brief initial paragraph. This approach has been used by the Foundation on several occasions, requiring that the article be rebuilt from the ground up with the strict expectation that additions cite sources and adhere to the neutral point of view policy. It may be prompted by such concerns as outside complaints about the content from an affected party.

The Office Actions policy indicates that reverting such an action could be grounds for blocking. However, Wool did not specifically identify this as an office action, such as by using the WP:OFFICE label. He did comment on Splash's talk page, "If I do something like that, please assume it is with office authority. I do not delete pages because I do not like the content."

Two days later, Erik Möller (User:Eloquence, a developer who was for a few months the Foundation's Chief Research Officer) unprotected both articles, saying that the protection was "inappropriate per protection policy" and that Wool should "be explicit when using WP:OFFICE". The pages were reprotected by Kelly Martin within minutes, and Wool blocked Möller and removed his administrator status (on both the English Wikipedia and the Meta-Wiki), citing "recklessness".

The fallout

Möller then wrote to the wikiEN-l mailing list about the situation, setting off a lengthy discussion about everyone's conduct during the incident and implementation of the Office Actions policy in general. Some people criticized Wool's failure to label the intervention as an office action, saying this gave Möller no notice of the potential consequences for undoing it. One argument made in response was that anyone looking at the situation should have recognized it as unusual, and Möller himself was at fault for not asking about the reasons for protection beforehand. Considerable debate also followed about administrators reversing each other's actions generally, and whether this was appropriate at all or should be left to the original administrator.

Within a few hours, Möller's block had been removed, reinstated, shortened, then finally removed definitively by Jimbo Wales, and by the next day all of his editing and administrative privileges had been restored. Pointing to the lack of clarity about whether an office action was involved, and the fact that he had not reverted the "stubbification" of the articles, Möller said, "I apologize if my actions were rash, but I believed them to be justified based on the information available to me." Wales called for everyone to "relax so we can talk about these issues slowly and carefully."

As Katefan0 suggested, part of the problem might be a reluctance to invoke the Office Actions policy, even when Wool is acting in an official capacity, due to the attention given to actions taken under OFFICE. With some calling for more transparency, not only in its implementation but in justifying that implementation in each case, others pointed out that for legal reasons, not all of the details involving a complaint can necessarily be disclosed. Wales later commented, "What got things wound up in this case was not the secrecy, but a wildly disproportionate and unfair blocking and desysopping".

Meanwhile, Wool has created a new account, User:Dannyisme (his IRC nickname), to use for future office actions. The actual issues with the Ruddy and NewsMax articles have received less attention, but a few editors have begun trying to flesh out the content a little bit.

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Isn't the final parapgraph here slightly misleading? I was under the impression that the new user account was created before this incident, and this another of the reasons for the presumption that Danny wasn't working under OFFICE. - Estel (talk) 19:51, 27 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]

Depends when you're suggesting the incident started, I would say it was created during the incident. The account didn't exist when the pages were originally protected, and I'm not aware that anybody said the failure to use this particular account had anything to do with the dispute, although the suggestion was made at some point to have a dedicated account. The Dannyisme account is mostly relevant going forward, so I didn't want to confuse the narrative of the incident itself by mentioning it in a chronological context. --Michael Snow 06:27, 28 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]
Do you guys really know what you're doing? I've never ever looked at the Community Bulletin Board or the Signpost pages before, nor am I really interested in the internal politics of Wikipedia. Reading something like this just holds the whole thing up for ridicule, in my opinion. Please don't delete these genuine views - I think of myself as an ordinary, Wikipedia contributor, which is what I am - one of many thousands who would be horrified to read all this. Why not just get your act together and remember it's the contributors who really keep this thing going, not Sysops (whatever they are), Admins, or Jimbos.... OK - rant over! -- Agendum 12:38, 28 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]
I disagree completely and encourage the signpost to pursue this kind of transparency and disclosure wherever possible. heqs 21:20, 29 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]


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