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New system of discretionary sanctions; Buchenwald; is Pirelli 'Cracking Wikipedia'?

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By Tony1 and The ed17

The English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) introduced the first form of what are known as the "discretionary sanction" (DS) in 2009. From then until 2011 this developed into the system that was used until last Sunday, 4 May, when the 12 active arbitrators unanimously passed a motion replacing all DS provisions with an updated procedure. The new DS regime, called Discretionary sanctions (2014), is the result of an elaborate review process involving both the community, since last September, and the committee, for more than a year.

The Signpost understands that the DS system was and still is a response to the overwhelming task of managing the wars that flare up on many articles on "hot-button" areas of knowledge—typically those that are ideological, cultural, racial, and scientific flashpoints in human society. The English Wikipedia is especially vulnerable to these wars because it receives about 40% of the page-visits and 40% of the edits of the 290 language Wikipedias; this tends to attract people who want their views to prevail on the global stage. In recent years the site's judicial and administrative resources have struggled to cope with the chaos and personal nastiness that can ensue when foes meet on that stage.

Under the old approach (which is not easy to grasp from the text), any editor, or ArbCom itself, could place a DS template on the talkpage of another editor participating at a DS-listed article, exposing that editor to a heightened risk of being banned on the basis of their subsequent activity on the article or its talkpage. This was interpreted by some editors as an unfair and poorly applied millstone around their neck, not helped by language on the template that appeared to blame, and the fact that they typically felt "singled out".

The new approach is a marked shift from this. Now, a newly designed template merely alerts editors to the fact that the article or talkpage they have edited is DS-listed. There is no overt blame in the wording, and the template is issuable by anyone to all editors who edit a DS-listed article or talkpage. This is an attempt to remove any stigma and to avoid catching editors new to the topic, or the site, unawares. To avoid cascades of templating for regular editors of a topic, an editor can receive only one DS alert for a DS-listed topic in a 12-month period. One arbitrator we queried used an analogy with a poorly signed ban on parking in a particular street: "now all motorists on the street are personally alerted to this fact in a polite, neutral way". All that is missing from the updated DS page is a brief lead explaining what discretionary sanctions are.

Since the management of hot-button articles is often prone to gaming, both old and new versions are couched in legalistic terms, as can be seen from the diff of old versus new. Where a DS is actually applied after the informational template has been issued, appeal is via either AN/I, Arbitration enforcement, or directly to ArbCom. If either of the first two is chosen, a further appeal can be made to ArbCom.

The Signpost asked arbitrator AGK to comment on the changes. He told us that he sees three main benefits:

"The system is now fit for purpose," AGK said, "and less intimidating and dense, so people won't need to turn to ArbCom once a week, asking for clarifications. The alerts system is now also automatically logged. MediaWiki keeps a record of all ArbCom alerts issued, so editors no longer need to keep hundreds of logs updated."

In brief

This film from the Buchenwald concentration camp was taken shortly after it was liberated from Nazi German forces. The still frame of several stacked bodies, featured on Commons' main page on 8 May, can be seen at 4:10.
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Pirelli video

&&&&Someone's apparently noticed this Signpost article, because the video is now marked as private. Nyttend (talk) 20:18, 9 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Good thing we saved it beforehand, then. ;-) We're working out if it is possible to upload it somewhere and link to it from this article. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 20:46, 9 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Discretionary sanctions

  • Two points about discretionary sanctions. Under the old system, any editor could post a DS warning on another user's talk page, it didn't need to be an admin. In fact, this new system is trying to address problems that occurred when an editor involved in a dispute on a topic covered by DS would post warnings on the talk pages of editors who held opposing points of view. These notices would often be accompanied with words like "Continue editing as you have and you could be facing a block". So, these warnings could be used to intimidate. Now, as I understand it, you can post only the alert and editors can't add in additional comments which might sound threatening.
  • Secondly, you don't mention that an editor can only receive one DS notice for any subject covered by DS within a year's time. The new system is supposed to keep track of all this. In the past, I have seen some user pages that might contain 3 or 4 DS warnings that had been posted just within a month or so. The notices are just intended to "last" 12 months and so new alerts would need to be given to editors still working on these topics. Giving periodic reminders helps editors on all sides of a dispute remember that their editing on these subjects must be careful and not confrontational. Liz Read! Talk! 21:01, 9 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
    Liz, thank you; I've tweaked the text. Tony (talk) 23:27, 9 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Offensive images

For fuck's sake, WP:NOTCENSORED. Sometimes, flipping through an encyclopedia, you'll find images of the Holocaust or other atrocities. An encyclopedia isn't meant to be safe and friendly all the time. I really don't like the attitude that a picture of dead bodies (with a caption clearly explaining what they are) is somehow a shocking thing that must never repeat. Adam Cuerden (talk) 05:21, 10 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Actually, a while ago I came across this TV preacher's website talking about how evil Wikipedia is. A few examples: David Lee Roth fails to mention how he led millions away from God; this preacher changed some of the stuff to make articles about religious people shine a better light on them, then talks about how bad the reverters are; and how Jimbo should be held accountable for all the character assassinations Wikipedia carries out just for profits. There's just no getting through to some people about censorship, NPOV, or anything.... Supernerd11 :D Firemind ^_^ Pokedex 18:40, 10 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
I tend to agree it ought to be avoided; it takes a lot of different kinds of people to make Wikipedia work and though some of us may automatically be able to process that as not altogether abnormal given the encyclopedic context, others of us will certainly be made uncomfortable and put off by the experience. And I tend to view invoking WP:NOTCENSORED to be a bit of a non-sequitur in this case; we adapted that policy, as I understand it, because we view the interest of the insight to be derived from sometimes disturbing content to outweigh the less appealing traits, not because we are obtuse to the distress such content can cause in the first place. Stripped of appropriate context, such as an article, a category, or a search conducted by a user looking for such content and insight, that argument has much less weight. That why the WMF adopted the principle of least astonishment, I presume. And one doesn't "flip through" Wikipedia in the manner of a book; we're a different medium with a different format and means of navigation and expectations are accordingly different. We spend a great deal of time refining the methodology of allowing our users to get straight the content they need, in fact. Snow talk 06:47, 17 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Given that one of the purposes of Commons is to provide an image repository for other projects to use, it's entirely possible that a constructive editor could be visiting the main page of Commons ten times a day to search for appropriate images in the course of their article work, without ever making any edits on Commons at all. So being "hardly active on Commons" is pretty much meaningless. --Demiurge1000 (talk) 19:56, 10 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Wasn't your initial comment meant to express disapproval (or at least puzzlement) at dilettante/singular-purpose comments there? Personally I'm not surprised that these circumstances would pull attention from editors who don't normally comment in venues at commons. not just because of the content in question but because it is, afterall, the front page we're talking about; it's a bit of a numbers game in that regard. Snow talk 06:14, 17 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Academics vandalizing Wikipedia

Regarding the "Academics Vandalizes Wikipedia" part - I remember my business teacher told my class a little story.... *gets popcorn out* He was at a Teacher's College or something, can't remember, and the teacher instructing the lesson opened up a Wikipedia article about Ancient Egypt or something, said in a very blunt voice, "I am going to show you why Wikipedia is not reliable", then started vandalizing the article. The class oohed and aahed about how Thoth had teeth in his brain, or Tutu wore a ballet tutu, or how Ra got raped. Then the teacher hit "Save page" and grinned to the class about how Wikipedia was stupid in allowing people to edit its content. If she had reloaded the page and checked the page history, she would've found out that it was reverted the very moment the edit was made. Just saying that, even if academics disapprove of Wikipedia, vandalizing it is just... ridiculous. Wikipedia's a source of knowledge, and instead of helping out, they just complain, whine and bitch about, and then replace articles with "poopyface". It almost seems like we have a bunch of uneducated idiots trying to educate students. --k6ka (talk | contribs) 13:04, 10 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Many professionals decry any DIY efforts because it hurts their business and offends their sense of skilled labor. Accordingly, many academics see Wikipedia as a heresy that endangers their collective role as high priests of their lauded cult. After the all, who the hell as we the unwashed masses, to write articles about subjects of academic import? I welcome this sort of hatred as it underlines how effective Wikipedia must be if so-called educators feel threatened. I am further pleased by the academics participating with the Wikimedia Education Foundation that have come to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Chris Troutman (talk) 04:06, 14 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Missing articles

  • The person who wrote the "super-spreader" blog (Meghan Duffy) has another blog post where she (and others) discuss missing women ecologist articles. I have created a wiki-version of this list currently at meta, with a place-holder at User:Rich_Farmbrough/wanted/ecologists. Should anyone wish to copy that page to en: either in the missing articles project or to the place holder in my userspace, or elsewhere, they are welcome to do so. It would be nice to be able to reach out to the readers of Megha's blog with this list, but as things stand I need assistance to get the list on-wiki before I can do that. All the best: Rich Farmbrough20:56, 10 May 2014 (UTC).
    • One does wish they'd prioritize them, or at least state one of their major achievements or some dates. I'd love to help, but given a list of names, with nothing more to go on but that, it's very hard to even know where to start. Adam Cuerden (talk) 15:22, 13 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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