Superprotect, one year later
Superprotect is now one year old, as noted in a discussion in the Wikimedia-L mailing list this week. Superprotect was a novel page protection level implemented on August 10 last year, without warning, to allow Wikimedia Foundation staff to resolve an ongoing wheel war with community administrators on the German Wikipedia; the administrators were attempting to use a change to a MediaWiki configuration page to locally disable the then-new MediaViewer software.
The administrators were acting on the results of a community poll that had reached an undisputed consensus: the community's editors (mirroring editors on the English Wikipedia as well) regarded Media Viewer as an unfinished product—one that was not ready for use on their project. But the requisite change was rejected by the Foundation, which, as the owner of the servers, was in a position to overrule community consensus. This was not the first time that the WMF had overruled community consensus. "Limits to configuration changes" on Meta lists types of instances that may involve central overruling, stating that:
|Rarely, a local community consensus will emerge for a particular wiki configuration change that is technically feasible to implement, but is rejected by the [WMF's] system administrators. Arguably this is a demonstration of a technocracy, or a necessity to preserve the founding principles and our mission.
The page lists nine instances in which a change was rejected outright and three in which the change was partially rejected. Before superprotect, the incident that caused the most social tension was ACTRIAL, a successful April 2011 proposal on the English Wikipedia to limit article creation to autoconfirmed accounts; it was similarly blocked at the implementation level. The Foundation's rejection provoked a significant conflagration with the community, which included terse conversations between editors and Foundation staff in the fallout reportage in the Signpost. This, however, was nowhere near as controversial as superprotect would come to be.
The German Wikipedia administrator realized that, unlike the case of ACTRIAL, it was possible to force through the change they wished to make with only a local edit to that site's MediaWiki page. They were promptly reverted by Foundation staff and informed that making "breaking" changes to the wiki configuration files was improper. The administrator persisted, and the WMF introduced and immediately applied what it called "superprotect" to the page.
Enough words have been written about the ensuing firestorm. The meta-wiki "superprotect" page lists no fewer than eight separate statements and consultations released by the Foundation in the wake of the resulting outrage. In the case of MediaViewer, the WMF stood firm on refusing to allow it to be disabled—and enforced this by threat of de-sysopping—and superprotect remains installed on the German Wikipedia, although it was taken off the page in question. An open letter circulated in the community condemning the action, garnering almost a thousand signatures. An English Wikipedia arbitration committee case was opened, with animated debate, and closed without action. For Signpost coverage from the time, refer to the Media Viewer series.
The memory of superprotect appears to be fresh in the hearts and minds of both experienced editors and Foundation personnel. Since the event, executive director Lila Tretikov focused WMF staff on increasing community feedback as much as possible—a big plank in Tretikov's platform for the organization. A prominent question of community candidates for the Board of Trustees just months ago concerned superprotect. Two of the re-standing candidates were sympathetic to the issue, while the third was on the fence; none was re-elected, whereas three strongly opposed to the use of superprotect were (prominent long-time editor and superprotect critic Pete Forsyth (Peteforsyth) was almost giddy with the results).
What do you think about the issue? The Signpost is currently soliciting two essays on the propriety of superprotect from the community—one in support, one against—soon to be published in a forum op-ed. R
Contentious RfA draws nearly 300 participants
Votes per day in the Request for Adminship of Liz
English Wikipedian Liz was nominated for administrator on July 27.
A current trainee clerk for the Arbitration Committee, she has been editing since 2013 with her current account, and since 2007 with a previous account (she has also done a great deal of categorization work in the Signpost archives). She was nominated by three administrators: Worm That Turned, a former arbitrator, Yunshui, a current arbitrator, and The Blade of the Northern Lights. Their nomination described her as "a versatile candidate", who "has demonstrated empathy, understanding and helpfulness" and is "a model of diplomacy and discretion when dealing with complex, heated issues".
The nomination quickly gained much support, with more than 100 supporters in two days. However, concerns were raised about Liz's focus on noticeboard discussions and wikignome activity, and a perceived lack of content creation. In the words of one editor, she has a "disproportionate focus on drama boards as opposed to content involvement".
While a number of her advocates highlighted her support for content creation, Liz wrote "the role of administrators is undermined if there is the impression that there are different standards for behavior based on an editor's contributions and the view that some editors are unblockable", a statement that may have been perceived negatively. DD2K, a supporter, wrote that many voters opposed her nomination "because Liz dared make the statement that content creators should not be given carte blanche exemptions from the rules. Everyone knows this."
The nomination attracted offsite attention, including discussions on Wikipediocracy and r/KotakuinAction, a pro-Gamergate forum on Reddit. While not a named party to the Gamergate arbitration case, she is one of many Wikipedians whose involvement in editing and discussing Gamergate-related articles has drawn the ire of Gamergate supporters (as has this author).
Bureaucrats struck votes and comments by two accounts thought to be a "sole purpose GamerGate account". One of them, Auerbachkeller, belongs to Slate tech writer David Auerbach, who lodged complaints about the bureaucrat decision on two different Wikipedia noticeboards. (Last year, he commented frequently on arbitration case pages and got into a public spat with one of the named parties to the case.) The offsite discussions and stricken comments prompted many users to complain that the nomination had fallen victim to canvassing.
The nomination was closed on August 4 with 200 supports, 72 opposes, and nine neutrals. Requests for adminship states that "most of those above 75 percent approval pass and most of those below 70 percent fail". With support at about 73.5%, a bureaucrat discussion was opened to determine whether or not the nomination would pass. Following the discussion, Liz was promoted to administrator on August 6.
When asked on her user talkpage if she thought gender played a role in the discussion, she wondered whether her female username prompted editors to react differently: "I was struck by how some of the critical comments were very personal, about me as a person, my faults and why I was unsuitable. I've participated in over a dozen RfAs and probably read over two dozen more in preparing for this RfA and it's not typical that voters get that personal. [...] I think this happens to more often to women than men. [...] One is not judged by one's skills but how you make other people feel." G