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WMF staff turntable continues to spin; Endowment gets more cash; RfA continues to be a pit of steely knives

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By Kudpung

Wikipedia blocked in Venezuela

Photograph of Jann Eissfeldt

In Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves in the world and where the population is starving and forced to eat garbage, access to Wikipedia has been blocked. The 2018 Venezuelan presidential election result was denounced as fraudulent by most neighboring countries. Both the Wikipedia articles on Nicolas Maduro, who won the election, and the article on Juan Guaidó who was declared interim president by Venezuela's National Assembly, have been protected, following edit-warring by users supporting both factions.

In January 2019, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution to not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s new term as of 10 January 2019, and, on 12 January, following political unrest surrounding President Nicolás Maduro and the National Assembly President Guaidó, Wikipedia was rendered inaccessible for most Venezuelans. According to one tweet:

Según los conspiranoicos chavistas: CANTV no bloqueó Wikipedia. Es al contrario Wikipedia bloqueó a CANTV.

"Wikipedia censura a Venezuela", es el mensaje desinformativo chavista. #InternetVE #Desinformacion#InfoDisordersVE

(Translation: According to Chavez conspiracy theorists: CANTV did not block Wikipedia. On the contrary Wikipedia blocked CANTV.

"Wikipedia censors Venezuela" is the Chavista disinformation message. #InternetVE #Disinformation #InfoDisordersVE — Iria Puyosa (@NSC) January 13, 2019

The following statement was issued by the Wikimedia Venezuela chapter (translation):

About blocking Wikipedia - Official release

During the last 72 hours volunteers of the non-profit civil association, Wikimedia Venezuela, and users of Wikipedia, have told us their inability to access the free encyclopedia through the most important Internet service provider in Venezuela, the state-run company CANTV. These allegations have been supported by the NetBlocks Internet Observatory.

As a civil association, we do not establish an editorial policy for Wikipedia or for any other Wikimedia project. We respect and support the editorial decisions made by the editors community. While we support local users of these projects, our association operates independently of the project and the international association that operates them.

Currently Wikipedia is the most important information query site in the country. Blocking access to this page leaves more than 30 million people without one of the most used educational tools by students and teachers at different levels of the academic sphere, resulting in the most affected sector composed of young people who do not have the power Purchase to acquire a school text.

Wikipedia is a neutral information source and operates independently to any government entity, news chain or for-profit entity. Its purpose is to globally distribute the knowledge generated through consensus, based on reliable sources that anyone can edit.

From Wikimedia Venezuela we urge the authorities with competence in this area to take the necessary actions to restore at the national level the free access to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. We hope that this inability to access Wikipedia has been a technical error, since no official information has yet been provided by the State.

Board of Directors Wikimedia Venezuela Caracas, January 16, 2019

Writing in GlobalVoices on the crisis on 15 January, Ellery Roberts Biddle and Laura Vidal state: 'This triggered sharp responses in public and online, and a bitter "editing war" between Venezuelan Wikipedia contributors, who were at odds over the same question: Who is (or should be) the legitimate leader of the country?' ... 'For now, the President of the National Assembly is free, and as of January 14, Wikipedia appears to be accessible once again in most parts of the country. But the episode sends a message about how authorities can react when the legitimacy of the presidency is called into a question.'

James Alexander quits WMF

Photograph of James Alexander smiling during Wikimania 2015 in Mexico City
James Alexander Photo: Joe Sutherland
Photograph of Jann Eissfeldt
Jann Eissfeldt Photo: Melanie Brown

James Alexander, former Manager of Trust and Safety and long-time employee since August 2010, has quietly quit the Wikimedia Foundation. Amid much speculation on Wikipedia criticism forum Wikipediocracy, and nary a word on Wikimedia's WordPress website, Alexander has apparently made his exit from the San Francisco office using the back stairs. All mention of Alexander on the WordPress site has been carefully removed.

GorillaWarfare, an arbitrator on the English Wikipedia, appears to be best informed, and explains in one of her posts on Wikipediocracy: "Before some folks here get their conspiracy theories out, there wasn't a coup or anything. I really wish the WMF would announce these kinds of changes on the mailing lists before removing the userrights, it would save a lot of wild speculation." On 15 December, James Alexander's WMF account user page on Meta was tagged as historical by steward MarcoAurelio, while his personal Wikipedia user page, personal website, and LinkedIn entry continue to list him (as of 5 January) in his WMF capacity.

On Twitter, Alexander informed his followers that he is currently enjoying a well-earned break in Hawaii, before starting his new job as Safety Operation Manager at Twitter, working with the Periscope team.

Alexander came to the forefront for two issues during the 2018 Wikimania in South Africa when, while exercising his authority, he forbade one volunteer event helper from continuing his work as reported in our August 2018 Special Report, and withdrew the registration of a South African newsman and anti-apartheid activist from the conference, having the activist ejected from the venue. Alexander's reasons for withdrawing the registration were later confirmed to be partly incorrect, as documented on YouTube (from 26:51).

The Signpost has been informed by a senior WMF officer that Alexander's 'transition' was well prepared with German contractor Jan Eissfeldt, the lead manager of Trust & Safety, to whom Alexander's position reported, and that Eissfeldt has been working with the Trust & Safety team to figure out the best alignment to meet the team's future goals. As to the circumstances surrounding Alexander's departure or why it was not even mentioned, other than: "The Foundation doesn't discuss general personnel changes, to respect the right to privacy of our staff", the WMF has declined to comment further. Eissfeldt did not respond to The Signpost's invitation to comment.

The reasons for Alexander's departure, and why he was not publicly thanked for his eight years' work remain unknown.

Chief Technology Officer departs

Victoria Coleman at Wikimedia Developer Summit 2018

Announcing her departure on the Wikitech mailing list of 11 January Chief Technology Officer Victoria Coleman is to become CEO of an artificial intelligence startup "striving for improvements in human well being through data driven insights". Coleman, a native of Greece, was employed by the WMF for two years. Her previous illustrious professional career (catch it before it is removed from the web site) started in 1998 already after 10 years as a tenured professor at the University of London, with a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Manchester, Following the announcement of her appointment in the WMF blog of 16 November 2016, she brought more than 20 years of experience in consumer and enterprise technology to the Wikimedia movement. She now moves on to an opportunity for her " exercise the full spectrum of my skills as the CEO of an early stage mission oriented startup."

The position of interim CTO will be filled by Erika Bjune, after Coleman's last day on 1 February.

New Chief of Community Engagement arrives

[[File:|center|300px|alt=Photograph of Valerie D'Costa]]

Valerie D'Costa

Valerie D'Costa, a native of Singapore, joins the 300+ strong staff of the Wikimedia Foundation as the new Chief of Community Engagement, while Maggie Dennis moves on (or up?) by 'transitioning' to the post of Vice President of Support & Services. D'Costa received a Bachelor of Laws from the National University of Singapore and a Master of Laws from University College London. She received an executive MBA certification from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and is also certified as an executive leadership coach by Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. Among her previous engagements, D'Costa spent 15 years working with the government of Singapore on issues of international information and communications technology (ICT) policy and trade. According to Executive Director Katherine Maher: "We were looking for someone with a global perspective, international experience, fluency in technology, and a deep empathy for community." D'Costa lives in Washington DC.

Brief notes

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Bilorv, you are forgetting that The Signpost columns are not Wikipedia articles. That said, please have the courtesy to find out what you are talking about before insulting the magazine. Either that consider responding to the appeals for contributions. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 07:28, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
I made no insult towards The Signpost, unlike you towards the people of Venezuela. I'm well aware it's not a Wikipedia article, but it should have some editorial standards. I'm also well aware of what's happening in Venezuela but describing its population as "forced to eat garbage" is ridiculous. Yes, some Venezuelans have been forced into that awful position but there are also plenty of Americans who dumpster dive because they have no other access to food. Bilorv(c)(talk) 13:43, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Even if this is defended as the POV, by making such a generalization about an entire country, the POV comes off as defamatory (which is prohibited on Wikipedia); "Defamation, calumny, vilification, or traducement is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of, depending on the law of the country, an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation". Likewise, The Signpost has its own content guideline that states, "Contributors should endeavor to avoid putting out material they know to be wrong or misleading." It might be worthwhile to have a Village Pump discussion, for clarification, about whether The Signpost may publish POV editorials on Wikipedia that violate these policies and guidelines; or if they are required to adhere to these guidelines and policies; or if they are required to follow their own guidelines and policies and should the community be involved in the setting these guidelines and enforcement? Mkdw talk 20:51, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
  • I don't know why NPOV keeps getting thrown around in the reader comments. The Signpost makes no statement about neutrality. Bri.public (talk) 19:05, 31 January 2019 (UTC)[reply]
  • If that's what you think, you should get out of involvement with the Signpost. The standards on display here are appalling. Tony (talk) 00:22, 1 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
If that's what you think, Tony1, you should either come back and write The Signpost yourself to your own rules, or be less rude in the comments section. If you are one of the editors who insist that Wikipedia standards apply here, then have the courtesy to apply them here too. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 06:56, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
That's the kind of response we're becoming used to from those who've colonised what was once a respectable, trustable news outlet. See my comment at the Village Pump. Tony (talk) 07:41, 4 February 2019 (UTC)ß[reply]
As a news publication, The Signpost should strive for neutrality but it is by no means bound be NPV, which is an article space policy. Opinionated articles that aren't listed as such are one thing though; inaccuracies such as this are another, and the latter should be avoided as much as possible. — pythoncoder  (talk | contribs) 19:13, 4 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Why, GorillaWarfare, should you expect to be notified about being quoted on something you said quite publicly? You yourself clearly inferred that you were privy to inside information. If you are now denying that, you are just as guilty of fuelling the rumours as anyone else on that forum that you contribute to. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 07:38, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Dude. It's called "common courtesy" and "journalism". You shouldn't have quoted her without letting her know, because it's clear that you took her comments out of context and the two of you have a history of less-than-stellar encounters. This is especially important in such a drama-fueling, poorly-researched, tabloid-style "article" like this.--Jorm (talk) 17:44, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
I don't expect to be notified, but a quick email to me to ask about my comment would have a) been courteous and b) saved you the awkwardness of having to be corrected by me in these comments. As for "fuelling rumours", it's a bit rich for you to accuse me of that after publishing this sensationalism. GorillaWarfare (talk) 21:07, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Lord, you didn't even reach out to James Alexander before writing and publishing this?? GorillaWarfare (talk) 21:23, 4 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
+1 on what both Jorm and GW say. It's not the quote itself that reads as if GW has insider information, but the introductory statement: "GorillaWarfare [...] appears to be best informed, and explains in one of her posts...". Bilorv(c)(talk) 02:26, 4 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
+2 👍 Like (RIP Google+) on Jorm and GW's comments. Couldn't have said it better myself. — pythoncoder  (talk | contribs) 19:32, 4 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
WereSpielChequers, I don't believe that The Signpost is obliged to provide those kinds of in-depth stats, for one thing, the availability of its editors and contributors is so limited, it's either that or no article at all. I just remember that when I joined the project, there were 7 staff, nowadays there are over 300 (apparently not including the spin-off organisationns)and the volunteers who provide the content that provides the donations that provide their salaries have a right to some transparency. The problems that high staff turnovers bring with them include an important loss of institutional memory and a long and steep learning curve for newcomers. The lack of any visible form of hierarchy or at least clear lines and levels of responsibility also exacerbates the situation and does not help the volunteer community to build bridges and gain confidence with the WMF. The new WMF website actually cloaks some of the employees under further levels of navigation away from the main staff page. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 07:28, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Dear Kudpung, having reread the article I think my beef was with the "WMF staff turntable continues to spin" headline, the actual article is just focused on three changes, two departures and an arrival. The growth from 7 to 300 is a different topic, and as a former WMUK employee one where I probably should listen rather than opine. ϢereSpielChequers 21:59, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
  • The issue here is presumably not the level of turnover from a corporate point of view, but more the concept of revolving door (politics). Wikipedia, like government, has been envisioned by many as a noble enterprise seeking fairness ... and such enterprises are seen as unmined resources by every capitalist with a pick-axe. When someone goes from working for the government of Singapore, not a free society, into Wikipedia, that should immediately raise questions in our minds. When someone comes out of Wikipedia into Twitter, we should wonder if they had any way to earn goodwill with the company first. I don't know these things mean anything in these particular cases -- I don't have an NSA-eye view of what lurks in the individual human soul, if I did it wouldn't stop anything because I don't have their omnipotence either. All I know is that the utopia of free information on computers has rapidly degenerated into a dictatorship of machine ownership and control by a few people who corrupt everything, and Wikipedia is the least of what stands to be destroyed, however large that itself may be. In the end the planet itself will be passed through the flames to Moloch. Wnt (talk) 12:55, 2 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
I should point out that I have no complaint about the Signpost including editorial pieces from a non-neutral point of view. However, I do care if these pieces are selected for publication and receive wide distribution if they lack credibility, especially when they are about people in our community. I saw a seemingly related discuss on Kudpung's user talk page from Bri. I look forward to the next Signpost issue explaining their "editorial policy on POV in News and notes" and specifically how they view their responsibility when publishing POV pieces that are not credible and seemingly lack integrity. If a piece concludes with "the reasons for Alexander's departure, and why he was not publicly thanked for his eight years' work remain unknown", it brings into question the policy to willingly publish rumours from Wikipediocracy as a POV editorial. Mkdw talk 06:03, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Mkdw, I think the report above on Alexander's departure is evenly balanced. The WMF never mentioned the staff change, the only hint came from 1) the disappearance of Alexander from the staff list, and 2) a Wikipedia arbitrator claiming to have inside information which they posted on Wikipediocracy, which was apparently discovered by a Google search. When approached, a very senior (and very friendly) WMF source replied but declined to comment, and another did not respond at all. The conjecture is not of The Signpost 's making, which leaves the question entirely open as to why Alexander left, whether he was lured by a better and/or more interesting offer, or had become disenchanted with the WMF, whatever, but why he was not thanked for his years of service, as most managers are when they leave, remains a mystery. Whatever his current situation is, we naturally wish him all the best. The rest is history - The Signpost moves on. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 06:48, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Moving where? To the gutter? Your "enquiring minds want to know" [1] [2] ending is among the most unethical trash there is. Alanscottwalker (talk) 14:18, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
It is not uncommon for people to leave the Wikimedia Foundation without an announcement being made. In fact, as I discovered while compiling my "Wikimedia timeline of events, 2014–2016", it happens fairly often. Do you also conjecture that the folks listed there who did not make or receive on-(public)-list departure emails left under suspicious circumstances? Where are their speculative Signpost articles? Or is James Alexander for some reason unique in receiving this treatment?
It also is ridiculous to claim that Wikimedia employees not commenting on the circumstances regarding someone's departure is somehow indicative of there being an issue, and not standard practice. GorillaWarfare (talk) 21:28, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]
Regarding my actual decision to leave, I’m very proud of the more than 8 years I put into the Foundation and the work I’ve done over that time to grow and professionalize our trust and safety program. While there is certainly more to be done (and more is being done!) I am confident that the team is in a good place to do it without me. After 8 years (as many have pointed out, an eternity in San Francisco terms), I wanted a bit of a new challenge. Twitter is not the first company to reach out to inquire about my working with them, but they were the most attractive. My conversations with them (and the past 3 weeks since I started) made it clear that they share my desire to try and balance the importance of free speech and transparency with safety and health online. Everyone I’m working with is there for the right reason.
I enjoyed a couple of weeks of vacation between roles, and the past couple weeks have been focused on my new job, but I have every intention to continue to be involved in the movement I love so much as a volunteer just like I was before I started to work in it. My former colleagues at the Foundation have been generous and kind in supporting me in this new role, and I expect to continue to interact with them regularly - now in my new capacity. Oh and, while I stand by the Foundation’s policy of not detailing the reasons for behavioral investigations and actions, I also stand completely behind the “registration withdrawal” you mention. YouTube documentation (especially when it’s the recording of someone successfully trying to deescalate an in person situation) rarely tells the full story :). James of UR (talk) 22:08, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]

Venezuela Org.

That statement by the Venezuela Wiki organization seems particularly classy, in what must be a very trying situation. Brave, even. Well done. You are indeed independent from the rest of us and the other Wikimedia organizations but still in the thoughts of many of us. Alanscottwalker (talk) 16:17, 2 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]

"Turntable continues to spin"

Shoudn't that be "turnstyle"...? - wolf 23:04, 2 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]

Is "the company of the CANTV status" the right translation for "la empresa del Estado CANTV"?

Apokrif (talk) 12:33, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]

No, the statement is a translation wreck.

The original statement from Wikipedia Venezuela is here, (as Apokrif notes above).Their exact words are:

Wikimedia Venezuela, y usuarios de Wikipedia, nos han manifestado su imposibilidad de acceder a la enciclopedia libre a través del proveedor de servicios de Internet más importante de Venezuela, la empresa del Estado CANTV.

We ended up with:

... have told us their inability to access the free encyclopedia through the most important Internet service provider in Venezuela, the company of the CANTV status.

It looks like a google translation. The correct translation is:

.. have told us their inability to access the free encyclopedia through the most important Internet service provider in Venezuela, the state-run company CANTV.

It is important to understand that Maduro controls communication (and elections) in Venezuela through control of CANTV, which is the state-run and state-owned telephone and internet provider (election results are transmitted over phone lines, and phone tapping is routine). It is not surprising that Wikipedia's article on CANTV has a deficient lead, and does not make this clear. I have fixed.

I am relieved to see that we now have a Wikipedia Venezuela that speaks up-- in the early days of chavismo, there was clear state influence in the entire suite of Venezuela articles. SandyGeorgia (Talk) 20:48, 3 February 2019 (UTC)[reply]


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