Where do we go from here?: Our constitutional crisis may continue
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Where do we go from here?

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By Smallbones


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Wikipedia’s constitutional crisis may have come to an end.

The Wikimedia Foundation agreed that the English-language Arbitration Committee would have full power to review the one-year ban against administrator Fram. Three months later ArbCom unbanned Fram and removed his admin status while allowing him to apply for its reinstatement. The RfA failed and Fram withdrew. The details of the Fram case are covered in this month’s Special report. This article explores how we can address the underlying issues of the case moving forward.

At first glance, Wikipedia’s multilevel decision making process has shown that the en:Wiki community can protect its independence from the WMF, can make nuanced decisions about admin incivility and harassment, and protect editors against harassment once they file a complaint.

But on closer inspection, none of that was accomplished. The process was agonizingly slow, confused, and just ugly. The community did not come up with a method to minimize harassment in everyday practice. The difficulty of giving accused harassers enough information to defend themselves while protecting their accusers against potential further harassment was underlined. And any cooperation between the WMF and ArbCom or the community to prevent harassment was trashed as the WMF was routinely derided as the cause of the whole affair.

We believe that three issues must be addressed simultaneously before the constitutional crisis is resolved:

  • How to protect editors against harassment? If we can’t protect our editors, we’ll lose our best and brightest. Wikipedia may become the playground of trolls.
  • Can we find a reasonable method for accused harassers to defend themselves while still preserving the accuser’s ability to file a complaint without further harassment? and
  • Can we cooperate using all the tools of the community, ArbCom, and the WMF to prevent harassment before it happens and deal effectively with it after a complaint is made? If we treat the WMF as the enemy, we’ll be losing many of the tools that can minimize harassment.


— The Signpost

A proposal that ignores one of the issues will ultimately fail on all three counts.

Voices from the community

ArbCom will soon start a request for comment on these and similar issues. The Signpost asked over a dozen well-respected editors how we can move forward rather than dwelling on the wounds of the recent past. Perhaps because the wounds are still fresh only 6 agreed to comment using their usernames. Another allowed their comments to be used without their username. All responses were edited for length.

Our movement has more or less relied on an unwritten division of power between the Foundation, the affiliates, and the communities. Our communities are generally self governing, except in a few clearly defined cases... Individual communities of course can and should be held to account if they are not meeting movement norms by the movement as a whole.

As our movement grows and brings in new people we need to move from an unwritten to a written division of power (ie a movement charter or constitution). Thankfully this has been proposed in our 2030 strategy process.[1]

With respect to the decisions of ArbCom, when the case was handed over I made it clear at the time that I will stand 100% behind whatever decision ArbCom makes and that is still my position.


— Doc James (in his volunteer capacity, not in his position as a WMF trustee)

Levivich wrote, "The project will not succeed if we ignore or outsource maintenance of the pillars. Each of us can see harassment when it happens on-wiki; each of us has an obligation to not tolerate it. If bystanders spoke up more often, victims wouldn’t need to report."

Levivich's proposal appears to be very difficult to implement. He is suggesting a complete change in Wikipedia’s culture. Perhaps this is the only way forward.

Wikipedia needs to improve the sometimes hostile and toxic environment for article creators and editors, both new and old. People who edit WP need to understand that encouragement of good faith new editors is equally as important as quality control …. There are guidelines and policies on WP that need to be respected, but these requirements can be handled with grace and cooperation, not the kneejerk I Don't Like It reactions too often seen.
— MontanaBW

One editor who preferred that his username not be used was skeptical that progress could be made "because one person's harassment is another's defending the encyclopedia." It would be easy to swamp ArbCom, “but if it were possible to filter out … misguided claims of harassment, a complainant might email ArbCom. The remedy might be to separate the people involved along the lines of ‘if the edits need attention, let someone else deal with it’…. There might be volunteer mentors who would act as intermediaries.”

I don't expect easy answers to the harassment and fair process conversations…. our open forms of dispute resolution seem particularly unsuited to addressing long-term poor behaviour that is countered with positive contributions...

Ultimately this is something that the community needs to decide on, and the Foundation needs to respect and support -- not take over.

While I am not happy with how the community interacts with Foundation staff (insults, personal attacks, and the like), this is ultimately a problem of the Foundation's own creation.


— Ajraddatz

Guy felt the WMF was to blame. His suggestions included:

The mechanics for (reporting harassment) do exist, in that people could and should inform the arbitration committee or functionaries mailing list confidentially if they are concerned about their safety. However in practice, I do recall situations where the committee has been slow to respond or act.

Regarding providing a adequate means of defense for the accused, the general principle in the workplace is that the origin of a complaint must be known to a person as a default to allow dispute resolution or management to take place. This should be the case on WP unless a complainant can make a case to the committee that there is a compelling reason otherwise.


— Casliber

What's next

There are some areas of agreement in all these views. Everybody recognizes that there's a problem with harassment or with the WMF's approach to it. Some respondents believe that we have a system in place to deal with harassment, but perhaps it can be improved. Others think that for Wikipedia's approach to harassment to change, our editors' attitudes must change. Nobody praised the WMF's approach to the problem. The RfC to be run by ArbCom will be interesting.

As always, your opinion, politely expressed in the Comments section below, is appreciated.

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This is not an issue that’s going to be solved overnight, and to suggest that it should have been solved with the ArbCom case carte blanche is, frankly, ludicrous. Civility issues and harassment on-wiki have been issues that have plagued this community for many years, and while I would say that the environment is much more collegial now than it was 10 years ago, it’s clear that there’s much more work that needs to be done by the community. OhKayeSierra (talk) 13:17, 30 September 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
OK, @OhKayeSierra: I didn't mean to say that I expected a complete resolution of this problem overnight. And "looking back" at it (we can do that already!) there were some positives - e.g. we actually confronted the problem in a few ways. And I'm not blaming ArbCom for this - they had a hard job - but all in all, the process struck me as slow, confused, and at times ugly. BTW, I'm very pleased to see the comments in this section so far are quite positive about the general problem of harassment. I get disheartened at times, so perhaps I'm not seeing the forest for the trees. Smallbones(smalltalk) 13:36, 30 September 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Becoming disheartened on occasion is normal and natural; however, that is not so hard to fight as long as we remember that this brilliant idea of an encyclopedia of all present and growing knowledge is a community effort of staggering proportions. It is those times when we are misunderstood that give us opportunities to make ourselves understood that lead to community wisdom. While that is not always easy to do, it is well worth the effort. Smallbones, you have taken on no small task, and I hope that overall, the community agrees with me that you do it admirably! P. I. Ellsworthed. put'r there 14:37, 30 September 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Please see WP:HOUNDING and reflect on how you lost your tools, over a case of one individual you've repeatedly "gone after" for years. Please see Rich's testimony in your recent RFA. Hounding is, to the victim, stalking. If an editor feels you have followed them around year after year, to them it's stalking/hounding. I didn't say you stalked me personally. But most dialogues with you have been pretty much my-way-or-the-highway. Yeah, you have. And, again, read and take to heart the diffs that were provided on the RFA from others. I know there are others, but they don't want to deal with what you are doing here. The fact that you don't recognize your effect on other editors is a problem in itself. And we are not going to re-visit the case here. It's in the RFA. — Maile (talk) 11:08, 1 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
"Over the years, I have seen many stalked by the recently defrocked admin. Fram has gone after me." (emphasis mine). "I didn't say you stalked me personally." (again emphasis mine). I don't ask you to "revisit the case", but you were making claims about my behaviour towards you, and can not or will not support them with evidence. That's a textbook case of WP:NPA, and it is not because I have been desysoped and that many editors have problems with my behaviour over the years that you (or others) are suddenly free to make whatever claim you like about me. I thought that people who opposed my adminship were people who cared about bullying, personal attacks, incivility, hounding, ... I guess I was wrong. Fram (talk) 11:56, 1 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Maile66 You had a chance during the Arb case to post any evidence of alleged wrongdoing. At this point it appears you are engaged in harassment against Fram, and you need to stop. Mr Ernie (talk) 15:46, 1 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Secondly, and this is even more difficult, it was impossible to ignore the effect of other websites or social media in some of these cases. Wikipediocracy ran an ongoing investigation and commentary during the entire Fram incident and subsequent case and it was clear that some more outlandish allegations made on Wikipedia had their origin on that discussion forum. That site doesn't have the same policies against outing or requiring substantiated allegations and some editors seem to have no qualms about taking dirt that's been dished there and bringing it over to Wikipedia. That can be a toxic influence that is difficult if not impossible to control. Liz Read! Talk! 21:49, 30 September 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I absolutely agree with this, and ended up designing a process that would solve for this, but it would require two very important changes in the standard way things are handled:
  1. All harassment cases would be handled privately (because no one wants to endure the scrutiny of uninvolved assholes trying to be "helpful" in the way they rules lawyer and
  2. They would be able to consider off-wiki behavior as well. Harassment almost never happens on-wiki. It happens on reddit or twitter or facebook, and thus cannot be submitted as "evidence".
I think about these things a lot.--Jorm (talk) 22:13, 30 September 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I also agree with Liz's assessment. Whatever the solution is, it probably isn't ArbCom. Not only does ArbCom take months to enact a remedy, but sometimes they completely ignore the harassment aspects of a case and just focus on the other policy violations, no doubt due to the community's ambivalence about the civility policy. Kaldari (talk) 23:01, 30 September 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Personally, I like the responses in this section better. Don't worry @Carrite: I'll try to remember to consider asking you next time I'm looking for "thought leaders". Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:12, 1 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Well, there's a systemic fallacy at the outset: there is no such thing as a "thought leader" on Wikipedia. One person's "thought leader" is another person's idiot. You're using Signpost to promote your POV again, Smallbones. And, broadly speaking, it is the WMF/WMDC POV (hence, perhaps, early approving comments here from several people with past/present associations with such). If you believe some of those, I harass here every day and will continue to do so due to my belief that the content is what counts, not the people. I'm not here to be nice. - Sitush (talk) 06:01, 1 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Sitush - I don't want to read too much into your statement, "I'm not here to be nice", thus this question: Along the lines of my response above ("I am a long-term, occasional editor ..."), do you modulate your response to new editors who make mistakes? Thanks!   - Mark D Worthen PsyD (talk) (I am a man. The traditional male pronouns are fine.) 12:06, 1 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
^ Upvote! ^ A capital idea! I strongly support Beland's idea (proposal) based on my (very similar) experience and Beland's cogent rationale for such a feature.   - Mark D Worthen PsyD (talk) (I am a man. The traditional male pronouns are fine.) 02:06, 3 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Created ticket T234520, thanks @Beland and Markworthen:, Ad Huikeshoven (talk) 11:26, 3 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Awesome! Thanks so much.   - Mark D Worthen PsyD (talk) (I am a man. The traditional male pronouns are fine.) 15:18, 3 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Agree User:Beland excellent idea. Would allow people to anonymously raise concerns about incivility (but the concerns in question would be viewable and thus discussable by the community). Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 17:05, 4 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
How far should administrators go to protect Fram, now that he is not an administrator?

How far should administrators go to protect Fram, now that he is not an administrator?

Administrator Sitush said, above, "I harass here every day and will continue to do so due to my belief that the content is what counts, not the people. I'm not here to be nice." I left a comment on User talk:Fram shortly before he moved the draft of his RFA from userspace. Sitush left me the warning "I think you should stop pestering Fram."

KillerChihuahua also left me a series of warnings; and I see other administrators are leaving similar warnings for other people.

We should all be civil. We should all not only start with civility, but do our best to remain as civil as possible, even if we think we are dealing with a very difficult person, or with a very clueless person, or a very rude person, or someone who is difficult, rude and clueless.

Would it be okay for an informal cabal of administrators to decide that Fram needs extraordinary protection, to make sure he is treated with kid gloves, until he has a chance to open RFA 3.0?

I suggest this would be a very bad idea.

What if you are an administrator who is a friend of Fram, or even just an administrator who remains angry with the WMF for banning him? Should you take extraordinary steps, independent from a cabal, to see that he is treated with kid gloves?

I don't think that is a good idea.

Fram made comments, when he withdrew his RFA, that implied he was going to try to learn from the opinions of those who opposed restoring his administrator bits. Now that he is not an administrator, I suggest it would be best if Fram enjoyed no more protection against uncivil or unfair comments than anyone else. If he is really going to learn what people were talking about, when they described him as uncivil, it would be best if Fram experienced what is our current normal level of civility, without extraordinary protection.

To return to the comment where Sitush said he or she is "not here to be nice", because "the content is what counts, not the people." Sitush, please remember, just as I am subject to normal human fallibility, and everyone else in this discussion is subject to normal human fallibility, you, Sitush, are similarly subject to normal human fallibility. You will make mistakes. Like everyone here, you will make mistakes.

Here is a thought experiment. Suppose you and I come across an edit to an article, or a comment, that strikes us as so terrible that go after the perpetrator, without restraint - only to realize we had completely misread the situation? I suggest that the attacking people without restraint is very damaging to the project. Every question, every disagreement, is a teachable moment.

So, please abandon the approach you described. I think administrators have an obligation to do their best to set an example of civility and collegiality -- "being nice" to use your term. I think it is essential because less experienced contributors look to administrators for an example of what is acceptable.

In addition, doing one's best to always be civil, and collegial, can turn out to be a huge relief, when one realizes the other guy was right, all along. Geo Swan (talk) 02:36, 6 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not a friend of Fram and I'm not defending him. I am defending the process, and in your case, defending the policy. Don't confuse this with defending any particular editor. KillerChihuahua 11:52, 7 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Facebook tracker on this page?

My Facebook container plugin found and warned me about an element on this page. Sure enough when I inspect the element, there is a div containing a CSS class called "fbc-badge" containing other facebook-related div's. What's odd though is Viewing the source doesn't find any of that. Anybody else's facebook container triggering on this page? First time I've seen this on Wikipedia. Jason Quinn (talk) 07:17, 6 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I don't know what that plugin is or does, but Ghostery reports zero trackers. It could be your container object is just triggering on the class name.--Jorm (talk) 15:44, 6 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]
SNIPPED MY COMMENT BECAUSE SEARCH TERMS WERE MAKING IT HARD TO TRACK ISSUE DOWN. Jason Quinn (talk) 14:17, 8 October 2019 (UTC)Reply[reply]





       

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