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New CEO, new board members, China bans

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By Artoria2e5, Bri, Ganesha811, and Smallbones
Wikimedia Foundation offices

Maryana Iskander new Wikimedia Foundation CEO

On September 14th, the Board of Trustees announced that they have picked Maryana Iskander as the new CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation, replacing Katherine Maher. She will begin work on January 5th, 2022. Since 2013 she has been the CEO of the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator in South Africa. Before that, she was COO for Planned Parenthood in the United States.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Iskander said she planned to be mostly "on a screen and on airplanes", with presence in the United States "a lot". Mentioning an issue which has been on the mind of many Wikipedians, another article states that "while Wikimedia has ballooned in size over the past decade, Iskander said she’s wary of any expansion that could endanger the culture the organization has built." It goes on to quote her as saying “Scaling people and departments and tasks and activities, lots of people do that. I think how you scale culture alongside that is much harder."

The Signpost hopes to interview Iskander for our next issue. If you have a question you'd like to ask her, please note it in the Comments section below. Please keep the questions short enough to answer in two paragraphs. We may combine or simplify them, and hope to ask her at least four reader questions.

See related American, South African and other international media coverage at this issue's In the media. – G, B

Wikimedia users "physically harmed"; WMF bans or desysops nineteen in Mainland China-Hong Kong row

The Wikimedia Foundation banned seven users and desysopped a further 12 on September 13 after a year long investigation centering on the unrecognized Wikimedians of Mainland China (WMC) user group. The foundation called the case "unprecedented in scope and nature". Their concerns included "community capture" by WMC via infiltration of the corps of administrators enabled by off-wiki canvassing during admin elections on the Chinese Wikipedia ( and possible extortion of editors holding advanced permissions. Without releasing any details, Maggie Dennis, the foundation’s Vice President of Community Resilience & Sustainability stated that "we know that some users have been physically harmed" and that they "have no choice but to act swiftly and appropriately in response."

Some users affected by the ban had checkuser rights before 2018 when these rights were removed on Checkusers can see IP addresses and other technical information related to logged-in editors. Six of the banned users and 7 of the desysopped users are members of WMC, which describes itself as a politically diverse group representing "most currently active mainland Chinese Wikimedians". It was previously the center of controversies involving possible Chinese government editing which was covered by the BBC, as well as threatening to name pro-democracy editors in Hong Kong to the National Security Police. Two editors involved in the National Security Police controversy, users Walter Grassroots and Techyan, were among the banned editors and were interviewed at length in our July Special report. Techyan denies that he was involved in the controversy.

The WMF also expressed concerns on election irregularities. In response, the community has suspended all requests for adminship elections for three weeks while an improved election process is devised. While the concerns about community capture seem to have pointed some journalists and outside observers to questioning the role of the government of the People’s Republic of China in this affair, Dennis states, "I am not in position to point fingers at the Chinese State nor in possession of information that would lead me to do so."

Mainlanders' reaction

The WMC responded at length (4,800 words) on their website in Cast Away Illusions, Prepare For Struggle — WMC's First Open Letter on the Recent Office Action. A second open letter is expected to be published soon. They say that the bans were made hastily, instigated by a small group of Chinese Wikipedians, without proper investigation or community input. They believe that the foundation has done nothing for mainlanders, providing no money, legal advice, or encouragement.

The authors of the open letter say they do not understand how they, as a small part of the about one-third of the Chinese editing community that is from the mainland, could accomplish "community capture". They believe the process of making the bans was done without warning and without input from those banned, with no real appeals allowed and was thus grossly unfair. The letter does not address the WMF accusation of "physical harm" caused to other Wikipedians.

The mainland group say that, if it is subordinate to the foundation, the Wikipedia movement is dead in mainland China. But they plan to make a hard-fork of located in the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China, perhaps supported by a university or donations. It should be clear that a wiki hosted in the PRC would have to be exempted from the government's block of all Wikipedia sites, and thus would be subject to censorship.

User:Super Wang was not banned or desysopped on September 13. He is still an editor in good standing, who was recently warned for canvassing on and has now chosen to retire as an editor. He is a member of WMC. He has attended a few meetups sponsored by WMC – paying for his own lodging and transportation. There was no rule against canvassing on until a guideline – not a policy – was passed in 2020. He looks forward to editing Wikipedia again – on the hard-fork. For the views of another WMC member, see this month’s Op-ed.

The views of Hongkongers and other non-mainland Chinese so far seems fairly muted or even shocked. The Hong Kong Free Press earlier this summer had extensive contacts with Wikipedians in Hong Kong, but in their most recent story only had one comment from a Hong Kong Wikipedian. He was surprised that the blocks were so far reaching, but still wished to remain anonymous for his own safety. Two Hongkongers report at Opinion on their reactions, which focus on how the mainlanders should have known that their actions were wrong, and how they received many warnings. – A, B, S

WMF board election results

Four candidates have been selected by a record turnout of 6,873 voters to three year terms in the Wikimedia Board of Trustees election. In the order they were selected in an 18 step single transferable vote procedure, they are Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, Victoria Doronina, Dariusz Jemielniak, and Lorenzo Losa. Two of the seats are newly created. Dariusz was re-elected having served since 2015. Doc James, who did not run for re-election, will be leaving the BoT as soon as the new board members are confirmed by the old board, which he hopes will occur by early October. He then plans to spend more time with the projects MDWiki and NC Commons, an invitation-only effort to collect Creative Commons NonCommercial license (CC NC) medical imagery. – S

Russian ArbCom election scandal may be resolving

The legitimacy of the voting in the latest Russian Arbitration Committee election (AK-32) has been challenged. Because of allegedly irregular or "coordinated" voting, bureaucrats overseeing the election "refused to certify a candidate that passed an electoral threshold only with help of the votes of the alleged 'plotters', but at the same time we have declined to reinstate a candidate that failed due to the voting of the 'plotters'". according to one of the three deciding bureaucrats, Levg.

An unofficial report authored in part by the losing candidates has been released at ru:ВП:ДАТАПУЛЬТ. While the report is unofficial, its authors are widely respected and the report appears to have some weight. According to Levg "there is a probability that AK–32 will be asked to investigate it, or more likely – to establish a kind of 'Investigation commission'."

The report alleges that:

One editor has since been blocked after apparently outing one of the six remaining arbs to two other arbs, who then resigned due to a conflict of interest. With only four arbs left on the panel, activity in the case seems to have subsided. – S

Another look at requests for adminship

Another look at requests for adminship (RfA) has begun at Wikipedia:Requests for adminship/2021 review. Titled a "review", it is in phase 1 to identify issues, scheduled for August 29 to September 28. As of publication, the discussion encompasses issues A through W and runs about 50 pages long if printed. A future phase 2 will address solutions.

The discussion was initiated by Barkeep49, one of the 22 administrators selected in 2019. He gave the following reasons, when asked by The Signpost:

We're on pace to end the year with the fewest number of new admin ever – less than 10. And it didn't seem to be from a lack of trying on the part of people who were ready to be nominators. For at least the last 15 months or so, and arguably much longer than that, there have been regular discussions at WT:RFA and elsewhere about problems with RfA and possible solutions. It had also been six years since the last time the community comprehensively thought about RfA. It felt like we had made as much progress as we could with pre-discussion and also from those discussions it wasn't clear exactly what problem needed to be addressed with many people offering different (and sometimes contradictory) ideas. So it was time to see if the community agreed that changes were needed at RfA and if so what problems we should attempt to solve. And quite honestly I will admit that I decided that this had the chance to produce more new administrators than investing time looking through the editing records of one of the half dozen or so editors currently on my "maybe RfA" list only to be turned down by the ones who I think would make good admins and have a good chance of passing RfA.

As far as results of the discussion, Barkeep had this to say:

So far I've been very pleased with the discussion which has been thoughtful and robust in the best spirit of Wikipedia. Assuming that some of the suggest problems are deemed to have consensus by the closers, we'll then move to a second phase where possible solutions are discussed and considered. I expect that some changes will be made, though I also think it likely that some problems will not have any solutions which have community consensus behind them. I modeled much of the format of this RfA review on the great work Biblioworm did in 2015 in a similar process.

The last round of serious rejiggering of the process by which the community selects administrators was the 2015 administrator election reform, referenced by Barkeep49 just above. The resulting RfC closed in December of that year with procedural changes including more RfA notices, a limit on the number of questions for a candidate, and an expanded discretionary range.

See prior Signpost coverage at 2015 op-ed, "Wikipedia needs more administrators".

Further comprehensive coverage of this important discussion can be found at this month's "Discussion report". – B

Brief notes

In this issue
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  • Though legitimate, this is a loaded question. And personally, I don't think that you need to have an extensive experience as an editor to be at the helm of the Foundation. You learn nothing about managing a non-profit by editing Wikipedia, and you don't need to have 50k edits and 12 GAs to understand how Wikipedia works. What her job entails is mostly managing a huge stack of cash and setting the priorities as to how that cash should be spent. The most relevant experience here is business management. From what I could read, she understands and respects the work of the volunteers as well as the "separation" between the Foundation and the content, and has a sound vision of Wikipedia's purpose—and that's all I need to know. This is much more preferable to an executive that would have 50k edits and 12 GAs and, on that basis, would pretend to order us around or tell us how to do our job. JBchrch talk 16:21, 27 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
It's not a loaded question, I'm just interested. I'm not implying that such experience is required - I recognise that they're different jobs. You're inventing your own criticisms. If someone became CEO of a sports team it would be reasonable to ask if they had ever played the sport, or ask the new CEO of a coffee chain whether they ever drink coffee. Those things are not necessarily required to do a good job, but are relevant and of interest to stakeholders. Modest Genius talk 11:38, 28 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
@Modest Genius: I'm sorry that I misunderstood your comment. But if you ask a question that begins with "What experience do you have of...", it may give a wrong impression of your intentions... JBchrch talk 22:18, 28 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
Businesspeople are going to make bad decisions if they don't understand the purpose of the non-profit they are leading. For instance, I don't want the WMF to grow the most that it can, to increase its reader donation pot or to hire many more employees. Those things will be neutral or negative to the actual grassroots movement that the WMF sits on top of. As for spending a stack of cash, you need to know what's cost-effective, morally appropriate and what the community want most and why. You may not have to have 50,000 edits or 12 GAs to understand Wikipedia, but if you do have those then you probably do understand a lot about Wikipedia. But since 99% or more of Wikipedia readers don't actually know what Wikipedia is, you need something to show why you're fit—we have one of the most complex bureaucratic, technical and norm-based process systems of any community I can think of. I'd be interested to hear, with a completely open mind (her CV looks alright to me), why Iskander thinks she can make the best decisions for me and my community. — Bilorv (talk) 22:24, 28 September 2021 (UTC)[reply]
  • @MER-C, JBchrch, and Bilorv: what a lot of people didn't understand is that the recently vacated post of CEO, despite the job description was not not a managerial position - at least if that was intended, it's not what it turned out to be. Even in times of crisis the best the incumbent could manage were a couple of hurried Tweets. That job became a more representative function like that of a non-executive presidency or the work of Senior Royals. I'm not saying that it did not generate more donations (hopefully more than the salary and travel bill), but there was no shop floor management of any kind that reached the notice of the volunteer communities. The actual hierarchy of the WMF still remains enigmatic. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 02:08, 11 October 2021 (UTC)[reply]


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