This month the Wikimedia Foundation took swift action in banning multiple editors to protect other editors on the Chinese Wikipedia, zh.wiki. The 2-step move was unprecedented. First the WMF protected editors' privacy by removing all data access which required non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in both Farsi and Chinese Wikipedias. This move affected a steward, some Volunteer Response Team (formerly OTRS) personnel, and oversighters on both language versions. Some editors criticized the foundation's action, but within two weeks of the WMF's removal of such "NDA only access", a more drastic step was taken. Seven users were globally locked, 12 users had their administrator rights removed, and another 12 were warned. The scale of the bans and the unprecedented nature of the 2-step action makes it impossible to call this another Fram Case. When such action against the Wikipedians of Mainland China (WMC), an unrecognized user group, was executed, some members of the zh.wiki community supported the ban and even proposed more drastic measures, though at least one of them has already been denied through a community process.
After the foundation's actions, the WMC claimed the actions were a blatant attack by the foundation colluding with outside authorities. The WMC published a letter to encourage fellow Wikimedians to leave Wikipedia. They even addressed the public through a Chinese tabloid (Global Times), controlled by the communist party, against the "atrocious" act by the foundation.
Some WMC concerns will still need to be addressed. But, when the authors read the WMC's joint statement ("Open letter" posted on their website), it shows that they are still attempting to spread disinformation, still spreading false information against members of the zh.wiki community.
WMC protests mostly concern two aspects of the action – the "no notice" nature of their ban and the bitter fact that they were banned even though they were considered to be in good standing at the time of the ban. Thus, we address the questions: Were they warned, and were they in good standing?
The WMC knew of the possibility of quick bans during the Framgate incident. One of the now-banned users, Techyan, made a lengthy comment at the time. It involved two foundation-bans against two individuals (守望者愛孟 and Galaxyharrylion), with a third person receiving a warning. Techyan omitted mentioning one more foundation action (that seemed to be directed at the WMC), an outright removal of CheckUser permissions from the Chinese Wikipedia in 2018.
The two bans and the conduct warning were directed against individuals who were connected to WMC.
Techyan said that one of the users was in good standing, and received no warnings nor bans in the Chinese Wikipedia. But why? Because individuals connected to the Chinese User Group had been blocking any process to address their own issues from outsiders. In fact, previous deadlocks stemming from the removal of the CheckUser permission was done at a time when Techyan, a now-banned user, tried running for CheckUser position. However, within a month of his run, another desysop poll took place to address Techyan's own controversial acts that he had never explained until the vote. Even with voting, canvassing seems to have completely derailed any attempts of making Techyan accountable, as shown from this voter statistics table.
User:1233, the main author of this article, tried to initiate discussions to bring administrators in check through a motion saying that Techyan had abused his administrator powers in blocking/unblocking users. 1233 also tried placing a meta Request for Comment for the ongoing issues within the Chinese Wikipedia. What happened after that? WMC users started labeling 1233 as both “pro-Hong Kong independence” – making him an easy target for mainland editors – and saying that he “has malign intentions to hamper the development of the WIkimedia community in mainland China". Techyan never properly addressed the concerns in the two desysop attempts, evading all attempts to make him accountable for over 180 days.
Even with a warning the foundation placed against the individual and the subsequent calls by local users to conform to civility, at least two users got banned in this round of foundation actions who had very uncivil user pages.
Walter Grassroot, who was introduced to readers of The Signpost through the 2019 protests and recent threats against Hong Kong users, had written, on their user page that people having different opinions from him were shabi (傻逼) – roughly, "backbiting idiots". Other similar terms on his page (白癡／弱智) refer to supposed mental deficiencies in an editor in good standing who did not agree with Walter Grassroot.
Another user, 尤里的1994, had openly called himself a "fascist, nazi, and Nazbol Wikipedian" in zh.wiki. The user page was nominated for deletion, but a snowball keep made the deletion attempt impossible. Have they been warned? Definitely, serious attempts were made on-wiki. Those who were merely desysopped or warned in the latest round of bans, had given them at least tacit support by disregarding these attempts to warn those who violate our rules on civility.
Perhaps the foundation never warned them directly – we don't really know – but it was the banned, desysopped, and newly warned editors who disregarded local attempts to remind them of their civility violations. Their harsh rebuttals and name-calling made attempts to enforce civility rules impossible. After the foundation ban, we suspect that they have publicly doxxed and shamed a specific user through external media, calling them anti-Chinese and a supporter of Taiwan Independence who betrays China and the Chinese people as a whole (漢奸). Bitter replies against their ongoing calls for civility, are added to ultra-nationalist rhetoric, where outsiders call their efforts "Chi-nazi-fication".
Attempts had been made both on-wiki and off-wiki to correct the problems of some mainland editors. Other parties hope to take note of concerns from Hong Kong and Taiwanese communities. Did that work? No. It did not. These malign actors had effectively paralyzed any attempts to resolve civility problems and place the whole community into gridlock.
After the office actions there was an overwhelming majority of users on zh.wiki voting to remove any links to websites controlled by the WMC user group. This is proof that the WMC user group hijacked the community at large, and demonstrates the idea of "community capture", used in the foundation's open letter explaining the office actions.
So, the question is: were they really in good standing according to Wikipedia standards? The answer is no. Were they warned, or at least, reminded of their actions? The answer is yes.
This explains why the foundation calls this a "community capture". It is not the community being controlled by someone or captured by a party purely based on political means, but it is the outright disregard of civility by a small group of users that placed the Chinese Wikipedia in a deadlock, which rendered local attempts to resolve disputes impossible.
For too long, Wikimedians have turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of ultra-nationalist editors in the hope for widened participation from behind the Great Firewall of China. This has unfortunately been turned into complicity with authoritarian abuse. Wikimedia Foundation's recent actions are a step in the right direction: a red line must be drawn, open knowledge must be a two-way conversation, and we will need continued vigilance from the global Wikimedia community to ensure all editors can participate safely regardless of creed, ethnicity, or nationality.