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Petar Milošević
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An open letter to Elon Musk

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By Smallbones
The following open letter to Elon Musk contains the opinions of its author Smallbones. These opinions do not necessarily reflect those of The Signpost, its editors or staff, or those of other Wikipedia editors or of the Wikimedia Foundation.
It's okay not to like things

Dear Elon,

Try as I might to assume good faith, it's impossible to do so for your tweets of October 22: "I will give them a billion dollars if they (Wikipedia) change their name to Dickipedia" which was followed up by two tweets "(Please add that to the 🐄💩 on my wiki page)" and "In the interests of accuracy".

The only way to interpret those tweets is that they are intentional insults to all Wikipedians. You are effectively calling me and all Wikipedia editors "dicks" on a platform that you control where millions of people can view the insult within hours. Ten days later the tweets had been viewed 18.5 million times.

And you start with a reminder of your wealth "I will give them a billion dollars", letting us know that you are a big shot. In fact, you are now the richest man in the world, according to both Forbes and Bloomberg. Most people don't like it when some rich person insults them and uses their money to justify the insult.

Some basic Wikipedia rules

A fundamental tenet of Wikipedia, known as "assume good faith" or AGF, instructs us to assume good faith on your part, but that's just not possible in this case. As the saying goes "AGF is not a suicide pact". But there are other fundamental policies that you should know about. First you need to know what you have done wrong, what rules you've broken. That's pretty simple here — the flip side of AGF, "don't be a jerk" is the basis of all of our behavioral rules. Originally this rule was known as "don't be a dick", which might seem more appropriate in this case. But the rule's name was changed after a few years, because naming this policy in a discussion was considered calling someone a dick: a "dickish move" as the argument for changing the title went. You can see the quandary this can cause. It's difficult to even talk about the problem with your tweets. So let's just use the new name: "don't be a jerk". The idea behind that policy is easy to explain. Just view the video shown at the top of this page, that's been included in the policy since March 2018.

Another standard rule that you have violated regards inappropriate canvassing. It simply says that if you have a disagreement about Wikipedia, don't call out to everybody you know who agrees with you to change the disputed article. And don't even think about telling them to put 🐄💩 into an article. You are not the first person to try canvassing like this. Soon after Wikipedia was founded, radio talk show hosts would run out of anything interesting to say, so they would talk about something they disagreed with on Wikipedia. Then they would call on their listeners to vandalize one of our articles. So we were forced to create the "inappropriate canvassing" rule.

I shouldn't pile on by naming all the rules that you may have broken, but your phrase "my wiki page" particularly irks me. The policy you have broken prohibits article ownership. We edit collaboratively. It is not your wiki page — you don't own it. It is Wikipedia's article about you.

There is also a rule about autobiography that you should know about, which contains a literary quote as a perfect explanation about why we need it.

It is said that Zaphod Beeblebrox's birth was marked by earthquakes, tidal waves, tornadoes, firestorms, the explosion of three neighbouring stars, and, shortly afterwards, by the issuing of over six and three quarter million writs for damages from all of the major landowners in his Galactic sector. However, the only person by whom this is said is Beeblebrox himself, and there are several possible theories to explain this.
— The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Fit the Ninth

First, the good news

Wikipedians are accustomed to dealing with people who act like jerks and don't follow our rules. The first time you break the rules, you'll usually be let off with a warning. Consider this letter to be a warning.

In fact, there is an interpretation of the rules — and people who will argue this interpretation — that you haven't broken any rules at all. It is implicit in every rule that you have to edit Wikipedia to break the rules. But Wikipedians interpret the rules on a case-by-case basis, and ultimately look to the spirit of any rule, rather than any technicalities. Nothing "implicit" need apply.

There is only one case that I know of where a person who hadn't been proved to have edited Wikipedia has been blocked. This is the case of the paid editing company Wiki-PR, which used hundreds of undeclared paid sockpuppets to insert bias and advertising into articles.

While we blocked all the paid socks, as is normal, we also blocked the company as a whole, including the owners who might not have done any actual editing, and most people associated with the company.

Employees, contractors, owners, and anyone who derives financial benefit from editing the English Wikipedia on behalf of or its founders are banned from editing the English Wikipedia. This ban has been enacted because has, as an organization, proven themselves repeatedly unable or unwilling to adhere to our basic community standards.
— WP:ANI on October 13, 2013 and The Wall Street Journal

In addition, when the company changed its name to Status Labs the ban still applied to the "new company".

What can you do now?

The most irksome part of your behavior is that you didn't need to do any of it. If you want to influence how an article is presented in our encyclopedia, all you have to do is start editing, while following a few of the basic rules as stated above. Anybody in the world can try to influence how an article is edited if they follow the rules. But please remember that your preferences are not any more important than anybody else's, per "no ownership" and "don't be a jerk".

It's best to create an account first so that people can't track your IP address and so that you can get messages on your own talk page. If you want the username User:ElonMusk, there are some minor procedures to go through so that people won't impersonate you. It's a bit like that blue checkmark as it used to apply on Twitter.

At this point you should read our policies on conflict of interest and paid-editing. If you want to edit the article about yourself, or about the companies you own, you will need to comply with the conflict-of-interest guideline and likely the paid-editing policy, which is also part of the site's terms-of-use.

In short, you should not edit the affected pages. Rather you can just edit the talk page, identify yourself as an editor with a conflict of interest, and make a polite and detailed request of how you want to have the article changed.

You'll likely not want to do this yourself. After all, your time is worth a lot of money. So you are allowed to hire a paid editor to do the same thing for you. There's really only one strict requirement — the paid editor must declare that you are paying them, or that you are the client (or both). There's no anonymity for the employer or the client. Also, it's best that you only hire one paid editor at a time. If they work together, or make another editing mistake, or engage in any type of deception, they'll both likely be blocked as sockpuppets. And please make sure that they realize that they have no special privileges on Wikipedia. They must follow all Wikipedia rules in addition to the paid editing rule.


There's a lot of material covered here, so let's do a quick review. You need to respect the following rules if you want to influence article editing on Wikipedia:

  1. Assume good faith
  2. Don't be a jerk
  3. Neutral point of view
  4. inappropriate canvassing
  5. no ownership
  6. autobiography
  7. sockpuppets
  8. no advertising
  9. conflict of interest and
  10. paid-editing

It's really not that hard to understand. I hope you'll join us in improving Wikipedia, while following the rules that apply to everybody.



P.S. – I forgot to thank you for your contribution to the endowment a few years ago. I know how important encyclopedias are to you. Of course your monetary contribution doesn't buy you any special influence in editing.
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@Randy Kryn, The Grid, and Jim.henderson: - (Hey Jim - It's nice to see you around again.)

Dear all, There were about 3 things I was trying to accomplish here.

  1. Musk has said that he has/had Asperger syndrome. Though I shouldn't generalize, in my experience ASD often results in difficulties in communication. I don't like to just say "Oh, that's Elon just being Elon" and give up on him. That's disrespectful IMHO to Musk.
  2. This type of notice is a tradition on Wikipedia - often delivered in a boiler-plate template. Nobody believes that most vandals, or even copyright violators, are going to be magically transformed by these notices, but sometimes helping even one person is a major win for Wikipedia. But where to deliver this notice since he doesn't have a userpage? Doing it on The Signpost works best for me.
  3. I'm hoping that others in similar situations to Musk can read an explanation of how Wikipedia rules work. Very few Wikipedians reach out to tell people about our rules. The community, including admins and arbs, don't do a good job of explaining our rules to folks before they edit. And the rules really aren't clear when you just arrive on-Wiki. The WMF really doesn't do this type of outreach either - well maybe every year or two - say 6-7 times since the Terms of use were changed 10 years ago. They are best placed to do this outreach, since the media and the general population seems to think that they are in charge around here. Well, as a 2nd or 3rd best choice, again The Signpost works for me.

BTW, I'd like to make sure that Musk sees this, but I don't tweet or have any other social media account. If any of you tweets could you send a link along to Musk? (Be sure to put the blame right on me). I'll also try to make sure somebody at the WMF sees this.

Hope the helps, Smallbones(smalltalk) 01:28, 8 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Well said. Yes, maybe the best thing Elon Musk could do in this situation is to edit Wikipedia, to see and experience what he's going on about. A well-placed edit or two on an article that Musk believes needs balance might bring some positive attention to his concern. Standing on the outside looking in, throwing a billion dollars in the air for a dare, with nobody biting at his impulsive yet humorous and generous bait (either at Wikipedia or at the foundation), pales in the light of when Musk realizes that he, too, can and should edit Wikipedia. If he cares enough about something, combined with his obvious and understandable love-hate relationship with the project, he might find himself enjoying a constructive debate that often occurs backstage on article talk pages. Randy Kryn (talk) 04:15, 8 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]

What's stopping X from forking Wikipedia and using its AI and some beefed up form of its Community Notes to disrupt Wikipedia? X could reasonably say Wikipedia nor the WMF will deliver on the 2030 goals, right? (talk) 09:34, 11 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]

Well one thing is money. If two forks are in competition with one carrying advertising and the other not, then the one with advertising will struggle. Another thing is google and other search engines, if you are a competitor of Google, don't expect favours from them if you launch something that needs good search engine results. A third is the community, the difficult part of a fork isn't the technology or hosting, it is the recruitment and building of a community capable of competing with the Wikipedia community. The fourth is that the WMF retains the brand names, so you are launching a competitor to Wikipedia and building a new brand from scratch. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the website formerly known as Twitter is run by Elon Musk, what does he know of building a moderation team for a website, other than what he learned by firing those teams at Twitter. ϢereSpielChequers 14:33, 11 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]
Wrt the statement the one with advertising will struggle I don't think that's how it works in a system that has network effects and other forms of lock-in. Otherwise, many advertising based platforms that rely on free UGC would have much more, and more effective, competition (think YouTube). ☆ Bri (talk) 19:45, 13 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]
I'm assuming that the network effect will be stronger from Google and others who don't want to help the site formerly known as Twitter. But of course reality can change and if the main sites were allowed to collude, then a commercial fork of Wikipedia becomes more viable. ϢereSpielChequers 11:49, 14 November 2023 (UTC)[reply]


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