Great moments in online learning. Part II.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

This is the second part of a series that started with a discussion of censorship at the Wikiversity project. In Part II, I want to focus on the use of blocks and bans to intimidate participants at Wikiversity.

In 2008, Moulton became a Wikiversity participant. He participated in a range of learning projects and the Wikipedia Ethics research project. Moulton worked in accordance with scholarly ethics and the Wikiversity research guidelines. I’ve previously blogged about Moulton’s participation at Wikiversity.

Before coming to Wikiversity, Moulton was banned from participation at Wikipedia. He had stumbled upon some biographies of living persons (BLPs) that violated Wikipedia policy and he had tried to correct them. Unfortunately, he had also stumbled upon one of the gangs of Wikipedia POV pushers that takes ownership of encyclopedia articles in order to advance their agenda. Rather than correct the defective biographical articles, the gang managed to get Moulton banned from editing at Wikipedia.

Moulton became interested in the idea that it is unethical for Wikimedia participants to allow anonymous wiki editors to publish lies about people (famous example), thus, the Wikiversity “Wikipedia Ethics” project was born. Wikiversity was then visited by some of the Wikipedians who had previously banned Moulton from Wikipedia rather than repair the faulty biographies that Moulton had identified. One Wikipedian in particular stated his purpose for participating at Wikiversity as an attempt to get Moulton banned from participating at Wikiversity. That Wikipedian was successful in getting Moulton banned from Wikiversity and he was even rewarded by being made a sysop at Wikiversity.  An effort was made to deleted the “Wikipedia Ethics” project. Of course, Moulton never violated any Wikiversity policy, but he was banned on the basis of trumped-up charges. Such abusive treatment of a scholar who tried to help the Wikimedia projects was a  great moment in online learning.

The main excuse for banning Moulton was that he insisted on using the names of wiki participants who published lies about him. There was no policy at Wikiversity against using the names of participants, but Moulton was banned any how. It is a true embarrassment for the Wikimedia Foundation that a scholar would be treated in this way. There should have been a mature discussion of the idea that true collaboration and authentic scholarship cannot be performed by people hiding behind screen names such as “KillerChihuahua” and “Salmon of Doubt”. Following this atrocity, some honest Wikiversity participants left the project out of disgust and others curtailed their participation.

Wikipedia has a serious problem with not welcoming criticism and fixing its deficiencies. The more that Wikipedia fights against Wikimedians who want to improve the Wikipedia project the more it creates new problems for itself.

In 2010, Privatemusings created a new Wikiversity project called Ethical Breaching Experiments. I suppose that Rosa Parks performed the equivalent of a ethical breaching experiment when she refused to follow the rule that a black person must give up a bus seat to a white person.

The stated goal of the Ethical Breaching Experiments project was to explore the idea that it might be possible to find a breaching experiment that: “causes no harm in its execution, whilst yielding results useful for the greater good, or which inspire positive change”.  The question was, could a breaching experiment be “designed and executed to best inform policy and practice on WMF projects”? The project was deleted and Privatemusings was blocked from editing even though he violated no Wikiversity policy, just as Moulton had been blocked without having violated any Wikiversity policy and just as Rosa Parks had been arrested without having violating any law.

I believe that Privatemusings did find a perfectly good ethical breaching experiment: the Ethical Breaching Experiments project itself. The project shows that Wikipedia is unable to permit well-intentioned individuals from exploring the weaknesses of the Wikipedia project. Certain authority figures of the Wikimedia Foundation seem to go out of their way to attain the same moral standing as others who, down through history, have wildly lashed out at and punished the brave seekers of justice who, ban by ban, arrest by arrest, execution by execution have brought light and liberty to the world.

Wikiversity could be an exciting environment for research into the problems of Wikipedia and a source of ideas for how to make improvements. Instead, knee jerk punishment of Wikiversity scholars drives away honest Wikimedia participants and attracts more abusive personalities who are all too willing to use vandalism fighting tools to punish people who dare to think and explore issues like ethics and justice.

Wikiversity is a place where if there is a problem with a project such as the Ethical Breaching Experiments project, then anyone can click the “edit” button and improve the project. At Wikiversity the culture should be that of a gentle learning environment where there is thoughtful discussion. It is sickening to watch  barbarians rush into Wikiversity and delete content and punish learners, with the barbarians having made no attempt to follow the community rules and first engage in thoughtful dialog. It is amazing that these barbarians imagine they can build an authentic learning community upon such practices. All they will produce is a herd of sheep who bleat “two legs bad” or “two legs better” upon command. As long as foolish censorship and abuse of learners is practiced at Wikiversity,  authentic scholars and honest learners will decide to go elsewhere for their online collaborative learning.

Related Learning Project

Part III in this series.

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12 Responses to “Great moments in online learning. Part II.”

  1. Great moments in online learning. Part I. Says:

    This blog post is part of a series. See Part I.

  2. leigh blackall Says:

    JWS, you’re obviously hurting from this saga, as am I. You’re part 1 reference to the paper looking into governance is insightful enough to this problem. It proposes non-deletion, or inclusion as a way forward through this. I agree. Every controversial situation I have been shown on Wikiversity has in it a flip side of a learnable moment. All it takes is for someone to click the edit button and reshape it. If the person setting up the controversy isn’t swayed, come back another time. Deletion and banning can ONLY push the problem in to worse corners where not only do we all loose the learnable moment, but we suffer with the hatred directed at the project from then on.

    I can almost accept this poor governance at Wikipedia. It is the 4th most visited website in my country, and receives millions of dollars to be the thing it wants to be. But Wikiversity by comparison is a lost further down the celebrity ladder, much like a discussion page behind the discussion page, with the opportunity to create or generate projects with remarkable insight.

    Back to the learnable moment. My thoughts are to work with what we have in reality. Let’s say there is a deletionist culture in Wikiversity. Fine.. work on projects, if a controversy happens, bend with the dominant force, try to negotiate an editable outcome but not to the point of fighting. If it get’s to this point, copy the project out and let it sit outside (such as in this blog) and continue on other projects. There may come a time when inclusion is the dominant culture in Wikiversity, and we can build memorials to a dark time past, including research projects that seek to understand and forgive how it all came about.

  3. John Schmidt Says:

    Thanks for sharing your wise words here. “There may come a time when inclusion is the dominant culture in Wikiversity” <– I hope it is clear that for the first two years of the Wikiversity project it was a place that celebrated inclusionism. We welcomed every new participant, particularly those who were clueless about wiki and making their first inept wiki edit. The project attracted an amazing group of self-motivated collaborative learners. Then the barbarians invaded and we had more serious learning projects: how to run a witch hunt, how to sacrifice a scape goat to the god king, how to lynch a scholar. I have a personal problem with such things. They make me physically ill. People who can viciously assault thoughtful learners and laugh about deleting Wikiversity content, calling weak pages "garbage"…those Wikiversity participants make me physically ill. I can't walk through the halls of Wikiversity without seeing the blood from my colleagues and friends who have been executed by these barbarians. Wikiversity now has sysops who enjoy and support the god king's periodic progroms and they have been emboldened to turn Wikiversity into a deletionist "Wikipedia annex" complete with gags and thumbscrews for anyone who dares to speak the truth or think. I hope that the tide can shift back. I would dearly love to see the barbarians go away….if so I'll show up and wash the blood off the walls and then I will be able to return to a joyous celebration of collaborative learning.

  4. hillgentleman Says:

    the problem is not just deletionist versus inclusionist.
    rather, deletionist very often (but not always) happen to use this mode of thinking:

    clean = good
    i don’t understand and i don’t see how it can be useful = it is useless
    i think it is bad

    now here is the problem: good and bad are often subjective. and sometimes the judgement have to be subjective.
    if we don’t want to make any mistakes that cannot be easily (if at all) reversed, we have to err on the side of caution.

    i know i am preaching to the believers, but these wiki-101 seem to be lost on certain people. c.f. http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiDesignPrinciples

    what can we say? human are amazing. (but compared to the “50-cent gangs” in china, these are just small potatoes.)

  5. hillgentleman Says:

    sorry ; i wasn’t very clear in my previous post.

    what i want to say is that deletionist often have a very strong confidence of their own judgements and they usually wouldn’t listen to alternatives. they are happy in wikipedia which is convergent (after cunningham): e.g. there is one page and one narrative for every topic.

    the problem is that when they try to port their experience to wikiversity, they fail to see the difference between the two sites.

  6. John Schmidt Says:

    hi hillgentleman…you were clear enough. I’ve come to think about the impact of Wikipedia on Wikiversity in terms of a disease model. The dark underworld of Wikipedia has developed a violent subculture in response to constant vandalism and POV pushers. There are Wikipedia admins who enjoy playing the Wikipedia MMORPG that lets them bash vandals and delete pages. They come to Wikiversity and apply the same thinking, but their smash and destroy approach is not suited to a scholarly learning community. Can Wikiversity protect itself from Wikipedia Disease? For years it has been a constant struggle to get the smash and bash deletionists who were trained at Wikipedia to think about using a more thoughtful and welcoming approach at Wikiversity.

  7. hillgentleman Says:

    as i can see, the best damage control at the moment
    is to clarify and document the grounds of the actions of every key participant, and compare them with wikiversity policies and customs

  8. John Schmidt Says:

    I agree that we need learning projects that explore these matters.

  9. Guido den Broeder Says:

    The only advice I will give Wikiversity at this point is to stop being a part of the topic that you wish to research, as the WMF is well beyond repair.

  10. h Says:

    interesting to see the poll divided roughly along English Wikipedia / Rest of the world

  11. Community discussion at Wikiversity « Collaborative Learning Says:

    […] banned. The hitman was successful and was even rewarded by being made a Custodian. I’ve previously blogged about the way Moulton was banned from participating at […]

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