Great moments in online learning. Part III.

Witch burning

Witch burning

Participation at wiki websites is a great learning experience. Participants in a  wiki community can “learn by doing” and participate in an online society (MMORPG) where some get to play the role of god, Pope, sycophantic acolyte, witch hunter, abusive policeman, propagandist, scapegoat, troll, witch, gadfly, etc. There are awards for actors in the film industry and there should be awards for actors in the wikisphere.

Online communities need tools that allow participants to clean up vandalism. Wikipedia is famous for abusive sysops who misuse their sysop tools and who are incivil, perform out of process deletions of non-vandalism content and impose bad blocks. Playing a supporting role, some Wikipedians display great talent in leading witch hunts against innocent wiki participants. After a witch hunt, an abusive sysop can then move in and eliminate the identified witches.

Nominations are now open for the annual Heinrich Kramer award. This award will honor the Wikiversity participant who has done the most to promote witch hunting and mob behavior at Wikiversity.

Thinking = Trolling

Dangerous Learning at Wikiversity (click image to enlarge).

To open the nominations, we can start with 2010 and look with great admiration and pride upon the recent efforts of Wikiversity participant RTG. In a drama that is stranger than fiction, RTG and Privatemusings played the role of star-crossed wiki participants. In a strange twist of fate, Privatemusings started the ethical breaching experiments learning project exactly one year after RTG first edited at Wikiversity.

In what might be called “the calm before the storm”, RTG did not participate at Wikiversity for more than a year leading up to his return on March 12, 2010. RTG was responding to this Colloquium post by Privatemusings.  RTG’s Colloquium post was graced with the edit summary: “bunch of nutjobs”. This is the type of civil discourse that Wikiversity has come to expect from Wikipedians who start participating at Wikiversity.

In an ironic twist for the deletionist/inclusionist dynamic, RTG once left a note for Jimmy Wales in which RTG expressed surprise that the Wikipedia article about astrosociology had been deleted. That Wikipedia article was created on 28 June, 2004 and was deleted on 26 October, 2008, possibly to make room for more notable topics such as Alvin Purple Rides Again.

More irony.  RTG once commented on Jimbo’s page that it would be nice to have a Wikimedia project to support debates. When Wikiversity was started, the project proposal suggested that Wikiversity could have “debate clubs” as a way of supporting “learning through collaboration and discussion”. The first comment on RTG’s Wikipedia user talk page included an interesting subjective evaluation of RTG as a partner in community discussion and mention was made of “appeal to authority“.

Star-crossed editors. RTG and Privatemusings have both shown an interest in the issue of censorship at Wikipedia (examples: “a picture which is obviously part of an artists protrayal of maliciousness towards a small girl“, “personality rights issues“).

In a way, the Wikiversity project was created as a place where people like RTG and Privatemusings can work together to explore their shared interests. Given their shared interests in wiki censorship, we might have imagined the development of an interesting collaboration upon RTG becoming aware of the ethical breaching experiments learning project. In a great moment for online learning, RTG lit a fire under Jimbo and Privatemusings’ learning project was deleted and Private Musings was blocked from editing (without an attempt by Jimbo to discuss the project). RTG characterized the “ethical breaching experiments” learning project as being “a project designed to attack Wikimedia” and congratulated Jimbo for deleting it. RTG expressed the view that “ethical breaching experiment” meant breaching ethics, which is exactly backwards. In the firestorm of false accusations, the project was deleted again after being placed under a new name: The Ethics of Breaching Experiments.


Part of any good Wikimedia witch hunt is the ritual of blocking a wiki participant who has violated no policy (blocked without warning or discussion) so that the creator of a deleted page cannot be present at community discussion of the deletion of the content they created.

Also typical of the Wikimedia witch hunt is encouragement of the persecution of witches (often identified by the label “troll”) by authorities (example). During a Wikimedia witch hunt, nobody need bother reading the deleted content and discussing its merits as a resource for the wiki project. It is enough if some authority called the creator of the content “troll” and the content “disruptive”. This is the level of discourse that characterizes “Wikipedia Disease” and its infection of the Wikiversity project.

Privatemusings’ ethical breaching experiments learning project was improperly deleted without prior community discussion. This deleted page should have been reviewed and discussed by the Wikiversity community so that community members could decide if the page was actually outside of the scope of Wikiversity. Definition from the deleted page: “ethical breaching experiment: An experiment which causes no harm in its execution”. The stated purpose of the deleted learning resource was to explore how ethical (this means hat the experiments were to be ethical) experiments “might be designed and executed to best inform policy and practice on WMF projects”. It is not clear to me how this search for an ethical experiment fails to fall within the scope of Wikiversity. The page was obviously a harmless Wikiversity learning project, designed to find ways to help WMF wiki projects like Wikipedia.

Thus, I nominate RTG for the 2010 Heinrich Kramer award. His support for the out-of-process deletion of a Wikiversity learning resource should be studied by all learners at Wikiversity. Maybe RTG and Privatemusings can some day have a civilized debate about the merits of the deleted project. These wiki editors have much to teach us.

Additional Heinrich Kramer award nominations are welcome for 2010 and earlier years.

Note: best supporting actor nominations are also welcome in this category:

related reading

image credits

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2 Responses to “Great moments in online learning. Part III.”

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

    Part I and Part II in this series.

  2. Things like that really, really, really annoy me « Collaborative Learning Says:

    […] experience. As long as Wikipedia fails to correct its problems it will remain the target of “Ethical Breaching Experiments” and hoaxes that aim to either correct Wikipedia’s deficiencies or educate the public […]

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