First Response from the WMF Board

Samuel Klein

Samuel Klein

The Open Letter to the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board of Trustees (shown in my previous blog post) was built around the good faith assumption that there was some truth to the claims made by Mr. Wales after he deleted the Wikiversity Ethical Breaching Experiments project (a copy of the main project page is here). When asked about his out-of-process page deletions, block of Privatemusings and emergency desysop of SBJohnny (see timeline of events), Mr. Wales claimed, “I have the full support of the Wikimedia Foundation” and “This is a Foundation matter“.

The Open Letter has begun to shake out some information from the WMF Board of Trustees. Samuel Klein wrote that Mr. Wales “was not acting as an agent of the Board nor was there any ‘Board authorization of an intervention’.

Can the statements by Mr. Wales and Mr. Klein be reconciled or is it safe to assume that Mr. Wales did not accurately characterize his level of support from the Board? Did Mr. Wales incorrectly claim to have support for his actions from the Board in order to prevent his personal actions from being reviewed and over-turned by the Wikiversity community? Did Mr. Wales’ claim of  “full support of the Wikimedia Foundation” only mean that he told Sue Gardner that he was going to deal with a troll at Wikiversity and she said something like: have fun with that?  The WMF Executive Director does not have the authority to grant Mr. Wales permission to exercise editorial control at Wikiversity.

Will we ever know what constitutes “full support of the Wikimedia Foundation”? We need to know the details of how the Foundation authorized the deletion of a Wikiversity learning resource that was aimed at improving Wikimedia wiki projects. We need to know how Mr. Wales was authorized to impose blocks against participants at Wikiversity, participants who never violated any policies or rules, blocks imposed without any prior discussion or warning and apparently without any chance for the Wikiversity community to object. We need to know how Mr. Wales was authorized to perform an emergency desysop procedure when no emergency existed.

Exactly what authority does Mr. Wales have for use of his “founder” tools? When Mr. Wales was being stripped of his Stewardship, he wrote, “Please take no action until we have finished with a mailing list discussion.” What mailing list discussion? He wrote, “I would support the creation of ‘founder’ group”.  Initially the creation of the Wikimedia “founder” user group was attributed to a request from the Board. However, while Darkoneko initially let that statement stand, three days later he did not agree with that assertion. Thus, it appears that Mr. Wales suggested that he be given special user rights (“founder”) that would give him the powers of a Steward and he was given those rights. Was there any public discussion of this grant of user rights?

It appears that people who were critical of the “founder” rights were “faked” into going along because of the claim of Board involvement in the decision (see).

Similarly, at Wikiversity, Mr. Wales’ claims about “full support” from the WMF were used to prevent the Wikiversity community from over-riding Mr. Wales’ actions (example). Has Mr. Wales ever been given more authority than a Steward? If not, his recent intervention into Wikiversity affairs was a violation of procedures that must be followed by those who are given Stewards tools. Does the Board intend to allow Mr. Wales to exercise editorial control at Wikiversity while claiming that his actions are Board actions?

Privatemusings has now started a new learning project. The entire Wikimedia Ethics project is an example of action research. Action research is a way for members of the Wikimedia community to study their community and seek ways of improving the community. Such action research is a normal part of participation in Wikimedia wiki projects and requires no special oversight or review beyond those already provided for in Wikiversity policy. What does it mean when a few members of an online community try to prevent other members of the community from participating in action research? Have action research projects at Wikiversity been disrupted by Wikipedians who fear having their actions studied?

Image. Photo of Samuel Klein by Flickr user Joi (source); image license CC-BY.

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20 Responses to “First Response from the WMF Board”

  1. Leigh Blackall Says:

    Thanks for the report John. I wonder if Wikinews will accept an article on this? The story is probably not complete enough. Needs more WMF response, and Jimbo’s if his good for it.

  2. John Schmidt Says:

    I plan to individually contact additional members of the Board and ask for their insights. I’ve only found email addresses for two of the Board members.

  3. Gregory Kohs Says:

    John, I’ll predict the response you’ll get from the other Board members:

    “Huh? Whuh? Oh, that. Didn’t Samuel Klein respond on that matter? Generally speaking, Klein speaks for me on that matter, and I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Jimmy Wales to preserve the health of the various Wikimedia projects. He is a champion of free culture and free speech.”

    • John Schmidt Says:

      “I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Jimmy Wales” <– I agree with Jimbo about 99% of the time, but I hope that 1 or 2 Board members take the time to actually think about the wisdom of performing an out-of-process deletion of a Wikiversity learning project that explicitly stated its goal as helping Wikimedia wiki projects. The block imposed on Privatemusings was a bad block, imposed with no warning. Nobody has the right to impose an emergency desysop when there is no emergency. I can't believe that the Board authorized Jimbo to act as its agent and exercise editorial control at Wikiversity. Of course, if they publish a public Board resolution to that effect then I will believe it.

  4. Moulton Says:

    Wales has since made it clear that he did not contact, inform, or poll the WMF Board before taking action. For one thing, he acted just 3 hours after User:RTG posted an alarm on Jimbo’s WP talk page. Even if Jimbo had wanted to poll the Board, there wouldn’t have been enough time to do that.

    I think it’s now fair to say that the WMF Board was entirely out of the loop on this one.

    Jimbo still maintains he had “full support of the Foundation” but that now appears to mean Sue Gardner and not the Board.

    • John Schmidt Says:

      If so, then the question for the Board becomes: do they agree that Sue has the power to authorize Mr. Wales to exercise editorial control at Wikiversity?

    • Gregory Kohs Says:

      You know what this would be like? Remember Dave Thomas, the congenial founder of the Wendy’s fast food chain? He sold out to a corporate buyer way back, but the corporation decided to keep him on in a “spokesman / founder” marketing role.

      Jimbo’s blundering actions as he interacts directly with the projects is something akin to if we had seen (an imaginary) Dave Thomas insisting on visiting a different retail Wendy’s franchise, and serving the customers himself from the kitchen. To stay “in touch” with the customer, of course. But (let’s imagine) that Dave was a racist, hepatitis-infected, nose-picking slob. So, there he would be, manning the grill, calling the other fry cooks “spear chuckers”, trimming his fingernails over the chili pot, flicking his boogers in the french fry grease (“don’t worry, it’ll cook off — I founded this joint, you porch monkeys!”).

      The staff simply pray that the health inspector is never scheduled for the same day, and they cringe for the two hours that Dave’s working, repulsing the staff. But, the customers seem to love it — they’re tickled pink that the “famous founder” Dave Thomas is actually flipping their very own burgers!

      • John Schmidt Says:

        Your analogy between a burger joint and Wikimedia provides memorable images, but it might be best to attempt to provide an accurate description of Jimbo’s actions at Wikiversity. In 2008 the Wikiversity community needed a careful community exploration of the wisdom of letting anonymous editors use Wikimedia websites to publish false information about living persons. Instead, Jimbo blocked Moulton for “incivility” and the Wikipedia rules that allow anonymous editors to publish false information about living persons were imposed on Wikiversity. Jimbo also indicated his belief that Wikiversity was hosting “attack pages”, but the Wikiversity community found no “attack pages” to delete. Apparently Jimbo was “gamed” into intervening at Wikiversity by Wikipedians who did not appreciate having their edit history studied. In 2010, RTG claimed that the “ethical breaching experiments” project aimed to attack Wikimedia and he was able to “game” Jimbo into deleting the project. In contrast to RTG’s claim, Wikipedia and Wikiversity sysops had long been aware of the project and the fact that it was an explicit attempt to improve Wikimedia. Jimbo also imposed some bad blocks and imposed an emergency desysop when there was no emergency. Jimbo should have taken the time to participate at Wikiversity in discussions of his concerns rather than perform out-of-process first strikes with the “delete”, “block” and “user rights management” tools.

  5. Wikiversity participants send an Open Letter to the WMF Board « Collaborative Learning Says:

    Read the Open Letter that was sent to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees by Wikiversity participants.

  6. Jon Awbrey Says:

    Seriously, Dudes, after all this time you still think there’s a Process to be Out Of ???

    • John Schmidt Says:

      Either there is a process by which the Wikiversity community uses reasoning and discussion to make decisions about content (was the “ethical breaching experiments” page within scope?) or there is a process by which god simply smites Wikiversity participants like Privatemusings. I know which process is the correct one. The remaining question is if the Wikimedia Foundation Trustees know which process is the correct one.

  7. Moulton Says:

    More to the point, will the WMF Board instruct Sue Gardner to expressly overturn the demonstrably incorrect process, now that the evidence has surfaced that Jimbo fell for a hoax by someone outside the Wikiversity community. Does Sue still have confidence in Jimbo’s erratic judgment, given the ease with which he was bamboozled.

  8. Gregory Kohs Says:

    @John Schmidt: You lost me when you said, “I agree with Jimbo about 99% of the time”.

    Maybe you need some background reading:

    http://www.mywikibiz.com/Criticism_of_Jimmy_Wales

    • John Schmidt Says:

      I know from personal experience that it would be possible to make a long list of errors that I have made, but I still think I have been sensible in my actions 99% of the time. I have similar feelings about Jimbo, too. However, I think we all need to point out errors when we see them and I have done that with respect to Jimbo.

      • h Says:

        like i probably will agree with the majority of what the chinese communist regime is doing.

  9. h Says:

    it is puzzling with Wales claiming he has the full support of the wikimedia foundation on one side and only a member of staff and a trustee have come out to back him on the other.

  10. Moulton Says:

    M. Scott Peck offers an arresting analysis of a character disorder that borders on villainy:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Scott_Peck#Evil

    • John Schmidt Says:

      I’m also interested in the cultural basis for abuse of power. There seems to be some sort of positive feedback loop by which a few people establish such a culture and other people get sucked in.

      • Moulton Says:

        It occurs to me that abuse of power by Jimbo and those close to him in the power structure has become increasingly problematic over time. It grows like a cancer. Jimbo doesn’t have someone like John Dean to tell him there is a “cancer on the WikiCulture.”

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