Posts Tagged ‘tribalism’

Don’t do more

August 5, 2010
Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, recently blogged about Wikimedia as “a sort of social movement“. Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Interesting question.

What sort of social movement is Wikimedia? If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia as a social movement. If you search the Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Wikimedia Foundation Trustee, Matt Halprin: “The Wikimedia Foundation is a critical player in the growing social movement toward greater transparency and openness.”

Gardner wrote, “Our goal is to make information easily available for people everywhere around the world – free of commercialism, free of charge, free of bias.” If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia bias. If you search the Wikimedia Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Doron Weber, Director of the Sloan Foundation’s Program for Universal Access to Recorded Knowledge about Wikipedia: “…Wikipedia represents a quantum leap in collecting human knowledge from diverse sources, organizing it without commercial or other bias…..”

How does the Wikimedia Foundation measure up for transparency and what about bias in Wikipedia? Wikipedia allows anonymous editors to publish biased information about living people. For example, on March 8, 2006, an anonymous Wikipedia editor created a Wikipedia biography article about a university professor. That anonymous Wikipedia editor violated Wikipedia’s rules that are designed to keep Wikipedia free of biased biographies of living people. When a colleague of the university professor sought to correct the biased Wikipedia biography, he was blocked from editing Wikipedia and his user page was defaced and locked. Rather than follow Wikipedia policy and correct the biased biography, a gang of Wikipedians attacked and harassed the person who tried to correct the bias.

The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians, not content to simply block their fellow Wikipedian who had tried to keep Wikipedia free of bias, stalked him to his personal blog and subjected him to vile online harassment. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians also followed Moulton to Wikiversity and harassed him there, with the stated objective of getting Moulton banned from participation at Wikiversity. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians was successful by gaming Wikimedia Foundation Board member Jimbo Wales into violating Wikiversity policy and imposing an infinite duration block on Moulton, a block imposed against consensus and with no public discussion of the block. The decision to impose this policy-violating  block on Moulton was made by a few Wikipedians acting in secret. So much for the “transparency and openness” of the Wikimedia Foundation. Moulton, who only tried to help Wikimedia, is still subjected to continuing harassment by Wikimedia functionaries. Why are a few “special” Wikipedians and anonymous editors still allowed to force their personal biases on the world by using Wikipedia as their publishing platform? What is the ethical nature of an organization that allows anonymous editors to publish false claims about living people? Why are honest Wikimedians like Moulton harassed and driven away when they try to remove bias from Wikimedia? Should anyone take Sue Gardner seriously when she talks about the Wikimedia Foundation having a goal of being free from bias? (related blog post)

In 2010, a Wikiversity community member created a learning project aimed at finding an ethical means to improve Wikimedia projects. The Ethical Breaching Experiments learning project was deleted by Jimbo Wales, without community discussion, in violation of Wikiversity policy and against community consensus. The creator of the learning project was blocked from editing by Jimbo Wales, in violation of Wikiversity policy. In an effort to impose his misguided disruption of Wikiversity on the community, Jimbo Wales threatened Wikiversity with closure. Sue Gardner threw her support behind the misguided actions of Jimbo Wales.

Sue Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Yes, Sue, why don’t you? Why did you support Jimbo Wales in his misguided disruption of Wikiversity?

Great moments in online learning. Part III.

March 27, 2010
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

Emergence of what?

March 1, 2010

"Your social dynamics suck."

“although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not” – Isaac Asimov

In my last blog post I mentioned SpaceCollective as a learning community that did not adopt the “open to all” community structure that has been adopted by other learning communities such as Wikiversity. In Fiction and Learning, I mentioned Isaac Asimov’s imagined planet of the future, Solaria, where advanced technology and a global communications system did not result in people cooperating with others, rather, each individual pursued their individual creative endeavor. I asked, “Will the internet bring humanity together or will we all self-segregate into warring internet tribes?”

In an essay called The Natural Asymmetry of Infocologies, there is discussion of the idea that within our expanding internet-driven infosphere the relationships between individual learners, “are fundamentally and increasingly becoming more and more asymmetrical.” These “asymmetries” among social learners take many forms including the fundamental fact that, “not all aspects of my infocology are of relevance and of interest to another mind”.

Here is an analogy for the natural asymmetries of social interactions in the infosphere: Several tens of thousands of years ago modern humans spread outward from Africa. Human languages and other cultural features diverged and we are still reaping the “rewards” of cultural incompatibility and tribal warfare.

In this analogy, I’m comparing the spread of human cultural groups over the surface of our planet to the proliferation of divergent information ecologies across the infosphere. My intuition suggests that the infosphere is vastly wider than the surface of Earth. The question becomes, will we find social networking tools that keep us all together as collaborators within the infosphere or will the distances between us grow, resulting in a new era of mutually incomprehensible tribes?

I’m not happy with the idea that, with time, the infosphere will spontaneously develop the technologies that are needed to keep us unified. It seems a leap of faith to say, “the optimal distance is an emergent property of innovative infocologies“. Faith in emergence of a happy outcome sounds like saying we could have prevented tribal warfare if our ancestors had better used smoke signal technology to communicate about their common interests.