Posts Tagged ‘Wikiversity’

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?

Community discussion at Wikiversity

July 12, 2010

Ever wonder how a group of collaborators in a wiki community can reach consensus about contentious issues? The Wikimedia way is to block a wiki participant who disagrees with you. If your block stands, it will intimidate everyone who does not agree with you. Below is a recent community discussion at Wikiversity, presented in wikitwit format.

A community discussion at Wikiversity

A community discussion at Wikiversity.

Background. In 2008 the Wikiversity community was invaded by a wiki-hitman from Wikipedia. The hitman created a puppet account and declared his mission to be getting another Wikiversity participant 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 Wikiversity.

When a gang of thugs from Wikipedia invaded Wikiversity and tried to get Moulton banned, he objected to the false claims that were published about him by that gang. Moulton’s common practice is to use the names of people who persistently publish false claims about living persons. Some of the invaders from Wikipedia objected to Moulton’s use of the real names of other editors, although doing so was not against Wikiversity policy.

At the time, I proposed that the dispute over using real world names be dealt with by crafting a Privacy Policy. It is now two years later, and there is still no Wikiversity policy against using the real name of a fellow editor. Indeed, the professional academics on the site routinely call each other by their real names.  Of course, lack of a policy does not prevent a few Wikimedia functionaries from erratically imposing policy from Wikipedia upon the Wikiversity community. On that basis, Jimbo Wales banned  Moulton from editing at Wikiversity. I view the banning of Moulton as unfair and disruptive, depriving the Wikiversity community of Moulton’s expertise and knowledge. I view the persecution of Moulton to be a serious violation of Wikiversity policy. It is against the civility policy to call for unjustified blocks and bans.

Recently there was a fresh initiative to make the Privacy Policy an official policy (so far it is only proposed). I was participating in the process of developing that policy and it was natural to discuss the need to protect Wikiversity participants and other living people against the publication of libelous claims by anonymous wiki editors. I said, “Wikiversity participants need common sense protections against the unsubstantiated claims of the anonymous editors“. I also made this point: “Calling IRC chat ‘private correspondence’ is false.” In the context of these issues arising from the proposed privacy policy, I mentioned:

“The main problem is a gang of abusive sysops who make unsubstantiated claims about honest Wikiversity participants. When the honest Wikiversity participants object and challenge the unsubstantiated claims, the abusive sysops ignore the objections or impose blocks and censor community discussions so as to silence the objections.”


“The problem is that #wikiversity-en has been systematically disrupted during the past two years by abusive sysops who misuse their channel operator power.”

Another Wikiversity participant objected to my mention of how Wikiversity sysops have previously abused their power and he blocked me from editing. Rather than come to my user talk page and discuss his concerns, he blocked me and posted accusations about me on a page that I cannot edit. This situation is what prompted the ludicrous discussion illustrated in the figure above.

The discussion. During the discussion (see the figure above) I was forced to post my comments on my user talk page while other editors used another page. During the discussion, Moulton tried to participate, but his contributions to the discussion were reverted by the sysop who had blocked me from editing.

I think that Moulton was improperly blocked and should be allowed to edit at Wikiversity. I view continuing efforts to ban him from Wikiversity as a serious violation of Wikiversity policy. I don’t believe that the “block” tool should be used to end discussions at Wikiversity, but it would have made more sense to block the wiki-hitman who attacked Moulton. Moulton and I preferred to study the wiki-hitman’s behavior.

I think the Wikiversity community still has much to learn from the events of the past two years. In particular, Wikiversity policy needs to be developed so as to protect the Wikiversity community against invaders from Wikipedia. Doing so would allow the Wikiversity community to return to its roots, the peaceful community of collaborating learners, as it existed from 2006 to 2008.

Wikiversity:Community Review/Problematic actions

Things like that really, really, really annoy me

June 16, 2010


"And so we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research — but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects." (Photo by Curtis Palmer)

In May of 2005 a Wikipedia editor entered false information into the Wikipedia biography for John Seigenthaler, Sr. The false information was not discovered until September 2005 after which it became known as the Seigenthaler incident. In response to the publicity generated by this and other similar cases, Wikipedia restricted page creation (see: Wikipedia Signpost 2005-12-05 “Page creation restrictions”) and created new guidelines for biographies. The Wikipedia community continues to struggle with biased and false content in its biographical articles.

Yesterday Wikipedia began testing a new tool for catching casual Wikipedia editors who add unhelpful information to the encyclopedia. Of course, anyone who wants to add false information about living people to Wikipedia can easily defeat all of the lame “safeguards” that Wikipedia has put in place. The larger problem, that goes beyond just Wikipedia’s  “Biographies of Living Persons”, has always been Wikipedians who use the encyclopedia project as a platform to purposefully harass and slander people, particularly critics of Wikipedia. The Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons policy page was started in response to the Daniel Brandt “situation“.

I linked “situation” to the 14th round in the argument at Wikipedia over the issue of having a biographical article about Daniel Brandt. The casual user of Wikipedia might wonder how there could possible be a never-ending argument about whether Wikipedia should have a biography of Daniel Brandt. Daniel Brandt has been a vocal critic of Wikipedia, “the basic problem is that no one, neither the trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, nor the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible for the content.” Actually, problems at Wikipedia go deeper than that since there are Wikipedians who actively use the encyclopedia to harass people and publish false information about people and Wikipedia has not taken common sense steps to prevent such abuse.

It would be easy for Wikipedia to require that anyone adding information to biographical articles edit Wikipedia under their real world identity. This would allow those who post false claims about people on Wikipedia to be traced and subjected to legal remedies that protect us all against libel and online harassment. Under the leadership of Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia has persistently avoided its ethical responsibility to take simple steps that would prevent Wikipedia from being used as a platform where Wikipedians can publish false and harassing claims about people.

Many educators are astonished that the Wikimedia Foundation, an education-oriented 501(c)(3), fails to operate in an ethically responsible manner. Since many people assume that what they see in Wikipedia is true, some educators have tried to help make clear to their students that Wikipedia cannot be trusted. For example, history professor T. Mills Kelly’s learn-by-doing project created a hoax biography on Wikipedia (Edward Owens). In addition to showing how easy it is to put false information into Wikipedia, the course, Lying About the Past,  helped its participants learn to, “think critically about the impact of media past and present on our daily lives and views,” quoting one student evaluation.

What was the response of Jimbo Wales to this successful educational project? “To ask students to deliberately hoax Wkipedia is a very bad thing“. Wikipedia editor Moulton was similarly dismayed when he came across this version of the Wikipedia biography for Rosalind Picard.

Rosalind Wright Picard is Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Laboratory. She holds Doctor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. She has been a member of the faculty at MIT since 1991 and a full professor since 2005.

With over a quarter of a million biographies, Wikipedia has many biographical articles about university professors. In 1997, Dr. Picard published a book entitled “Affective Computing“, an innovative branch of Computer Science which studies how to make systems that recognize and respond to human emotions. One might guess that her Wikipedia biography would have been started in order to describe her scientific research and seminal contributions in Digital Signal Processing, Pattern Recognition, Affective Computing, and Autism Research. However, that is not the case.

On Feb. 21, 2006, The New York Times published “Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition” by Kenneth Chang. The petition comprised a two-sentence statement, “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” Dr. Picard was one of a group of 105 scientists, researchers, and academics who agreed with this statement when it was circulated (in E-Mail) in academia in 2001.

On March 8, 2006 the Rosalind Picard article was created by an otherwise unidentified pseudonymous editor named “Tempb”, by copying Picard’s online Faculty Profile and adding a section called, “Intelligent Design Support”. It is clear that the purpose of the author of the biography (User:Tempb) was to craft an article that labels Dr. Picard as a supporter of Intelligent design and as “anti-evolution“. Notice that the Wikipedia user account “Tempb” was a single purpose account, used only to push into Wikipedia the conclusion that Dr. Picard is anti-evolution and a supporter of intelligent design. Note that “Tempb” is an experienced wiki editor who decided to use a “throw-away account” in order to make a biographical article that violated the Wikipedia policy on Biographies of living persons, part of which said: “Editors should be on the lookout for the malicious creation or editing of biographies or biographical information. If someone appears to be pushing a point of view, ask for credible third-party published sources and a clear demonstration of relevance to the person’s notability.”

Wikipedia editor Moulton tried to correct the problems with the Wikipedia Rosalind Picard biography. For his trouble he met stiff resistance, was harassed and was soon blocked from editing Wikipedia. Astonished by his treatment at Wikipedia, Moulton began to study Wikipedia and the Wikipedians who use the encyclopedia to publish false and misleading attacks on living people.

I first became aware of User:Moulton on or about 4 August 2008, even though he came to Wikiversity on 9 July 2008. When I first saw Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia I linked it to an existing Wikiversity topic, Topic:Wikipedia studies. At that time I did not have any knowledge of Moulton’s editing history at Wikipedia. I started studying the sorry history of how Administrators at Wikipedia drove Moulton out of Wikipedia rather than support his good faith efforts to fix a policy-violating biographical article. As a Wikipedia Administrator, I am frequently horrified by the sickening behavior of other Wikipedia Administrators who abuse their sysop power and do damage to the Wikipedia project. After an initial study of what happened to Moulton at Wikipedia, I established some objectives for further study.

1) Has the Wikipedia:WikiProject intelligent design attracted a group of editors who damage Wikipedia by trying too zealously to defend Wikipedia against creationists and other editors who question evolution by natural selection?

2) Is Moulton an example of a Wikipedia editor who was unfairly treated by editors associated with the Wikipedia:WikiProject intelligent design?

3) Is there something we can do to prevent this kind of problem in the future?

During the past two years my research into these kinds of issues at Wikipedia has revealed that, right from the start,  several important Wikipedians “set the tone” for using Wikipedia as a platform for fighting battles against “fringe science” and religious groups that are viewed as cults. One of these Wikipedians remains as a paid employee of the Wikimedia Foundation. There is need for further research into the institutionalized practices of the Wikimedia Foundation that allow Wikimedia wiki projects to continue to be used to publish false information about living people.

The main work page for my research into Moulton’s experiences at Wikipedia attracted the attention of Wikipedians who ultimately tried to have the entire Wikiversity Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia project deleted. One Wikipedian came to Wikiversity and stated his reason for participation as being an attempt to get Moulton banned from participating at Wikiversity. This “wiki hit man” was ultimately successful. Jimbo Wales blocked Moulton from editing and declared him as being globally banned from all of Wikimedia.

Wikipedia remains a website where its participants can publish false information about living people and never face consequences for their actions. Wikipedia remains a website where Administrators and other high officials protect policy violators and ban good faith Wikipedians who try to correct Wikipedia’s problems. Given the anonymity that is given to Wikipedia editors, it may be that the Administrators who protect policy violators (like User:Tempb and his buddies) actually are alternate user accounts of the policy violators. Who knows?

Participation at Wikimedia wiki projects remains an educational 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 about those deficiencies.

Image. Photo by Curtis Palmer, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

First Response from the WMF Board

April 13, 2010
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.

Wikiversity participants send an Open Letter to the WMF Board

March 31, 2010

The following letter was drafted at Wikiversity.

Open letter to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees

April 7, 2010

To: Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees
Wikimedia Foundation Inc.
149 New Montgomery Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105

Dear Trustees,

As members of the English language Wikiversity community we direct your attention to matters of concern to the Wikiversity community. We seek a clear response to our concerns from the Board.

Mr. Wales has claimed to have full support of the Wikimedia Foundation for his recent use of his “Founder” rights at the English language Wikiversity. Our understanding is that the Board of Trustees gave Mr. Wales his “Founder” rights so that he could continue to function as a Steward. In non-emergency situations Stewards do not make unilateral decisions; they discuss matters transparently and are supposed to follow local processes and community consensus. We believe that Mr. Wales misused his “Founder” tools to intervene in a non-emergency situation. Specifically,

  1. Mr. Wales deleted Wikiversity learning project pages without following the established community process for discussing page deletion decisions. We believe he should have discussed, edited, or suggested deletion of the learning resources;
  2. Mr. Wales has imposed unwarranted blocks against editing on honest and sincere Wikiversity participants who (unlike Mr. Wales) followed community guidelines. We believe he should have discussed blocking participants with Custodians and, more specifically, made sure he would be able to explain specific reasons for his actions rather than force his actions on the community by means of uncivil name-calling (“troll”);
  3. Mr. Wales performed an unwarranted emergency desysop on a Wikiversity Bureaucrat when no emergency existed. We believe he should have calmly proposed to the community that the Bureaucrat’s tools be removed;
  4. Mr. Wales bullied the community by threatening Wikiversity with closure and called thoughtful Wikiversity participants “trolls”. We believe he should have participated in civil discussion of his specific concerns with the thoughtful and sincere participants of the Wikiversity community.

The Board should be aware that the Wikiversity pages deleted by Mr. Wales were known to Wikiversity Custodians and they constituted a thoughtful search for ways to help and improve WMF wiki projects. Please note that Mr. Wales only discussed his initial deletion of this Wikiversity learning resource on his user talk page at Wikipedia. Only after the actions of Mr. Wales were made a matter of discussion at a Wikiversity Community Review did he offer an explanation for his actions. Mr. Wales stated his belief that the deleted learning resource was not “genuine”, was “silly and juvenile”, constituted an attempt to “hijack Wikiversity” and “get back at” Wikipedia, was “pure sophistry” and all he did by deleting the learning project was “deal with trolling”. However, we ask the Board to ask: why do honest and sincere Wikiversity participants not agree with this assessment of the deleted learning resource? The project’s stated goal was to search for an “ethical breaching experiment” which was defined as: An experiment which causes no harm in its execution, whilst yielding results useful for the greater good, or which inspire positive change. If there were problems with this learning project then they could have been fixed by discussion and page editing.

Mr. Wales has repeatedly failed to respond to our concerns and questions at his Wikiversity user talk page, the Wikiversity Community Review of this matter and at the Wikiversity Colloquium community discussion page. His failure to address the concerns of the community prompted this letter to the Board.

We request that the Board of Trustees hold a public discussion where members of the Wikiversity community can discuss our concerns with the Board and have them addressed. We believe that the intervention into Wikiversity affairs by Mr. Wales was an unwelcome intrusion and interruption of on-going community processes. We believe that had community processes been followed by Mr. Wales then a mutually agreeable solution could have been found that would have addressed Mr. Wales concerns while maintaining community integrity and health. We request that the Trustees in particular clarify how and in what ways Mr. Wales was authorized to use “Founder” tools at Wikiversity. If he has special authorization from the Board, beyond Steward rights, that authorization needs to be public and clear. Without clarity in this matter, the relationship between the Board and the Wikiversity community cannot be one of mutual understanding, respect and trust. We believe that the Board should then hold a public vote in which the trustees all clearly state whether through its agent, Mr. Wales, the Board of Trustees will continue to exercise editorial control and make unilateral decisions at Wikiversity when no emergency exists.


User:JWSchmidt John Schmidt

User:Jon Awbrey Jon Awbrey

The real irony here is that many of the people expressing these concerns have spent the last half decade publicly calling for Mr. Wales to exhibit decisive leadership in fixing the BLP problem on Wikipedia — instead of doing that he has chosen to strong-arm the people who are documenting the seriousness of the problem.

User:Leighblackall Leigh Blackall

User:Hillgentleman from English and Beta Wikiversity

My deepest concern is that someone who claims to be advocating better policies for the community cannot see that he himself has time and again shown disregard for both the community and their procedures.

User:Erkan Yilmaz

User:Jtneill James Neill

I am particularly concerned by the lack of clarity in the role of ‘founder’, “Its [founder] roles in various Wikimedia projects are not yet defined”, which seems to provide significant potential for incidents such as this one.

Countrymike Brent Simpson


User:Moulton Barry Kort – These unjustified, unbecoming, and indefensible interventions into the conscientious work of serious scholars has damaged the morale and integrity of Wikiversity and has brought lamentable discredit to Mr. Wales.

Note: this letter was drafted at

The text of the letter was finalized at the end of March and a printed copy was sent to the Foundation in April. Wikiversity participants can sign the letter …. additional places where you can sign: A, B.

Related reading: timeline of events and links to related resources, including copies of the deleted pages.

First Response from the WMF Board

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

Great moments in online learning. Part II.

March 21, 2010
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.

Great moments in online learning. Part I.

March 17, 2010

This is the first in a series of reflective blog posts about online learning at Wikiversity. In Part I want to discuss the topic of censorship at Wikiversity and its impact on learning. Part II is about bad blocks imposed on Wikiversity participants who never violated any Wikiversity policy. The following screenshot provides a convenient starting point:

censorship at Wikiversity

Censorship at Wikiversity

The image above shows that the Wikiversity page about censorship at Wikiversity was deleted at 5:32 on 16 October, 2009. This was a great moment in online learning. Why is discussion of censorship censored at Wikiversity?

Related reading: “Identifying and understanding the problems of Wikipedia’s peer governance: The case of inclusionists versus deletionists” by Vasilis Kostakis.

Vasilis Kostakis mentioned the fact that decisions about wiki page deletion at Wikipedia are often swayed by notability concerns. We can ask: Is notability important for decisions about content deletion at Wikiversity? Interestingly, almost four years after its inception, the Wikiversity community still does not have official guidelines for making content deletion decisions. If a Wikiversity participant is interested in learning about a topic, should it matter if the topic is “notable”? Would it be unwelcome if someone had a novel idea and wanted to explore it at Wikiversity? No. Wikiversity even allows original research.

However, some Wikimedians have never been comfortable with the inclusion of original thinking at Wikiversity and some Wikiversity project participants have even suggested banning from Wikiversity any topic not found in the curriculum of conventional educational institutions. Other Wikiversity participants think that Wikiversity’s scope should be broad and defined by the interests of its participants: if you are interested in learning about a topic then you should be able to explore that topic at Wikiversity. Such differences in opinion about desirable content at Wikiversity lead to conflict and have contributed to paralysis in the Wikiversity self-government process. Is free and open learning too dangerous, is free thinking too radical of an idea to find a place inside the Wikimedia Foundation?


The Wikiversity:Censorship page was not in the main namespace, it was in the “project namespace”. The “project namespace” at Wikiversity is named after the Wikiversity wiki project, so it is called the “Wikivesity namespace” and the names for all of its wiki pages begin the “Wikiversity:” prefix.  The project namespace is a collection of “meta” pages: “The Wikiversity namespace is a namespace containing pages that provide information about Wikiversity.” A typical page in Wikiversity’s project namespace is Wikiversity:Namespaces, which describes the various types of wiki pages that are grouped for convenience in the various “namespaces”.

We can ask why some Wikiversity participants found it useful to create and edit the “Wikiversity:Censorship” page and why other Wikiversity participants found it necessary to delete this particular page. The community discussion leading up to the deletion of the page can be read here. Additional discussion of censorship at Wikiversity (discussion which was itself censored)  is on this talk page. When did censorship of Wikiversity begin?

The roots of censorship at Wikiversity can be traced to the first year of Wikiversity project. The early community of learners at Wikiversity was interested in setting itself apart from Wikipedia. For example, rather than have “administrators“, Wikiversity has “custodians“. An attempt was made to use “rounded corners” for buttons in the graphical user interface of Wikiversity webpages. For example: the image near the top of this blog post shows “rounded corners” on the “create” button. A Wikipedian complained about the use of rounded corners at Wikiversity and so Wikiversity was not allowed to use rounded corners. This was an incredibly trivial example of outside influence being applied to Wikiversity, but it was a sign of things to come and it started the process of Wikiversity participants first noticing that Wikiversity was never going to be free of unwanted and disruptive interference from Wikipedia.

The conflicting points of view with respect to content removal at Wikiversity began early with the “problem” of “red links“, as mentioned in my blog post, Deletionists vs content development. In the early years of Wikipedia there were many “red links” in Wikipedia’s encyclopedia articles and they were useful for showing which new pages were needed. People saw red links and wrote the needed articles and the links turned blue. With time, Wikipedian’s came to view red links as a problem and they were banished from Wikipedia. An early symptom of “Wikipedia Disease” infecting Wikiversity was people who tried to imposed the relatively mature Wikipedia project’s dislike of red links to the brand-new Wikiversity. Thus, quite early in the existence of Wikiversity the question became: is it possible for the Wikiversity community to do what it needs to do for its mission without interference from Wikipedians imposing inappropriate and unwelcome rules from Wikipedia on Wikiversity?

This question began to grow in importance when banned Wikipdians started to participate at Wikiversity. Why can’t Wikiversity participants who follow Wikiversity rules be allowed to participate at Wikiversity? Enraged Wikipedians began to descend on Wikiversity and demand that anyone banned from participating at Wikipedia also be banned from participating Wikiversity. This kind of Wikimedia cross-project ban “policy” is still enforced today. In other words, the Wikiversity community does not control the fundamental decision of who is a welcome participant at Wikiversity. That decision is made by outsiders who impose their decisions on the Wikiversity community, without discussion (see). Similarly, decisions about page deletion have been imposed on the Wikiversity community from outside. This is unwelcome censorship.

Conflict at Wikiversity over censorship first came to a boil when Wikipedians decided to prevent Wikiversity participants from studying problems at Wikipedia.  For example, a Wikiversity study of a particular violation of Wikipedia’s policy on biographies of living persons (BLP) was attacked by Wikipedians who were responsible for that policy violation’s existence and long continuance at Wikipedia. An attempt was made to delete the entire Wikipedia Ethics project, which explored Wikipedia as an example of online media and how editors at Wikipedia publish false claims about people. A Wikimedian who participated in the “Wikipedia Ethics” project had previously tried to correct a violation of Wikipedia’s BLP policy and for his trouble he was banned from both Wikipedia and Wikiversity (more details about this are described in Part II of this series).

Emboldened by externally-imposed and out-of-process censorship of Wikiversity, the censorship of Wikiversity was soon extended to efforts by policy-violating Wikiversity sysops to prevent the policy violations of sysops from being discussed by the community. By late 2008, the “hostile take-over” of Wikiversity by participants suffering from “Wikipedia Disease” was complete. According to an odious and unwritten rule, it is now a blockable offense at Wikiversity to discuss the censorship of Wikiversity. A large number of honest Wikiversity participants were disgusted by these shenanigans and left the project, leaving it in the hands of a gang of thugs who enjoy participating in the censorship of Wikiversity and banning Wikiversity participants who dare to ask questions about the problems of Wikimedia wiki projects. When the honest scholars of Wikiversity are banned and driven away from the project, then Wikipedia Disease spreads and Wikiversity sinks to the level of Wikipedia complete with witch hunts, kangaroo courts…..use of the delete button replaces use of the “edit” button.

A collaborative online learning community such as Wikiversity must have tools to protect the community from vandals. However, the existence of such a community as an authentic learning community can easily be destroyed by abusive administrators who use the vandal-fighting tools against the honest learners and scholars of the community while letting policy violators become the police. Wikiversity needs to be returned to the custodianship of thoughtful and honest learners who think, discuss and learn. The unwelcome invaders from Wikipedia who delete, block and prevent learning must be removed.

Summary: Casual observers of Wikiversity might think that there is no censorship of Wikiversity because the wiki page for documenting censorship at Wikiversity has been deleted. The censorship  methods at Wikiversity are analogous to the methods employed by Max Amann. Censorship occurs at any institution, but at Wikiversity you are not allowed to discuss the acts of censorship that occur and the reasons for them. I think it is healthy to talk about everything taking place in a learning community. Discussion is a great way to learn. Why can’t the Wikiversity community discuss the censorship of Wikiversity?

The history of Wikiversity provides a good case study for how to censor the content of an online learning community. Wikiversity attracts thoughtful participants who want to improve Wikimedia wiki projects, but they have been prevented from participating in their studies and discussions of existing problems. Rather than discuss and improve Wikiversity learning projects and research projects, Wikipedians  have unilaterally imposed Wikipedia’s content and editing rules on Wikiversity. This has been highly disruptive to the Wikiversity community, particularly when Wikiversity participants who have never violated a Wikiversity policy are attacked, their contributions to Wikiversity deleted, and their participation at Wikiversity even blocked by invaders from outside who can’t be bothered to participate in the wiki culture where collaborators edit pages in order to improve any perceived problems at Wikiversity.

Next. Worse than the censorship of Wikiversity content is the abusive treatment of Wikiversity participants who dare to ask questions about the failings of Wikimedia wiki projects. If you look at the top of the image on this blog post you can see mention of a block of a Wikiversity participant. In my next blog post I will discuss the abusive treatment  of honest Wikiversity participants by Wikimedian’s who think that banning honest and thoughtful Wikiversity participants is the way to build an online learning community.

Additional reading: another Wikiversity deletion discussion. Another. There are many. The struggle continues.

Part II of this series.

Active Learning at Wikiversity

March 15, 2010
Thinking = Trolling

Wikiversity Learning Project

How Wikipedia defines the scope of the Wikiversity project.

Image credits. Statue of Liberty by William Warby and Jumping Woman Sculpture by Harold W. Olsen. CC-BY-SA

Related reading.