Actually it’s about ethics in Wikipedia Journalism

Update 29 Jan 15: Arbcom has made its decision, and I’ve shown what they’ve actually done in my latest post.

Give it its due, GamerGate seems to be a tire fire where the Cracked I posted a month ago about Gamergate – the internet gaming cultural movement with ethical issues. A small, technically adept group trying to pretend it’s bigger than it is and to become a social movement. Of course they are going to make a push at Wikipedia. And of course other people are going to push back. And of course this is going to create chaos that gets escalated to the highest level; The Arbitration Committee (or Arbcom for short). Arbcom are in the process of making their decision, and using a misleading blogpost as source, The Grauniad (copied on RawStory), The Mary Sue, and Gawker are both claiming that something that hasn’t happened yet (24 January 2015) is something that’s already been done and been done badly.

My audience is mixed so I’m going to start with a basic overview of Wikipedia and Arbcom. Feel free to skip to the horizontal line. But it’s important to remember that by Wikipedia standards Gamergate is nothing compared to e.g. Israel/Palestine.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia, in simple terms is the most accurate and most comprehensive general purpose encyclopaedia in existence. (It’s been almost ten years since Nature showed it was on even terms with Britannica and Wikipedia’s only improved since (and has its own article on the subject while Britannica’s given up)). What does this mean?

  • As an encyclopaedia Wikipedia is meant as an overview rather than as a definitive source
  • It needs boundaries as to what to include so that it doesn’t get everyone’s fanfic up there with its own page.
    • The main boundary is the Notability policy (“If a topic has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject, it is presumed to be suitable for a stand-alone article or list.”)
      • “Notable within the community” means nothing. A better test is is there a non-trivial chance someone outside the community would have heard of them
    • Other boundaries like the Biographies of Living Persons policy (No Libel on Wikipedia and don’t use it to hurt people) exist. Incidentally, one of the reasons GamerGate gets little traction on Wikipedia is that the BLP policy and a few sharp admins on the Zoe Quinn article (and a few obvious others) catch most of the obvious accounts. Who slept with whom between living people is not a subject for Wikipedia most of the time.

What is Arbcom?

In theory everyone in Wikipedia should seek consensus. If you believe they always do and that everyone sits down happily I’m selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal, along with a bridge and some Florida swampland. There are two basic problem cases; Content and Behaviour – and anyone who is interested can look at the dispute resolution process. Arbcom is the very top of the tree for behavioural disputes – and its remit is only to stop people behaving badly. And they only see the worst cases.

Arbcom is frequently problematic (the Chelsea Manning fiasco springing to mind) and one running issue with Arbcom solutions is that they appear to take a “Nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure” approach. They do this in part because anyone who’s dug in enough for a case to make it all the way to Arbcom has probably got caught up breaking the Wikipedia is not a Battleground rule. (If you’re insistent enough the earth is round against an invasion of flat-earthers you’re probably treating Wikipedia as a battleground, and if you’re not Wikipedia may end up saying the earth is flat). So a standard and very tempting solution that feels fair for the poor volunteers on Arbcom, dealing with the worst of the worst, is to declare the whole thing a battleground and throw out topic bans all round. Remember: only the most intractable problems with the most dug in editors make it as far as Arbcom. And it’s fairly normal for both sides to get hit hard by Arbcom resolutions – known on Wikipedia as Boomerangs. (A known criticism of Arbcom is that they do not protect established Wikipedians who’ve been baited over people there to cause trouble).

So what’s actually going on?

We’re going to start with Mark Bernstein’s blogpost that makes the basis for the Guardian, Gawker, and Raw Story articles. He claims his basis was on what he calls a proposed decision. Which is technically accurate – it’s called a proposed decision, but is in practice the start of a lengthy negotiation. It’s a collection of options that are on the table and to be handled individually. He looks at a list of options and misrepresents it as a solution that will involve them all. He further makes the strictly false claims that this is a preliminary decision (nope). And that “every feminist active in the area is to be sanctioned”. Nope. And most dishonestly disingenuously, and damningly “No sanctions at all were proposed against any of GamerGate’s warriors, save for a few disposable accounts created specifically for the purpose of being sanctioned.” Once again, nope.

  • The Devil’s Advocate has been an editor of Wikipedia since 2007 and active almost continuously since then.
  • Tutelary’s account has existed since January 2012; she has been active for almost a year and does a lot of anti-vandalism work – hardly a throwaway account
  • Titanium Dragon has been active since 2006.

About the only thing Mark Bernstein’s blogpost says that I can consider accurate is that Gamergate is a problem.

So what’s going on? We’re going to start with the Gamergate Wiki’s “Operation Five Horsemen” which indicates five primary targets that Gamergaters want banned. The five feminist editors that certain news sources are indicating have been banned and they managed to catch a sixth. Their status under Arbcom?

  • The Red Pen of Doom: This is a long standing account with an almost clean record on Wikipedia. Status: Admonished. A slap on the wrist and told not to do it again.
  • NorthBySouthBaranoff: NBSB’s last 3000 edits or so have been on the subject of GamerGate.In there they have claimed sources said things that they didn’t acutally say (twice IIRC) which is an offence against Wiki’s rules. Status: Admonished, possible topic ban. (The vote is incomplete but an admonishment is all that seems likely). Update 29/01 A topic ban. IMO undeserved.
  • TaraInDC: Left the articles long ago. Status: Probable topic ban but the horse is no longer in the barn. Update 29/01 – A warning.
  • Tarc: Tarc has frequent flier miles to Arbcom. Involved in and I believe sanctioned in three previous Arbcom cases. Which means persistent behavioural patterns. Status: Probable topic ban. Update 29/01 Topic Banned.
  • Ryulong: Ryulong has been a problem editor on this on a lot of counts – no side is ever made up completely of angels. Status: Topic ban, possible site ban. Update 29/01: Due effectively to a Wiki-Darwin Award this ended up as a site ban.
  • Gamaliel: The only secondary target Gamergate got anywhere with. Status: Not even a reminder. That’s as close to an “Atta boy” as Arbcom is ever going to give.

So. Five primary targets and one of their secondaries receive judgement. One fails. One does nothing. Two slaps on the wrist (one may be more). So yes, there are a couple of topic bans from Arbcom and possibly a site ban. The only certain successes are someone with three previous Arbcom sanctions  and someone who appears to have genuinely behaved badly rather than merely heatedly. Remember: Arbcom only handles bad behaviour, not content. And there is no side so right they never behave badly.

But this is Gamergate deploying everything. What’s being done to them? Their three long term editors are also catching sanctions. Two of them have already been topic banned but there is a difference between a standard topic ban (which you need another admin to overturn) and an Arbcom topic ban (which you need Arbcom to overturn).

  • The Devil’s Advocate: Active editor since 2007. Everything short of a site ban.
  • Tutelary: Active anti-vandal in good standing. Topic ban from an admin upgraded to an Arbcom topic ban
  • Titanium Dragon: Active editor since 2006. Topic ban upgraded to Arbcom topic ban

On Wikipedia, those are the Gators’ best. And they’ve lost all of them.

This is not in any way a win for the Gators. It’s a decision where both sides lose a little – but the Gators lose what little they had. About all the Gators have left at the end of it is single purpose accounts and accounts they made years ago. There are rules against admins editing and acting as admins on the same pages so the admins picking sockpuppets out of their teeth and watching for single purpose accounts are entirely unaffected. And as I mentioned earlier, this is a storm in a teacup by the standards of the Israel/Palestine disputes and others. And with the Biographies of Living Persons policy and the admin patrol most of the single purpose accounts breach Wikipedia policy fast.


29 thoughts on “Actually it’s about ethics in Wikipedia Journalism

  1. Nice post, but I wish you’d included a “What is Gamergate?” section along with the “What is Wikipedia?” and “What is Arbcom?” ones. I’ve tried and failed several times to figure out exactly who or what Gamergate is. A while back I tried reading the Wikipedia article on it but became only more confused.

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  4. You are saying that NBSB’s has “claimed sources said things that they didn’t acutally say”. If you look at that [“finding of fact”](, an ArbCom accuses them of a “pretty straightforward misuse of sources” by comparing a paraphrase with a direct quote from the first source. However the paraphrase has 6 sources attached, including an MSNBC segment which talks in detail about what happened. The paraphrase might not be the best (I personally found it pretty accurate to be honest), but you have to willfully take things out of context in order to construct a “misuse of sources” accusation here. Smells a bit foul if you ask me.

    • I’m not particularly disagreeing with you here. The handling of NBSB is the part I find most problematic (and I’m disappointed that their topic ban looks as if it’s going to pass; I’ve a planned update to come after the decision is finalised). I also have an issue that if in 500 mainspace edits you find so few errors, and errors that appear to be things that are true, the editor to me appears to be doing a damn good job (I’m sure that I don’t source things with a >99% accuracy). Were I on ArbCom I’d be handling things somewhat differently (and certainly not have passed resolution 14 in the last day or so) but accuracy in what they are trying to do and the overall impact is needed before dissecting what it actually is.

      • This particularly edit was pushed as evidence for “Adds inflammatory material not supported by sources” by TDA, and it looks like ArbCom just swallowed it. I agree with your criticism of the first round of rushed articles, but stuff like this does not make me confident in viewing ArbCom as being impartial / on top of their stuff.

        BTW, just realized NBSB had replied to that accusation on the proposed-decision talk page.

  5. Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve been so busy trying to respond to various flare-ups of the false information being propagated, and it’s good to have this article to point people to. I think that one thing that people also miss by seeing this one case is that plenty of pro-GamerGate edit warriors have been sanctioned in various ways before this. ArbCom is just one “court”, as it were, and trying to paint the whole thing based on this one case (much less a blatant misdescription of the case) goes far from painting the whole picture.

  6. The most important result of this are the articles that have been/will be written about it.
    Seeing Wikipedia and its editors called misogynists in reliable sources might open some eyes to the fact that even those do sometimes maliciously misrepresent data, an insight that was clearly missing for many.

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  9. What is #GamerGate?

    #GamerGate is a group of geeks and nerds that play computer games who get fed up with bossy women and being lied to by corrupt journalists. The only importance of the woman having sex with 5 men is the incident provided evidence of the unethical behaviour by the computer games journalists. Other unethical behaviour included trying to disrupt communication between gamers, rigging award ceremonies and ongoing attempts to turn computer games into propaganda vehicles for extreme left wing views.

    • The only problem with everything you listed is that it’s either had little evidence or been proven false. There was no coverage in return for sex, the journalist singled out at most did a passing mention in a round-up article. The award won by The Stanley Parable won was fan-voted. As for the “ongoing attempts”, there has yet to be any generally credible evidence of such. I believe all the major publishers are still planning to release their war shooters.

      • Michael go back to the source statements. In the official denial by Kotaku it admits to article first and sex a few days later. That is the way most workmen are rewarded – do the job first and get paid afterwards.

        On August 20, Kotaku writer Stephen Totilo released an article on Kotaku[25] related to the questions surrounding their writer Nathan Grayson, one of the five men Zoe Quinn allegedly had romantic relationships with. In the article, Totilo stated that Kotaku’s leadership team found no compelling evidence that any of the claims surrounding the suspected cronyism between Grayson and Quinn were true. Totila also stated that Grayson had only written an article[citation needed] that involved Zoe Quinn when they were still professional acquaintances, and that their romantic relationship didn’t start until after that in early April of the same year, which provided evidence related to Eron Gjoni’s claims regarding Quinn’s romantic affair with Grayson around that time.

        25. Kotaku – In recent days I’ve been asked several times

      • Oh no. Debating opinions is fun.

        Bossy women boss people around, that is give orders to people as if the men and women were slaves she owned.

        • Yes, of course, saying “stop sending me rape threats” is just like being a slave owner.

          You may want to take a pause to realize that you’ve specifically spoken about your group having problems with bossy women, not about bossy people in general. You may want to look inside you and see where that separate valuation in you comes from.

          When you come on here and describe women as being like slave owners, when you insist that a woman having sex must be a payment return, then you’re suggesting that something may be broken about yourself. This is not something unique to you – in fact, most of the “GamerGate is not like that” defenses I’ve seen turn into a few sentences like seeming basically just like what many people feel GamerGate is like.

  10. Wow. The last few comments here have given me more insight into this phenomenon than reading an article ever could have.

  11. You don’t mention editors like Masem who were involved parties in this case but who received no punishment. There are a lot more regular editors involved in this article that the 9 you mention but they did dominate the Talk Page and this will give other editors the chance to participate without reading 22 archived Talk Pages of content.

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