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Are Wikipedia administrators human?

By Mila, with Yerucham Turing
To unblock or not to unblock, that is the question … In this blog article, we’ll try to solve the problem algebraically with one variable. Let’s start with an equation:
“Blocks are used to prevent damage or disruption to Wikipedia, not to punish users” + X (the user) states he is not going to edit Wikipedia + Wikipedia:Assume good faith = unblock, right?


Not so fast, say the wikipediots. Oh, those wikipediots! They don’t act as humans, they act as Wikipedians. They don’t speak English, they speak Wikipedian. They don’t use common sense, they use Wikipedian sense. “Trongphu” is a Wikipedian who is active on Vietnamese Wikimedia projects, and is a sysop on one of them. Two years ago he was blocked from the English Wikipedia indefinitely, and his talk page access was revoked. Trongphu had only one way to appeal the block: by sending an email to the list of admins, and that is what he did. Having already had his share of aggravation from the unfriendly English Wikipedia environment, Trongphu had decided to concentrate his efforts on volunteering on Vietnamese Wikimedia projects. Being blocked from the English Wikipedia had hurt Trongphu’s reputation on the Vietnamese projects. This is what he tried to communicate to the list when he requested his unblock:

*I’m requesting an unblock on condition that you will never see me here again. I promise to not edit here anymore, if I broke my promise, you’re welcomed to block me again.
*Please, don’t make blocks punitive. It has become punitive. It is only hurting me.
*It is still making a negative impact on me as a devout editor on Vietnamese Wikipedia. Once in a while, someone would bring up the fact that I was blocked on English Wikipedia to make fun of me.

But what response could one expect from a list, especially if this list is the list of wikipediots? Trongphu got his response. The list decided that in order to get unblocked on English Wikipedia he … must edit English Wikipedia. Are you still following? He may not edit English Wikipedia because he’s blocked there, but the only way to get unblocked is editing English Wikipedia. Go figure …  

Desperate Trongphu turned to the last resort: he came to one of the Wikipedia drama boards, introduced himself and asked for some understanding and some compassion. But wikipediots are not capable of compassion. They use their drama boards to revel in the pleasure of bullying. Kelly Martin describes it thusly:

Wikipedia is full of bullies. This is a common enough trajectory, so much so that it’s the recurring plot of a TV sitcom (“Big Bang Theory”): nerds, fed up with being bullied for their entire lives so far, gain some tiny sliver of power over someone else and use it to mercilessly bully them in revenge. That’s what this is, plain and simple.

I still don’t understand how George Orwell was able to anticipate what Wikipedia drama boards discussions would be like, but he did:

“A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing …

Actually, now I think about it, I wonder if the unblock request is because the user is planning to return to disruptive editing (yeah, I know AGF and all, but the block was for a reason)

screaming …

There is no conceivable reason why you should be unblocked so you can leave the project. If you want to go away, Just go away.

lunatic …

This user is evading their account’s block to make this request after their talk page access was removed for abuse of the unblock request facility.

By that time wikipediot Jehochman had blocked Trongphu’s IP address.

It all seemed to be over and done with, but then Newyorkbrad, who is a senior administrator and a long-time arbitrator, decided to help. After he was reassured that if Trongphu is unblocked the sun will still set in the West, the worlds will not collide, and Wikipedia articles will still show #1 in Google search results, Newyorkbrad did not go so far as to actually unblock Trongphu, but he asked “for some input from other admins”. A day of suspense passed with no inputs from other admins, but then another senior admin, Alison, did allow Trongphu to edit his own talk page in order to submit his unblock request there, and he did. Now yet another senior admin, A fluffernutter is a sandwich!, weighed in:

I think that the sticking point – the potential problem with granting this request – for many administrators is that while Trongphu is exactly right when he says blocks are preventative rather than for punishment, he’s also exactly right when he says blocks are preventative rather than for punishment

Okaay … So, if Trongphu is right, then perhaps the answer would be to unblock him. Right? Wrong. As Sandstein stated:

the user claims that they do not intend to edit Wikipedia again, and if that is the case, they have no reason to be unblocked.

Once again wikipediots were walking in endless, closed circles, repeating each other’s comments, and not only that. As Wikipedia’s co-founder Larry Sanger once said:

I mean, they’re so ridiculously self-important, when they aren’t acting like trolls, and show no sense of grace, humanity, or even style. Admins and even rank-and-file contributors go around making high-sounding declarations and announcements, as if they were government officials dispensing court orders.

At one point during his ordeal, Trongphu asked Beyond My Ken this question: “What I don’t understand is you don’t even know me nor do I even know you. How can you hate me so much?” In response he got this:

You’re a total, loser, pure and simple, and you’ve sullied my clean and empty talk page. I pity vi.wiki if you are one of those in charge. I think I’ll have to reconsider Eric Corbett’s position about shutting down the lesser Wikipedias.

See, Trongphu: there is no logic to the hate of wikipediots.

Trongphu is requesting to be unblocked on English Wikipedia +Trongphu is an editor on Vietnamese Wikipedia = Let’s shut down the lesser Wikipedias = Cut off nose to spite face.

They hate because they hate. Period.

And then, Trongphu was unblocked by Alison.

It’s pretty obvious where consensus is below, at this point, so I’m unblocking this editor. Furthermore, it’s the kindest, most decent thing to do here. Worst comes to worst, it only takes seconds for someone to reblock this account. I’m willing to reach out and unblock this editor so he can be free of this burden and I’m trusting him that he will be true to his word.

It is interesting to analyze the first three sentences in Alison’s comment. The first one was written by a Wikipedian (she’s referring to “consensus”). The second one was written by a human (“the kindest, most decent thing to do”). The third one was written by a person who uses common sense (“Worst comes to worst, it only takes seconds for someone to reblock this account.”) Alison’s statement was good, but in my opinion not good enough. What if consensus had been different? Would the user have been unblocked anyway, and if not, would it have meant that on Wikipedia insanity won over common sense, and cruelty won over humanity yet another time?

The whole affair seems to have provoked some reflection among senior personalities at Wikipedia, as demonstrated by the discussion about it on Jimbo’s talk page, which elicited this comment from Wnt:

We should enact the following reforms: 1) remove all Scarlet Letters from main User: pages. 2) Do not route unblock email requests to /dev/null. 3) because you should actually be ”reading” all unblock requests, mailed or not, there’s no reason not to revoke talk page access only when the blocked user posts a substantial number of unreasonable “unblock requests”, like ten or twenty non-responsive answers, or at least two or three that contain material so problematic (such as “outing”) that you feel the need to ‘oversight’ them.


Image credit: Flickr/DoNotLick, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic 

9 comments to Are Wikipedia administrators human?

  • The whole affair reminded me of a bathroom graffiti I saw many years ago while working for a large bureaucratic entity (defacing a sign entreating you to wash your hands): Common decency and State law (rest angrily scratched out) *scrawled words* have nothing in common.

    For ‘State law’ substitute ‘Wikipedia policy, as acted on.’

  • EricBarbour

    If Trongphu was smart, he’d go back to vi-WP and tell the others that Wikipedia is run by raving sadistic lunatics, convince them to give up. If he was really smart, he’d tell Viet-language media what happened, and make a big stink. I’d suggest he claim racism, that would get attention.

    But no, he’s probably another addict, and just wants to get back in and shoot up again. This kind of abuse is only really effective against addicts, or people who are paid to edit and need the money.

  • Cla68

    That comment by Beyond My Ken is unbelievable. Any self-respecting website would have removed that jackass’s admin privileges immediately after making a comment like that. He’s still an admin “in good standing”, isn’t he?

  • @Cla – Beyond My Ken isn’t an admin. Fortunately ….

  • neved

    And that’s why I would have renamed the blog to: “Are Wikipedians Humans?” because as Larry Sanger said: “Admins and even rank-and-file contributors go around making high-sounding declarations and announcements, as if they were government officials dispensing court orders.” and because as Alison demonstrated one could be a Wikipedia admin and remain a human, and as Beyond My Ken demonstrated one could be simply a rank-and-file contributor and be a Wikipedian in the worst meaning of the word.

  • Hadada

    I just can’t believe it. This person – Trongphu – was banned because they tried to get an article entitled: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_%28Viet_Cong_soldier%29 deleted in January 2012. Here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Apache_%28Viet_Cong_soldier%29 deleted. They said it was false and make made up. The “bullies” attacked him, successfully provoking him and thus earning him a lifetime ban.

    Then all of a sudden almost two years to the day, and without any sense of irony – the same request for deletion is made, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Apache_%28Viet_Cong_soldier%29_%282nd_nomination%29
    And this time it looks like this time, it’ll be dropped. This is the bigger story, that on one day its a nay, then the next it’s a yay.

    It proves Wikipedia is just a slow-turning disc of opinion. It it’s deleted, will no one offer apologies to this Trongphu?

  • Yes, Orwell well anticipated Wikipedia’s admins behaviour with the doublethink!

    We came to the same conclusion in an essay recently published in Italy.
    This essay, currently available only in italian, talks about the impact of Wikipedia on Information Media/contemporary culture, and how the wikipedia articles can be manipulated using a “doublethink” approach.

    Maybe is possible to arrange an article for Wikipediocracy, even this essay is not yet published for english market.

  • Graeme


    Subject Reference:Mad Max was a movie first released back in 1979.

    A Wikipedia Admin (janitor), and user, “DESiegel” aka David E. Siegel, who is studying Neaurobiology at Marquette University tried to edit (16 January 2014) information concerning Stockton Beach available through Wikipedia.

    This edit was reverted/removed 6 minutes later by the creator of the Stockton Beach page, another Wikipedia user and volunteer known as “AussieLegend” who “monitors most articles related to the Hunter Region of New South Wales.”

    “DESiegel” edited into the Stockton beach page information in relation to an article printed by The Newcastle Herald referring to the claim that “no part of Mad Max was done at this site.”

    The reason given by “AussieLegend” for removing “DESiegel”,s new information was a follows:

    “Reverted good faith edits by DESiegel: This opinion piece using multiple non-verifiable sources, one of which is apparently User Wikitout who is indef blocked. the source has to be questioned.”

    So what is the source of my (Wikitout) information?

    The credits at the end of the movie which acknowledge the places filming occurred, various Mad Max web sites and the Australian Film and Sound Archives.

    I have left a reference to “madmaxmovies.com” (Stockton Beach: Revision history, 4 December 2013) after being told by “AussieLegend”, 3 December 2013, that “Hansard reference says in fact, parts of Mad Max were filmed on Stockton Beach and a young Mel Gibson camped in the huts.”

    The Newcastle Herald printed an article (Greg Ray: Mad myths find favour. 6 December 2013) in which Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann, who’s words in the New South Wales State Parliament, created the Hansard record, was “apologetic as he had accidentally misled the house” and “he promised to correct the record when the chance arose.”

    The huts that Mr Baumann had referred to are collectively known as Tin City and were under threat of removal from Stockton Beach when a National Park was proposed.

    Even though no records exist the residents claim that Tin City dates back to the depression years of the 1930’s. Just like the comment by Mr Baumann that Mel Gibson stayed the night at Tin City it would appear that the fishermen who reside in the shacks might be accused of creating a few “facts” to justify their being permitted to retain their home away from home.

    Anyway the point of my long story is that because I have tried to edit Wikipedia, a free and open “encyclopaedia” I have banned or more correctly my internet connection (if I understand correctly) has. I can go to another computer with a different connection and enter a new user name and password and edit again. Yes it is that easy.

    The situation is that because “AussieLegend” is such a bizarre character any information that is changed in connection with “his” Stockton Beach page will possibly result in a automatic ban for the author of the new information.

    The consequences of such a mentality could result in a school or public library being excluded from editing in relation to Wikipedia. Why? Simple.

    “Non-verifiable sources, one of which is apparently User Wikitout who indef blocked. the source has to be questioned.”

    Now here is the point of all of the above…. please go have a look for yourself as Wikipedia appears to have blind faith in its volunteers.

    On the 14th of January 2014, I stated the obvious in the Stockton Beach Revision History.

    “SEE WIKIPEDIA, MAD MAX for reference.”

    I hope you find this funny because if you do I hope you will invite people to go to Wikipedia, enter a user name, create a password ( this is all Wikipedia requires to be able to edit) and then edit in the following….. “Mad Max was not filmed on Stockton Beach, see Wikipedia.”

    I hope Wikipedia will then learn that freedom of information is not an act (play on the Australian Freedom of Information Act) but a right.

    Thanks to Wikipedia The situation has become a bit like that movie where the guy in the white porcelain mask (V for Vengance?) brings down a government simply because everybody is wearing the same mask, but in this case according to Wikipedia I am a “sock puppet” due to the fact they believe I am trying to hide my identity by using different user accounts. If I cannot use a banned user account would I not just create new account. There is nothing secretive about changing my user name form “Wikitout” to “wikitouts”? I have created another name “theaussielegend”. It’s a bit obvious I am not trying to hide. They can believe whatever they want as my information is correct and I have nothing to hide. I am just trying to get rid of a few myths and present the facts as part of history.

    If I write a history of Stockton Beach Wikipedia will probably use the information without my permission, but they will not recognise my edits of their “encyclopdia.”

    If you wish to create change in the world why not simply edit the Stockton Beach information and give Wikipedia “Dalek” (assigned identification) AussieLegend a short circuit with correcting the edits.

    In the TV series Doctor Who the daleks main aim for existing was to wipe out anything that was not a Dalek. A Dalek was originally a human but had its humanity removed. Without humanity the daleks simply exterminated opposition.

    It’s seems AussieLegend is so afraid of his information being permanently edited that he associates Wikitout with all edits in relation to Stockton Beach.

    Seems Wikitout has become a virus that can have a Wikipedia users computer banned at the smallest edit to Stockton Beach.

    Maybe if people really dislike Wikipedia they should do more than complain or just read the above. I can only assume that this is the first time Wikipedia has said that a Wikipedia cannot be used as a reference for Wikipedia?

    I can only assume that a Wikipedia volunteer having his “correct” information removed by another volunteer is something new?

    What is not new is regardless of Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter and the likes nobody appears to have any interest in the world other than the subject they see in the mirror.

    “By the way I have a pimple on my nose.” Sorry thought I was on Facebook.

    Thank you for your time.

    Graeme Steinbeck

  • David E. Siegel

    The above has some significant inaccuracies. AussieLegend and I had a dispute as the the reliability of the sources that support one version or another of the facts on this matter. At least some of the sources urged by the former user Wikitout do appear of questionable reliability, although in my opinion so do some of those now cited in the article. When challenged, AussieLegend provided additional sources to support his view. Wikitout has not, so far, done the same, at least not where I have seen. I have not, so far, fully evaluated these sources, this not being my top priority issue on Wikipedia, and some off-wiki activities also claiming part of my time. But it is on my list of articles to revisit in time. I might add that Wikitout was blocked for repeated disruptive editing, not for inserting info that another editor disputed. His block can be lifted if he accepts responsibility for this and indicates that he will not repeat this behavior, it is an indefinite block, not a life-time block.

    By the way it is incorrect that I am “studying Neaurobiology at Marquette University”, instead I am an online volunteer assisting some students who are taking such a course which involves editing Wikipedia articles.