By Mila and friends
Recently, an experienced and prominent Wikipedian, who goes by the user name Demiurge1000, was banned by the Wikimedia Foundation Legal team from ever again working on Wikipedia or any of its related sites. Philippe Beaudette, Director of Community Advocacy for the Wikimedia Foundation, provides a good perspective on how big of a deal such global bans are: “the number of times that the WMF has moved to ban someone from our community like this can probably be counted on one hand.” And he’s right: for more than a decade since Wikipedia was created, there have as far as we know only been four such bans.
The WMF has been very tight-lipped on the reason for the ban, but there are a few bits and pieces that could be used to figure out what was the rationale. According to James Alexander, a manager of Legal and Community Advocacy for the WMF, the ban “was done as part of our ongoing obligation to protect the site and its users.”
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and a trustee of its Foundation, believes that “the Foundation should take a much harder line and ban not just based on the narrow grounds they use today”. He explains that by “narrow grounds” he means “child protection”. So, if the impartial observer were to put it all together, they might reasonably assume that Demiurge1000 was given this “global ban” by the WMF to protect Wikipedians, and most likely to maintain compliance with Wikipedia’s Child Protection policy.
So far so good; it would appear that the WMF is working diligently to protect its users who happen to be children. But is that in fact the case?
If you’ve never heard about Demiurge1000, a good place to start are two Wikipediocracy blog articles that were written about him: Wikipedia punishes child safety whistleblower and ASSUME BAD FAITH. Demiurge1000 exhibits a rather bizarre personality. Because so much of what happens on Wikipedia is visible to the public, we can observe Demiurge1000 describing his own habits to another editor (who identifies as a child), with whom he seeks to cultivate a relationship: “I am online almost constantly (I sometimes take a few hours out to sleep, but not often…)”. Demiurge1000 may be considered by some to be a bit of a jerk, which surprisingly enough was remarked upon even by Jimbo Wales. In fact, Demiurge1000 himself admitted, “I often approach the administration on Wikipedia in an aggressive-borderline-psycho fashion”. But that sort of hostility didn’t get him banned from Wikipedia.
Indeed, Demiurge1000 was liked by some. As a matter of fact, Demiurge1000 enjoyed a long tenure as a self-appointed attack dog on Jimbo’s talk page. When something critical of Wales or of Wikipedia appeared, Demiurge1000 would make it disappear. Wales seemingly condoned, for example, Demiurge1000 calling Wikipediocracy (this well-respected web forum) a “hate site”. While Jimmy Wales has blocked, reverted, or hidden commentary from numerous people who ask him uncomfortable questions on his talk page, Demiurge1000 was given tacit approval, so long as he defended Jimbo, right up to the point when the WMF’s Legal department banned Demiurge1000, possibly out of concern that he may be a pedophile.
As it turned out, the last message posted at Demiurge1000’s talk page, less than 24 hours before the notice of his global ban, was a very friendly one, written by a Wikipedia administrator named Anna Frodesiak. Ms. Frodesiak presented Demiurge1000 with an adorable photo of a bunny rabbit, as a symbol “of happiness and tranquility”, and hinting that more bunnies could be on the way.
But let’s get back to the two blog articles. The first one was published in August 2013, the second one in September 2013. Although neither mentioned Demiurge1000 by his user name, anyone closely involved with “the Wikipedia community” knew that the blogs were about him. So, let’s keep in mind that Wikipediocracy brought concerns about Demiurge1000 to the attention of the Wikimedia Foundation at least 15 months ago, but his global ban only transpired in December 2014. It is clear that not only Jimmy Wales knew about Demiurge1000, but Wales’ invention, the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee, also knew. (This committee, or “ArbCom”, might be described as a group of Wikipedia users who act as witnesses, prosecutors, jurors, and executioners in a sort of Supreme Court of Wikipedia.)
Even if we give the ArbCom, the WMF’s legal staff, and Mr. Wales the benefit of the doubt — that they do not read Wikipediocracy’s blog — were there other means by which they could have found out about problems with Demiurge1000?
There were many.
First, there was an arbitration case, where the whistleblower (re-named “Keith” in this blog article) outlined in public what he saw as the problem with Demiurge1000’s conduct towards underage male editors. Some of Keith’s comments were “oversighted” by Wikipedia volunteers or staff (which means the comments were made invisible to the public, despite Wikipedia’s famous ability to track edit-by-edit histories). But other comments were allowed to stay, though eventually dismissed by the Arbitration Committee:
Pretty much every accusation KW has levelled at Demiurge1000, can be levelled at me – indeed he has in the past. A large number of the editors I have adopted were below the age of majority and the adoption program naturally attracts younger editors with the mentality of a teaching model for learning how to edit. In the same manner, the adoption process attracts those editors who naturally enjoy teaching. I’ve worked with Demiurge in the past and have never once found his behaviour towards these editors to be untoward or manipulative, and therefore find the accusations reprehensible. Therefore, I support an indefinite block from the encyclopedia until such time that KW shows understanding that these sort of accusations are unacceptable. I also agree with FeydHuxtable that an RfA topic ban would be a good idea. WormTT (T-C-L) 08:55, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
Sue Gardner, then the Executive Director of the WMF (who today remains a special advisor to the WMF Board of Trustees and Executive Director), was presented with unsettling evidence regarding Demiurge1000 on her own, public talk page. There’s little doubt that she received this evidence. While the evidence was never deleted, she also simply never bothered to respond.
Let’s face it, anyone could have predicted that Demiurge1000 would be trouble for the Wikipedia community, given that he was twice blocked from editing since late 2012.
Today, regarding the global ban of user Demiurge1000, Wikipedia co-founder Wales states that he’s not “that interested in the details right now”. Perhaps one key problem with Wikipedia is that he has never been interested in these sorts of details. Wales has a habit of blocking out any adverse criticisms of his beloved Wikipedia project. More than a year ago, Wales was personally contacted by at least three people about Demiurge1000. We understand that Wales was presented with some evidence that was not made public. He was given an opportunity to check on the legitimacy of this evidence. He has never followed up publicly on that. Instead, according to an e-mail source, Wales appeared to be satisfied that “Demiurge1000 has made a pledge to not get involved in mentoring younger users again”. Is that sufficient protection for minors, that the suspected offender makes a pledge to stop being a creep?
WMF staffer Beaudette got involved in the Demiurge1000 incident purely by accident. As was his habit, Demiurge1000 had inserted himself in a conversation that had nothing to do with him, and this conversation happened to take place on Beaudette’s staff user account talk page. By the time of that conversation, there had been so much public speculation about Demiurge1000’s conduct toward boy editors (speculation to which Demiurge1000 has never responded publicly). An editor signing in only from an IP address elected to ask Demiurge1000 in the presence of a WMF staff member about a particular case where one of Demiurge1000’s followers posted a notice that Demiurge1000 “enjoys caning naughty boys”. You may think that anybody who is suspected of wrongdoing, especially of the sordid sort Demiurge1000 was suspected of engaging in, should jump at an opportunity to defend himself publicly and dismiss the accusations. Demiurge1000 did just that. However, you may judge whether the quality of his response was more of a defense or a dance:
The questions offered for Demiurge1000’s attention were supported by those all-important “diffs” (snapshots of specific edits). Demiurge1000 was not accused of anything, per se. He was asked to explain some strange posts from what appeared to be minors at his public Wikipedia talk and user pages. The conversation may have made Demiurge1000 uncomfortable, but he did not appear to feel threatened at all. Then WMF staff member Beaudette came out swinging at the anonymous IP editor: “Anon, stop it NOW. You’ve strayed into territory that I won’t condone. And I’m blanking those messages. Philippe Beaudette, Wikimedia Foundation (talk) 21:13, 12 January 2014 (UTC)”.
Then Beaudette seemed to restore Demiurge1000 to the status quo, to condone his online communications with boy editors of Wikipedia. Beaudette said, “I won’t allow the accusations that the anon is making to stand on my talk page. I’ve redacted them. Philippe Beaudette, Wikimedia Foundation (talk) 21:21, 12 January 2014 (UTC)” Nonetheless, some 11 months later, Beaudette’s colleagues in the WMF Legal department would in fact ban Demiurge1000 from Wikipedia.
Perhaps the January 2014 exchange between the IP address, Demiurge1000, and Philippe Beaudette could have been an early warning that the WMF should have heeded more carefully. But no, Beaudette oversighted the uncomfortable questions, making them disappear, leaving Demiurge1000’s responses to stand.
Oversighting on Wikipedia is done only under rare circumstances which may not have applied to the above conversation.
So, seven months before, Wikipedia arbitrator “Worm That Turned” announced that Demiurge1000 was innocent of any disturbing behavior, because Worm had “worked with Demiurge in the past” and “never once found his behaviour towards these editors to be untoward or manipulative.” While we might say that Wales and Gardner may have ignored important evidence that could have pointed toward a creepy online behavior, Mr. Beaudette went further: He actively covered it up, while in the process stretching Wikipedia’s policy on oversighting to fit his mood.
It is very important to emphasize: We do not know exactly why Demiurge1000 was banned from Wikipedia; but whatever it may have been, Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee, Jimmy Wales, its former Director Sue Gardner, and other staff may have missed an opportunity to investigate what appeared (to the dispassionate eye) to have been a case of a disturbing editor engaging in behavior that many months later finally rose to the level of the Legal staff having to act to “protect Wikipedians” from harm.
And while Wikipedians are busy even this month removing commentary and evidence related to Demiurge1000, somebody somewhere may be using the mail server provided by the WMF to engage in inappropriate communications with editors who are minors, and thanks to the WMF’s devotion to user privacy and anonymity, nobody seems to have any means to check on it.
A side note
Why, conversely, is the WMF so secretive when it happens upon a sinister element in its encyclopedia project’s ranks? Why are WMF employees required to sign a “non-disclosure agreement” at their time of hire? They aren’t working on a military weapons program, nor are they working with priceless proprietary formulae for pharmaceuticals. The WMF is supposedly a charitable educational organization whose mission, literally, is to spread free knowledge. So, who or what are they trying to protect with their organizational secrecy? The banned users? Their own staff? Or are they worried about their tax-exempt status, or something else? In cases of child protection, some would argue that once a perpetrator has been judged “guilty” by the Legal team at the Wikimedia Foundation — enough to earn a global block — it is right to protect the identities of the victims. But why cover up the evidence that led up to the antagonist’s banning?
Even if Demiurge1000 were completely innocent of any real wrongdoing, how does the Wikimedia Foundation permanently blocking his user account, without providing any evidence leading to the decision, signify any sort of “fair trial” or “justice” for the person behind the Demiurge1000 account? As long as the WMF keeps secret its secrets, nobody can be sure of anything, not even of the guilt or innocence of a privately banned user. Only one thing is certain… while the “please donate” banners are up and running, doing their annual begging for more cash, the Wikimedia Foundation would rather you know absolutely nothing about why Demiurge1000 was banned from Wikipedia.
Image credits: Wikimedia, Krustilu Productions