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Code of (Mis)conduct

By Rogol Domedonfors

Drafting

The Mediawiki community has been struggling for years with a code of conduct for Wikimedia technical spaces. The impetus came from volunteers at Wikimania 2015, but by September 2015 the discussion had been largely taken over by WMF staff, who appeared at that time to have ample time to micro-manage it. Since early in 2016, the participants in the discussion were mainly staff. The code remained in draft form until the end of February 2017, when the drafting process was declared complete. This is rather dilatory even by the undemanding standards of the WMF. The sorry progress of this project affords some interesting insights into the WMF way of doing things.

Late in 2015, WMF staff started to micro-manage the discussion, and WMF Legal made their first attempt to impose their version of the wording by direct command.

Valerie Aurora and Ashe Dryden

Valerie Aurora and Ashe Dryden (from doubleunion.tumblr.com)

Early in 2016, the WMF staff decided to ask consultants, Valerie Aurora and Ashe Dryden, to help them with the drafting process. It appears that Aurora and Dryden had various discussions with members of staff, face to face and by email, and made various recommendations. The results of that deliberation (and almost all of the details) were not released to the non-staff community. At various stages, mention was made of a report that the consultants had been commissioned to produce, and a staff task was opened to summarise it for publication. There is no evidence that any formal report was ever produced, or that the task to “summarise” it meant anything other than to cobble together the disparate comments into some kind of narrative, and even this task was abandoned – it was certainly pointless nearly a year after those discussions had taken place. So the part of the discussion depending on this advice in general, and the formal contract itself were badly managed.

During 2016 the pace slackened off considerably to the extent that Maggie Dennis, Director of Support, Safety and Programs, declared herself satisfied but not delighted (from her, I take this to be a pretty strong

Like a stick of rock

Like a slogan through a stick of rock

condemnation) but gave the excuse that the work was “secondary to main work tasks” – odd, since this was a formal Phabricator task T90908. This lack of planning and follow-through runs through WMF projects like a slogan through a stick of rock.

One reason for the delay has been that WMF Legal has mandated that in situations where there is a complaint involving a member of WMF staff, the details of the complaint must be sent to the WMF, all other assurances of privacy aside. (This is not actually permitted in some jurisdictions.)

This of course means that when a volunteer makes an allegation of misconduct against a staff member not only will they face the prospect of all the personal details of the incident being passed to a large company with no known confidentiality process, but that company will have a legal team and tens of millions of dollars ready to protect nothing but their own interests and reputation. The chilling effect of this is so obvious and has been pointed out so often, that it must surely be entirely conscious and deliberate on the part of WMF Legal.

Doublethink

Analysis of the !votes (‘not-votes’ as Wikimedians cutely call votes) shows that most of the support, especially in the closing stages, came from WMF staff, contractors, interns, and affiliates, with many of them posting under their non-work accounts, to the concern of volunteers. We can see this at two levels.

WMF and Not WMF

WMF and Not WMF

Firstly, as an obvious ploy to deflect the criticism that this is a WMF staff run venture, and that the principal beneficiaries of it will be WMF staff, who have an interest in having it imposed on the proletariat.

Secondly, as reflecting what appears to be a quite genuine case of doublethink. Some staff and others believe that when posting under their non-staff accounts, they are genuinely different, that their opinions are genuinely independent and they are able and entitled to act whenever they want as if they were not staff members at all. This splitting of their identities allows them to avoid what Lukacs called the tragedy of the bourgeoisie – that in order to effectively exploit the proletariat they must develop a class conscious that explicitly enlightens them to the essentially exploitative nature of their own existence. Doublethink allows them to simultaneously know and not know this, and fracturing the identity is a mechanism for achieving doublethink.

Of course, it’s causing them immense psychological harm too. Can nothing be done to help these people, perhaps among the worst victims of the Wikimedia way?

Duplication

It is further worth noting that the WMF has managed to run parallel, largely unconnected, discussions on the same topic with no apparent cross-reference. In this area, apart from the Code of Conduct for Technical Spaces we have the community proposal (IdeaLab) Wikimedia Code of Conduct (adapted from open source Contributor Covenant) which was proposed on Meta in May 2016 and the grandiose Board pronouncements on Healthy Community Culture, Inclusivity, and Safe Spaces in December 2016, which may or may not have been dependent on the announcement that the Wikimedia Foundation received $500,000 from the Craig Newmark Foundation and Craigslist Charitable Fund to support a healthy and inclusive Wikimedia community announced in January 2017. There is no published connection between these initiatives, probably a reflection of an internal lack of coordination within the WMF (other theories are available).

Delivery

Finally, we come to the ratification of the code. In the early days, when there was a reasonable amount of participation by non-staff, it was agreed that the code, when finished, would be submitted to the community at large, who after all were going to be bound by it, for final ratification. This consensus was overturned by staff, who chose to assert that the Code would come into force as soon as it was drafted. It happens that one of the few recommendations of the two consultants which I have managed to get sight of recommends precisely this – I do not know why. The code has been declared effective on the say-so of the WMF Engineering Community Manager.

So there we have it. A code of conduct requested by the community for their own protection, which has been drafted mainly by WMF staff, on the basis of advice and deliberations restricted to WMF staff, and which has been imposed by authority of the WMF, designed to give WMF staff a privileged position vis-a-vis the community in matters of personal conduct and safety.

Could this have been handled worse?

17 comments to Code of (Mis)conduct

  • Checking the checkers

    “Could this have been handled worse?” If you are referring to how you composed this post, I’d say no. The purpose of this blog, or so people have been told over the years, is to present issues to the wider public in an accessible and digestible form. All we have here it seems is one of your forum posts, with added pictures. Please do better next time. And maybe pick a topic that is of interest to the wider world? As a final note, please don’t keep pretending you don’t know why WMF staff have dual accounts, or rather, who it is that forced them to have them. You were told all about this before, just because you ran away from that venue, doesn’t mean it never happened. If anyone takes notice of this post, and that is doubtful IMHO (but I understand the desperate situation Wikipediocracy has found itself in these past few years), you can expect this obvious example of spin to be used to discredit the entire piece, just as the WMF/Wikipedians have been doing to sub-par critical efforts for years. As you have also been told before.

    • Cry much in your sleep, Checking?

      • Checking the checkers

        It’s gonna be fun watching Rogol get to know the real Greg, the one who has shown time and again he couldn’t be less interested in the contents of blog posts like this, even if they were actually any good. No angle to go after Jimbo, no angle to get paid editting legitimized….. How long has it been, that you’ve carried this grudge? Rogol is quite a few bricks short of a load, it seemingly takes him quite a while to pick things up, but even he is going to eventually figure it out – everybody on this site not named Greg only has one purpose, bringing views to your sad little agenda.

  • Rogol Domedonfors

    Why WMF staff have dual accounts, and whether they should or not, are not questions addressed in this post. The issue is how they have used them in the creation and imposition of this code. Other volunteers have expressed the opinion that some use was at best confusing and at worst deceptive.

    • Checking the checkers

      The first comment was free, made in the wider interests of the critic cause. The price you will need to pay if you want me to respond to your reply, is apparently not one your budget stretches to.

  • Hey, Dark Knight, I seem to recall you promised to give Wikipediocracy & any other interested fellow travelers a blogpost. Frankly, I’ve been away from WP and all its islands for a while, and so the early tackles in this article “micro manage… micromanage.. even in that time…” (etc) didn’t lend the article the cred it could have had. It is an interesting and perhaps symptomatic story, even if it might actually be good that Wikipedia is generating paying jobs for young people. Will “The Community” follow their example? The NGO / foundation / charity timelines I’ve read are being edited for pay are perhaps the “tip of [yet another emerging] iceberg”.

    I’m looking forward to it. (Not the iceberg, your blogpost…)

    • Checking the checkers

      He came to his senses and realised he would rather die than contribute to this failing enterprise. Anyone wondering why a serious Wikipedia critic would choose not to associate with Wikipediocracy, can find me at Wikipedia Review, since Zoloft has a policy of not depressing his own dwindling membership by entertaining any serious discussion of what went wrong and why. This site is a shadow of what it used to be, that’s a basic fact, accept it, own it. Still, it has survived for five years, so pop the corks guys!

      Hey, Rogol, wasn’t one of your specialisms interrogating people as to whether or not they could accurately measure their success, or had given serious thought to the effectiveness of their strategic choices wrt to stated goals. Don’t tell me you’ve gone all shy in your new home….or did your time elsewhere give you a proper grounding in just how uninterested Zoloft et al are in such things? Come on, give us all a laugh and ask these jokers what’s up. Even with your selective memory problems, you can’t have forgotten all the questions the Wikipediocracy critics are all dying to know the answers to.

      • Wow, Checking… three days later and you’re still bawling a sea of salty tears?

        • Checking the checkers

          Quite the opposite. After being totally ignored for no other reason than I was criticising the critics, it was hilarious to see what finally prompted Wikipediocracy to man up an acknowledge me – an offer of a blog post to revive your flagging fortunes. Of course, that wasn’t you, it was Zoloft. It would never even cross your mind to work with someone who hated you if it ultimately benefited this site, your ego doesn’t allow it. That’s the real Greg. You should really stay silent, because when you don’t, you just keep proving to people what you really are, mostly the people here labouring under the impression you’re a Wikipedia critic. How many people is it now, who have left this site, citing you as the reason? Credit to Zoloft for trying to keep it afloat, even though his hands are tied as far as removing the person who keeps drilling holes in the hull. Give it up Greg, pass the domain to someone whose motives cannot be questioned, and who will stop this place from continuing to be a sad tribute act to the very thing it notionally exists to critique.

  • The Master

    Wikipedia Review still exists?

  • One thing that amuses me is that “Checking the checkers” here so lacks even an ounce of original creativity, he had to borrow the name of an actually brilliant Wikipedia user of the same name… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Checking_the_checkers

  • Checking the checkers

    What kind of a loser wastes a cool name like that on yet another round of trolling Jimbo? Oh yes, that would be you. Face it, there are people far better equipped to go after Jimbo and his coterie, so could you realise once and for all that you’re not helping them to do so with these sad little ventures into Wikiland. Indeed you only make it harder, since every critic is just assumed to be your sorry ass. One day the Wikipedians will realise you have been their biggest asset in terms of securing the home front. Indeed, there are signs they already realise it. I doubt you’ve even figured it out yet, introspection isn’t exactly your strong point.

  • Checking the checkers

    I see another of Rogol’s shortcomings, arrogant presumption from a position of ignorance, is alive and well in his new home. At Wikipediocracy Sucks, I tried to persuade him to stop doing that and alter his approach, for the good of the cause, but he preferred to turn tail and run.

    http://wikipediocracy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=199718#p199718

    I would not be surprised if there was someone inside the WMF whose specific job it was to note down all these discrediting gaffes of his, and thus by extension of the site, since he has now been elevated to cub reporter status, in the extremely unlikely event anyone takes notice of blogs like this one, on the assumption Rogol knows anything about anything.

    Not that it appears to have captured anyone’s imagination……even an urging by Black Kite on Jimbo talk for people to come check out WO, they had a new blog post at last, hasn’t seemingly moved anyone to look.

    The sad truth is that this place is chock full of posts which would educate Rogol on what the WMF does and doesn’t do in situations like that (and why), but it appears all the people who wrote it have given up on this place, so as institutional knowledge it is effective lost to new eager beavers like Rogol.

    Come on Greg, prove you actually care about Rogol being here, or aboiut the cause of Wikipedia criticism outside your narrow agendas, by giving him some practical schooling in this regard. Genuinely interested to see if you can navigate that minefield.

    • Rogol has been polite, helpful, and productive here. You’ve bashed him a few times. If you want to comment on the posts here, fine. Go for it. If you bash Rogol again, I’m just going to remove it.

  • Checking the checkers

    Zoloft, don’t say things here you know can easily be debunked, it makes you look really bad, as if you’re simply trying to manage a reputation. You are loathe to admit it on Wikipediocracy due to your policy of no self-criticism, but Rogol’s first few posts here were not very polite, helpful or productive at all. His attempt to mislead people here as to the originality of his posts, and what he did and did not know about all manner of subjects, was easily discovered, by the people you have banned or otherwise forced out. He eventually rectified that potential source of conflict, and we can only speculate if the motivation was his own conscience, or if he was forced into it by your ethics department. He also tried to start a fight with Andy The Grump, apparently in the mistaken belief that unproductive comments like the one he added to a Rogol created thread are frowned upon. As we all know, they are not only not frowned upon, they form part of the fabric of this site. There was other stuff too, all documented in places you cannot get your hands on. As it is, Rogol seems to have figured out what he can and can’t do on Wikipediocracy, and so he seems to have sacrificed certain viewpoints he used to have about what is ethical and indeed effective, in exchange for an environment where his opinions and analyses won’t be challenged the way they need to be challenged in order to prevent further embarrassment to the critic cause. You welcome him with open arms, not because he is polite or productive (writing a blog post that is universally ignored doesn’t look to me to be all that productive), but simply because through his mere presence, he is making this forum look not quite dead yet. Sad.

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