Banned user membership on lists of Wikimedians
Various lists of Wikimedians grow organically: organizing pages for new projects, lists of Wikimedians available for outreach, and others. But when community members with strained backgrounds in other Wikimedia projects are involved (for instance, banned users), there can be negative consequences: other Wikimedians may choose to stay away, and potential partners may get mixed or muddled messages about Wikimedia. In a project that prides itself on openness, transparency, and inclusion, excluding somebody from a list can be a difficult step; but it is sometimes necessary in order to pursue the Wikimedia mission effectively. This essay outlines an optional process that could help when decisions need to be made about who may list him or herself on a page. It also has some comments about how to avoid the issue from the outset.
This essay is meant to address a scenario like this.
Alice was an enthusiastic Wikinews reporter, but her enthusiasm went too far. Controversy over a series of articles she wrote led to her Wikinews account being blocked a couple of times; during the blocks, she was later found to have used sock puppet accounts to continue editing, and to have acted inappropriately toward several colleagues; ultimately, she was banned for a year from Wikinews. Alice's passion for the Wikimedia project was undiminished, and she shifted her attention to other wikis. Among other things, she put her name on a list of Wikimedians willing to help government officials who want to work with Wikimedia, and she began working on a Wikimania bid for her hometown, Springfield.
Problem #1: Government Official Bob, intrigued by the concept of a newspaper "anyone can edit", picks Alice's name off the list as someone to speak to about Wikinews. Alice speaks to Bob and his colleagues, focusing heavily on the issues surrounding her ban. Bob decides that Wikinews is of no use for his purposes and does not pursue the outreach effort any farther.
Problem #2: A chapter in formation on Neptune is in negotiation with local government officials to launch a partnership. The Neptune officials notice Alice's name on the list, and that she is banned from Wikinews. They do not drop negotiations completely, but their perception of Wikimedia's internal coherence suffers, and negotiations slow to a crawl.
Problem #3: Clara (an attorney) and David (a graphic designer) are natives of Springfield, and are longtime Wikipedians with history of disputes. They notice the Springfield bid, but they decide that it would be a bad career move for them to be publicly associated with Alice in a formal position. Although Alice has done nothing wrong in connection with the bid, her unresolved issues with Wikinews loom as a potential threat to the event, or to the reputation of anyone publicly affiliated with the event. Seeing no process for contesting Alice's inclusion, Bob and Clara decide not to join the bid, and move on to other projects. The Springfield bid is ultimately unsuccessful.
Among the pages on various Wikimedia projects are many which provide lists of Wikimedians. These pages have a wide variety of purposes: some represent Wikimedians in a formal position of trust; others reflect shared interest in starting a project of some kind; others reflect Wikimedians interested in various kinds of public outreach; still others reflect votes on proposals.
Some of these pages lack clear standards for inclusion. A user can add his or her own name, but if there is disagreement about whether a name should be included, there is no clear set of criteria, or established process, for resolving the disagreement. Examples include: public speakers; List of WikiWomen; Essentialpedia; Requests for comment/Shut down Wikiversity. This lack of formal inclusion standards is common and appropriate on a wiki; it is a natural outcome of our shared commitment to “being bold” and assuming good faith.
On occasion, however, problems arise from allowing anyone in the world to add his or her name to a list. Some Wikimedians adding themselves have been sanctioned for sustained problematic behavior on Wikimedia projects. Users included in a list may appear to an uninformed reader to have an official position, or at least the tacit approval of his or her peers. It is not uncommon for banned users to include themselves on such lists, with the consequence (intended or otherwise) of appearing to have the support of the Wikimedia community. New Wikimedians, potential partners in the GLAM sector or elsewhere, and other sensitive audiences may look at such pages and be discouraged to find banned users there; and other users may be dissuaded from entering their own names, out of concern for being publicly linked with the banned user.
This essay suggests a model that (1) permits the removal of users from public lists who are under a Wikimedia project block or ban; (2) minimizes the drama and fanfare surrounding such an exclusion, without sacrificing transparency; and (3) allows the party being excluded to preserve his or her dignity to the highest degree possible.
If the following conditions all apply:
- A wiki page invites individual Wikimedians to add their names
- A Wikimedian adding his or her name is under a block or ban at a Wikimedia project
- The blocked/banned user’s identity is publicly known (important: see below if there is any uncertainty about the user's identity.)
- Any other Wikimedian associated with that page deems the blocked/banned user’s inclusion to interfere with the page’s main purpose
a call for consensus for the blocked/banned user’s inclusion may be issued. This call for consensus should have the following:
- A brief statement summarizing, in neutral language, the circumstances behind the user’s block/ban
- An opportunity for the blocked/banned user to write a brief statement justifying his or her inclusion on the list
- A section for others to enter “support” or “oppose” votes and brief explanations
- A clearly advertised end date (seven days may be a good default duration).
If a strong consensus for the user's inclusion on the page has not been demonstrated by the deadline, his or her name should be removed from the page.
If a blocked or banned user has a Meta account that is not clearly linked to his or her blocked account (see condition #3 above), it would be inappropriate to immediately proceed as though the connection is widely known. It is generally best to give the user an option that permits maintaining anonymity, by providing an acceptable outcome that does not include “outing” oneself.
- A good faith effort should be made to contact the user via private channels, and offer two options:
- He or she should clearly and publicly disclose the connection between user accounts, or
- If disclosure is unacceptable, he or she should remove his or her own name from the list in question.
- Only if the user declines both options, or fails to respond in a reasonable amount of time (perhaps 3 days), should his or her usernames be publicly linked by other Meta Wiki users. Even in such a case, the consequences of “outing” the user should be weighed carefully against the merits of a community discussion about his or her inclusion on the list.
The processes described above may be helpful in making difficult decisions around user inclusion on Meta Wiki, and may also serve as a useful model for other wikis. This should not be considered a formal policy, but merely a suggested framework for action when there is disagreement about whether a blocked or banned user should be included on a particular page.
The process described above may be useful in handling an issue that has already developed; but what about avoiding the problem entirely?
When starting a wiki page that invites Wikimedians to sign up, you have a lot of options. Pages often simply invite people to add their names, with little explanation about what the addition means. By adding a few words describing what process you envision, you may be able to prevent future misunderstandings.
One specific option might be establishing separate lists, for a "core team" of people who are carrying an idea forward, vs. "volunteers" or "interested parties" who want to be involved, or just want to be kept up to date. If somebody expresses interest on a page like that, those viewing the page would not have the expectation that they hold a position of authority to begin with.
- Position of trust is a term of art which appears to have a specific legal meaning in the United Kingdom. For the purposes of this essay, the term is used more loosely, to indicate a position in which someone is understood to have a specific role in the Wikimedia projects.
- Pages that have formal processes defining who may or may not be included are not the focus of this essay. Such pages, which generally reflect some of the more important positions of trust in the Wikimedia world, do serve as an important example, though. This would include include lists of administrators, bureaucrats, OTRS volunteers, Trustees, and Wikimedians whose identity has been verified by the Foundation. Each of these pages has clear standards for inclusion; in order to appear on it, a Wikimedian must first meet basic qualifications, and go through a selection process.
- The general problems with uncritical openness are discussed in Joseph Reagle's 2011 book Good Faith Collaboration, in chapters 4 and 5. He cites the Guidelines and Procedures of the IETF Working Group, which illuminate the challenges associated with assessing the role of individuals in a consensus-driven decision making process. Jono Bacon's 2009 book The Art of Community also explores the occasional need to exclude members from an "open" group; see chapter 8, Governance, and especially, p. 255.