Wikimedia Ethics/Case Studies/Case 1

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Its authors are committed to maintaining a high level of scholarly ethics.

Case Studies[edit]

See also: Illustrative Examples

After each of the cases presented below, there follows some questions around the critical issues. You are free to write up answers to such questions, or ask questions of your own on the discussion page of this section. We have, in some places, identified the primary author(s) of the various case studies, but please feel free to suggest improvements to the writing; don't be offended should an author revert you. All participants are free to create new sections within this page, or to work in a slightly different paradigm at this page.

Further reading

Managing personal information[edit]

Issues of pseudo anonymity, 'outing', respect for fellow editors, and the need to maintain a collegial atmosphere free from bullying and harassment are relevant to the ethical management of Wikipedia. This section is for case studies related to these issues.

Principles Involved[edit]

Rules (Policies, Guidelines etc.)[edit]

There is a known conflict between the values of privacy and neutral point of view when there is a concealed conflict of interest or sock-puppetry.

Case 1 — An example of problematic behaviour and response[edit]

This example is allegorical, and may represent common ground

User:Foo posted a message to User:Bar's talk page stating "Hello Bar, I know that your name is George Bigginsworth, and that you live at 12 Acacia Lane, stop editing Wikipedia or I'll take this further".

User:Foo is immediately indefinitely blocked, and the edit he made is removed permanently from the database, so as to be invisible to all editors and administrators except the very few with the 'oversight' privilege.

Question
Is that it? Is there anything else we should do?

Case 2 — Information Publicly released in some way[edit]

There are several clear examples - further advice is required about how to manage such details

Some wiki editors have released information publicly, sometimes accidentally, sometimes openly, though in different contexts, sometimes very recently, and sometimes many years ago. In due course we may examine here the specific details of some cases.

Case 3 — 'Privileged' information and competing priorities - w:User:Privatemusings[edit]

this sections is authored by User:Privatemusings
  • Ideas for the structure of this section are most welcome - eg. discussion sections, questions, more cowbell etc.

As the author, and protagonist in this situation, it's possible that unintended biases are unavoidable. As such, I would appreciate vigorous editing of the below to present everything as neutrally as possible. I'd be happy to remove this 'disclaimer' should a strong consensus to do so evolve. Equally, do let me know if you feel this is inappropriate or wrong for any reason. Here's some background too.

This case study essentially examines competing priorities in the management of Wikipedia - the respect and privacy due to individual editors, and the needs of the project as a whole. In some circumstances, some may feel that these priorities come into tension with each other, and this section is intended to promote understanding and further debate, as to how the english wikipedia has handled such situations, and what 'best practice' may look like. These may not be mutually exclusive, of course! It's up to you to form your own view.

I have written the two accounts below to attempt to distill alternate perspectives. Feel free to ask questions, or provide feedback formally below, or less formally on the talk page.

Privatemusings' Alternate accounts[edit]

w:User:Privatemusings was, in late 2007, a self declared 'sockpuppet' account at Wikipedia, meaning that the human behind the account also edited Wikipedia using other usernames. Editing by this account in a contentious area of policy debate was considered disruptive, and some administrators requested information concerning the identity of alternate accounts. This was provided via email.

The information contained in this email was shared amongst various senior wiki administrators, apparently including arbitrators and Jimbo. Privatemusings asserted, and continues to assert, that this was unethical behaviour. When this matter was before the English Wikipedia's Arbitration committee, no comment was made.

Question
Was it ethical, in these circumstances, to share private emails without the author's consent?

Same story, another perspective[edit]

w:User:Privatemusings was, in late 2007 an abusive sockpuppeteer, meaning he broke site policies by creating 8 separate identities. This behaviour can cause severe disruption, and in particular, Sockpuppet accounts are not to be used in discussions internal to the project, such as policy debates. This was confirmed by the Arbitration Committee, the body empowered by the foundation to consider such matters(reference), which also handed down a 3 month ban and an indefinite restriction on Privatemusings working on biographies, where his editing was also extremely problematic.

As problems began to develop, administrators active in the area asked Privatemusings to identify his alternative accounts, and despite him doing so, he continued to cause disruption, as evidenced by several heated discussions on the administrators noticeboards.

The central task of a wiki administrator is to maintain the smooth running of the site, in order to build the best encyclopedia possible, a task which may involving blocking or banning disruptive users. An administrator who had received note of Privatemusings' alternative accounts felt that he was using them in a way clearly contrary to policy, and clearly not in the best interested of the project. It was important to clearly assess the needs of the project at this point, which included asking for advice from several arbcom members, and the co-founder of Wikipedia. Every recipient of this information felt that this was disruptive behaviour, clearly disallowed under policy, Again this was quickly confirmed by the arbcom in the case which followed shortly thereafter.

Question
Was it ethical, in these circumstances, to share information concerning the multiple accounts used, in order to minimise disruption, and maintain policy compliance?

Questions and answers[edit]

most welcome here

  • I sort of feel like this is unresolved to a degree, but it's all from quite a while ago... does it matter any more? Privatemusings 02:28, 28 August 2008 (UTC)
  • Do you suffer some sort of multiple personality disorder? 8 sock-puppet accounts say something about it... Davichito 03:19, 25 October 2008 (UTC)

Criticism and feedback[edit]

Please use the talk page for general commentary, or post a concise response on your own terms below;

  • Answer to the first question: I think it does not matter at all. Everyone on wikis know what sock-puppetry is. You are not bannable for that. It is pretty common on wikis. And plus, you understood how you were wrong, so there is no point in keeping the heat on it, IMHO. But, as always, I may be wrong... maybe this page has a purpose I do not see. --Davichito 03:32, 25 October 2008 (UTC)

See also[edit]

Glossary[edit]

Sources and notes[edit]