Wikimedia Ethics/Privatemusings' thoughts

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Usual Disclaimers Apply - this page is a sketchpad / sandbox, ideas and opinions are those of the signed contributors, and personally speaking, I tend not to be confident that any of mine are wise, accurate, correct, or even coherent! - In particular, I don't feel particularly good at understanding some inferences or implications of what I note, and am happy to be asked any questions. I seek an open mind, and greater understanding - I'm here to learn! Privatemusings 00:14, 4 August 2008 (UTC)


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This is a sketchpad area which may grow into a more formal structure. At this stage it's really just intended to communicate the areas I am interested in, and where I see interesting issues.

My Story

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It feels important to me to have my own experience and 'backstory' front and centre in a project like this. I'm hopeful that I might be able to offer thoughts greater than the sum of my experiences and biases, but I think openness is important. My particular experience, of late 2007 / early 2008 brings some of the issues below together, and I'm happy to explain / discuss any aspect further. Here's a version of events I made public a while ago.

Rules vs Principles

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A culture focused on rules, without solid understanding of the principles which underpin them is chaotic, with good and bad unintended consequences.

  • "No Legal Threats" policy - recent case study
  • On-wiki vs. off-wiki action within dispute resolution - recent case study
  • In the BLP arena
  • "If a banned user reverts vandalism, what should a good wiki editor do?" - have some people felt that they should put the vandalism back? (I think so) - what sort of internal thought structure leads to this outcome, and why?
  • "If a banned user sees vandalism, what should s/he do?" - (personal experience) - I logged out and reverted it - was I right?

(Pseudo)anonymity and Psychology

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I'd love to get expert advice on this one;

  • Game playing - Wikipedia as 'MMORPG'
  • Leveling up - become an admin / OTRS / crat / arb etc.
  • Form a group / guild to support - does this become defend / attack?
  • Responsibility to real people - is it fundamentally unethical to edit anonymously in some (all?) areas?
  • The 'Don Murhpy' question (paraphrase) "If people are so proud of their involvement at Wikipedia, why do they hide their identities?"
  • Caped Crusader Syndrome? - heroes in their mother's basements?
Issue here is the schism between reality and action, and the amount wiki editors invest in their encylcopedia 'characters'. Interesting to examine whether or not this leads to emotional (visceral?) reactions at times, and whether or not folk are tempted to 'choose the win' - ie. close the discussion by 'beating' the 'opponent'.

Dispute Resolution and ethics

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  • Editor Privacy - sharing of information about 'problem editors', anger at information being shared?
  • What is an 'involved' editor?
  • Block your friends, never your enemies (Lar, I think) - doesn't seem to be universally understood or accepted?
  • Blind Spots + re-inforcement thereof - is this related?
  • Outcomes of blocking / banning - does it work? (see WAS' conundrum)

Power, Influence, Temper and Tantrum

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  • Minefield of 'information management' - is wikipedia an 'alternate reality zone' in some ways? (if I know your name, can I call you by it? If I witnessed a conversation on IRC, can I mention it on-wiki? etc.) - transgression in the wrong 'zone' brings severe consequences!
  • Groupthink - friends are good.. but friends tell each other they're wrong sometimes.... discuss..!
  • several case studies possible

Where responsibility lies within Wiki-systems (internal editing, and external eg. OTRS)

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  • Who is responsible for text when pressing save?
  • Ethically / Morally - should editors assume full responsibility for all text? just their changes?
  • Legally - external advice required.
  • Does OTRS have adequate training and support to match the responsibilities?
  • (happy for the answer to be 'yes'! - just not sure...!


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  • Flagged Revisions - why haven't we got them?
  • BLP - widely recognised problem, no action in many months (years?)
  • The 'Doc Glasgow' Problem (paraphrase) - it only takes a few editors to derail any discussion to the point where consensus is impossible.
  • (softer version) - 'Better Idea' - no action results from being unable to choose between many 'better ideas' - wiki culture seems to accept no action as appropriate problem solving in difficult areas!

Truth and Truthiness

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  • What's true for you is true. (I think that's a Scientology belief?) - is Wikipedia a bit cultish in this department?
  • Is Lying unethical? - Essjay redux + other porky pies...

A Very Wiki World - funny goings on behind the edit button at the Encyclopedia anyone can edit

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I wrote a piece intended for publication with this nominal title in late 2007... had a few nibbles, but it never got the green light. It still might, so I'm weighing up publishing it here too - I'll probably just distill the meat of it into 'My Story' (virtually synonymous anywhoo....)

That'll do for now! - Please do wiki edit away, or ask questions on the talk page, or just poke me to let me know which directions you think are the most productive... In due course I'll start sub-paging, adding meat, keeping on keeping on etc.!

I think I'm going to shift some of the above work into tangible examples at the above page/s - I think it could help with clarity in general at this project...