The world's greatest online comedy has returned for an encore performance.
This week, the Wikipedia supreme court saw fit to retract certain admin privileges from one of the site's most recognizable figures, UK press officer David Gerard, accusing him of disseminating private user data and "failing to maintain proper decorum in public fora." But following an intervention from Wikimedia Foundation general counsel Mike Godwin - who indicated on a private mailing list that the Wikidecision amounted to defamation - the Wikisupremes have vaporized their ruling, in essence pretending it never happened.
In recent months, Wikipedia has gradually reformed itself into something vaguely similar to, well, an online encyclopedia. Epically self-serving efforts to rig the site's content have been quashed. And we have seen at least the nominal end of the site's knack for killing people who aren't really dead.
But as it waved a kind of goodbye to another member of the old Wikiguard - a group that once ruled the site with an iron fist - the free encyclopedia/massively-multiplayer online game once again showed its unique gift for web-based farce.
Longtime Wikisolidier David Gerard is still listed on the Wikimedia Foundation website as the encyclopedia's UK press contact, and he has for years been part of the site's inner-circle. He was one of the players at the heart of the site's rather bizarre tête-à-tête with Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. You can see a photo of David Gerard in Goth makeup here.
Gerard was one of the few people on the site who could "checkuser" registered accounts (i.e. see the IP address lurking beyond them) and "oversight" data (i.e. remove it forever from the Wikiservers). After a recent public blog post from Gerard, the ArbCom decided to remove these admin tools. According to the ArbCom, Gerard had publicly disseminated what appeared to be private data gained via his checkuser privileges.
As mentioned above, the Wikisupremes also accused him of "repeatedly failing to maintain proper decorum in public fora." We emailed David Gerard to discuss the accusations, but he has yet to respond.
After the ArbCom decision, there was little public outcry in Wikiland. But on a private emailing list that includes the ArbCom and other members of the site's inner circle, Wikimedia Foundation general counsel Mike Godwin popped up to question whether Gerard could take the ArbCom to (real) court over their Wikiruling:
If David chose to challenge this impression in court, would the relevant ArbCom members be able successfully to defend it (assuming an English court had jurisdiction over them)?
There are really two issues here: was David Gerard punished fairly for a *substantive* violation of administrative standards, and has he been unfairly defamed by the implications of ArbCom's recent actions. My strong suggestion is that ArbCom reconsider its decisions, which seem more like arbitrariness than arbitration.
In Wikiland, this sort of thing is a no-no. Wikiland is ostensibly some sort of über-democracy, and Wikifiddlers insist that the Wikimedia Foundation - the not-for-profit that officially operates Wikipedia - keep its involvement in site politics to a minimum.
When we told Mike Godwin that someone had passed us his emails on the matter and we asked him for comment, he said: "I frankly don't believe anyone has passed anything to you of any sort." When we showed him one of the messages, he did not respond.
On the private mailing list, Godwin repeatedly says that the views he expressed about the Gerard situation are personal - that they are not delivered in his capacity as Wikimedia general counsel:
WMF isn't talking to you here...For future reference, when I speak as an official of the Foundation to represent Foundation policy, I sign my full name and include my position on Foundation staff. When I speak as my own self - as a lawyer with a couple of decades of experience at free-speech law and the law of online communities, I sign as
Which would seem to contradict Godwin's first email on the subject, which looks like this:
I've been following this discussion, and it seems to me that the case for removing David Gerard's checkuser and oversight functions has not been made in any way that meets what I as a lawyer would characterize as due-process and evidentiary standards...
Please communicate to all involved my strong personal and professional preference that they reconsider this decision.
The long and the short of it all is that Godwin eventually brokered a deal between the Gerard and the ArbCom. The ArbCom agreed to oversight - i.e. publicly destroy - its decision against Gerard. And Gerard agreed to publicly resign his checkuser and oversight rights.
In Wikiland, this sort of thing is also a no-no. The Wikifiddlers demand that - with few exceptions - Wikipedia keep a public record of everything ever posted to itself. Oversight should only be used in certain rare situations, such as on-site defamation. Naturally, the Wikirankandfile are Wikifurious.
Just another slice of Wikilife. For your enjoyment. ®