An open letter to Jimmy Wales

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This place is hell. When a person recently contributed to an article, a system administrator immediately began complaining to everyone watching the page, except to the person attempting to contribute to Wikipedia. This occurred even while the person was working with another editor to quickly revise into some sort of relevant copy the raw notes the person had dumped into the article.

Later, when a person complained about the matter on an open page where complaints about administrators are logged, a small group of editors, mostly with sysop privileges, took turns deleting the communication. The word "troll" and "trolling" were soon tossed about, and before long a similar IP number as that used by the now-beleaguered writer appeared on a blocked list, alleging "Trolling" for having discussed sysop behavior.

There is no definition for this term troll, except that it is a person who refuses to die and go away after somebody here with a few friends decides they don't like the person. The practice is as repulsive and immature as calling a person "nigger."

Later, a poll appeared that reflected some concerns the person shares about the false claim that "you can edit an article now." First, an administrator posted a vote for deletion on the poll page. Then, another administrator deleted the page, and deleted references to the page from the list of polls, suggesting it was not an official poll. The vote for deletion process was not even an inconvenience to the vigilante campaign that hastily suppressed dissent. Yet, the content so anxiously deleted was not errant or malicious content from educational articles; it was a serious contribution to sections of Wikipedia intended for discussing problems.

Ad hoc blocks, seat-of-the-pants bans of people who are making legitimate albeit unwanted criticisms, deletion of work offered for free ... these are all part of contributing to a Wiki project. But slander, libel and personal attacks by administrators must stop, and now. A review of contributions by those who so quickly attacked the writer involved in this incident reveals a pattern of deleting articles, confronting writers in a coarse manner for the primary purpose of removing content, and dominating conflict pages to assure the conflict is described from the entrenched sysop's perspective. A few timid editors occasionally chime in to defend content at question in these personal attacks, but from what I've seen, to maintain a viable handle here for long, one must either agree with or steer clear of the "troll" hunters.

The person in question has not addressed this matter privately perhaps because the person was not confronted in private. The hasty critics who began deleting the new contribution did not create an IP based talk page and invite the person to discuss the edits. As previously stated, they addressed their comments to the group, with the exclusion of the contributing editor. The person has not established a persistent handle, and does not intend to, on this site because it is not required and it is evident that handles have become another element of a process in which personality matters more than content, at least in some sections of the wiki project.

It would be advisable that the project establish clear policies about why a handle or IP can be banned. Clear policies about admin behavior would be helpful, and sysops that cannot clearly separate editing from sysop chores should be required to spend time editing without the privilege of blocking their way out of whatever conflicts they cause. Otherwise, it appears once a person joins the sysop club, they are divine rulers for life. Criticizing sysops, or criticising the project on a page constructed to invite criticism is neither abuse, vandalism or trolling. Participating in edit wars is not a preferred means of communicating, but is acknowledged throughout the site as routine. When experienced editors carrying sysop powers start edit wars, the practice must be somewhat acceptable.

In this case, the complaint was about abuse of sysop powers and the action recorded in the banned IP log states the action was to block complaints about abuses of sysop powers. Operating a so-called open project that methodically invites then blocks participants is unethical, but that is status quo for the culture that produced this project. Calling people trolls, however, if addressed to a non-anonymous identity is libel. Anonymity of writers serves to protect the project as well as the writer because a rogue sysop cannot incur harm against the project by libeling an anonymous contributor; it just tarnishes things. However, if a contributor provides personally identifiable information and is then the victim of libel, they have cause to seek relief. It would be advisable get this libelous chorus under control.

(footnote: this letter is written from a third person voice not to deceive but to protect those involved. This is not about personalities, or about the incident described, for that matter. It is about how sysops are allowed to address contributors, and about whether processes of group-self-criticism are to be allowed room to function. For that reason focuses on use of the term, and not on the anecdotal evidence described herein)