Talk:Wikimedia Foundation membership controversy

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The Thadman, not sure whether you're still around, but in the hope that you see this, a question has arisen about your petition to restore membership. Do you remember whether that was presented to the board or discussed with them in any way? SarahSV talk 20:33, 27 January 2016 (UTC)

w:en:Special:Contributions/The Thadman indicates he's still around (latest edit is November 27, 2015). It might make sense to leave him a note on his English Wikipedia talk page and/or e-mail him. --MZMcBride (talk) 02:34, 29 January 2016 (UTC)
@MZMcBride: I've emailed him and left a note on his talk. SarahSV talk 22:47, 19 February 2016 (UTC)
This is probably far, far too late to say anything about this (as I'm only on here sporadically and often don't check my messages) but wow, that's a blast from the past. I do not remember whether it was presented to the board or not, but it certainly did circulate. Steve Caruso (talk) 23:04, 15 August 2016 (UTC)


On 19:38, 6 September 2008 Sean Whitton deleted page wmf:Membership with the reason Badly outdated; Anthere has requested removal of a sort..

On 20:11, 1 November 2008 Az1568 deleted page wmf:Membres with the reason content was: '{{delete|Target deleted by SeanW at Anthere's request}}'.

On 20:11, 1 November 2008 Az1568 deleted page wmf:Talk:Membership with the reason content was: '{{delete|Article page deleted at Anthere's request, no reason to keep talk page.}}'

They might be relevant to the history; both have incoming links. They also had more incoming links, which have been removed, such as wmf:How you can help (added by Anthere/removed by Cary Bass June 2007)

John Vandenberg (talk) 22:34, 27 January 2016 (UTC)

+1, Let's rescue that history from the archive! I wonder how one would request an undelete, without staff privileges to write to the Talk page? Adamw (talk) 11:14, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
There are lots of admins there: wmf:Special:ListUsers/sysop, mostly staff. but including a few ex-board members like user:Anthere and User:Sj who might be able to at least confirm whether there is anything of historical value on those pages. Might be better for those deleted pages to be exported and imported into meta, so-as to not have content on the wmf wiki that isnt wanted there. John Vandenberg (talk) 13:54, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

Anthere has graciously restored the content:

Rough consensus email?[edit]

It says:

The rough consensus was that legal membership would be more democratic, and would give members legal recourse in cases like emergency recall of a rogue Board member.[1]
  1. anders, effe iets (August 11, 2006). "bylaws". foundation-l (Mailing list). 

That email actually says (in part), "What is more democratic: A foundation where a board rules with two *community* representatives and a third who promises to vote with them if they agree, or a board elected by a maybe more select group of members? I am not sure, but I think this is the kind of questions whe should think about.". So while it considers the possibility that legal membership would be more democratic, the author is not certain on that regard.

Furthermore, I don't know where you got "would give members legal recourse in cases like emergency recall of a rogue Board member".

If this claim comes from another contemporaneous email, or other emails, you should make that clear. Mattflaschen - Talk 05:20, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

Thanks for pointing out how misleading this is. What I should have said rather than "rough consensus" was that, the few people who wrote approvingly of membership might have been able to agree on a small number of things, such as formal membership being a useful democratic safeguard. The conversation is much more interesting than that, however, so I'll try to replace this paragraph with some direct quotes that show the breadth of the of suggestions that were made.
Adamw (talk) 06:04, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

Recordkeeping requirements[edit]

Not going to get (re-)involved in this discussion, but happy to answer historical questions to the best of my ability. Other issues aside, implementing a system of membership consistent with say, the California code or the Florida code requires associated recordkeeping of names and addresses [1][2], which seems like a potential no-go, since it would make truly pseudonymous membership impossible, at least if only a literal interpretation is defensible. I don't recall what Brad's take on that specific legal question was at the time.--Eloquence (talk) 10:33, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

Thanks for the clarifying note! The pseudonymity question was the most convincing argument working against membership, IMO. Roshuk suggested that we could tolerate pseudonyms and P.O. box delivery (e.g. care of 149 New Montgomery St.) or email address on our membership roster, as long as there was no intent to defraud. By this standard, we actually would have satisfied the recordkeeping requirements. I'd like to discover whether there have been any Florida court cases around this. Adamw (talk) 11:14, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

WMF never had members[edit]

It is often said that WMF never had members. I'd like to understand how this could be correct. If I understand correctly, Jimmy Wales was granted life membership by the initial bylaws. So there was at least one member.

The other two original trustees could have skipped being members and paying dues as a consequence of bylaws "The initial Trustees shall be elected by a majority vote of the Trustees and shall serve until their successors are elected and qualified. .. The remaining initial Trustees shall be Jimmy Wales, Michael Davis and Tim Shell."

However the problem of membership arises when the the community elected trustees took their seat. At least according to the bylaws posted online in 2004 (is that the exact 2003 original founding bylaws?), which says:

"All trustees must be active (contributing or volunteer) or life members of the Foundation."

The two community elected trustees could only have taken their seat if their status was a 'member', satisfying the provisions of the bylaws for members, and in compliance with the state laws, such as keeping of a membership register. Did that register exist? Did they pay a nominal amount of dues, or was their membership dues waived due to bylaws regarding being in the class of members having edited the wikis ? John Vandenberg (talk) 13:45, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

w:en:User talk:The Thadman/Give Back Our Membership#A few clarifications is related. Erik says "It never received any membership application or recorded any membership information -- its number of members was and remains exactly 0. Actually that's not quite right -- since Jimmy was explicitly granted life membership in the Bylaws, he may or may not legally have been a member." --MZMcBride (talk) 02:32, 29 January 2016 (UTC)
I seem to remember Danny Wool mentioning that there were members of the WMF, 2 or 3: himself, & at least one other woman. Then the idea of membership was abandoned for various reasons.

I've been looking thru his old blog, -- now gone, but has several snapshots of it -- but I can't find where he reminisced about it, so I can't provide the requested citation for this. And I'm growing depressed by the number of fiascos & questionable Foundation activities he documents there, so I stopped looking to do something more productive with my time. -- Llywrch (talk) 18:39, 1 February 2016 (UTC)

The "never had members" argument can be unpacked, it contains several tensions:
  • Nobody knew about the formal membership, vs. membership rights were being drafted on several WMF pages.
  • Nobody believed that they had membership, vs. they were automatically members due to contributing to projects.
  • The Foundation did not do adequate paperwork to inform the State of Florida about their members, vs. our user database was in fact a membership roster.
There's no question that the bylaws were tricky to implement as they were written, and the Foundation didn't allocate the resources it would take to do so properly. However, the "never had members" claim seems to me to hinge mostly on the last point above. Adamw (talk) 23:02, 28 February 2016 (UTC)

Time to move to a membership system[edit]

Moving to a membership based system and having those members elect the whole board would be one possible step out of the current mess. It would be a clear sign from the Board that it wanted to rebuild relations between the community and the WMF, and to turn the WMF into an organisation that serves the movement.

If membership requires compromising on privacy then some Wikimedians might choose not to become members. Others might join but then choose to have an alternate account for spam fighting. Some might choose not to exercise membership rights, but still be reassured that they could do so if they wished. All that said, if anyone with 500 edits on Wikimedia sites could become a member, and maintain that membership for as long as they continued to contribute over 100 edits a year, then a large number of Wikimedians would exercise membership.

When membership was contemplated in the early years of the project one difficulty was setting an appropriate membership fee. The world varies hugely in wealth, so does our community. Even if we set membership at a level that some of us would consider "the price of a cup of coffee" others would lack the money or the payment mechanism to pay. But our finances are now very different, and we can afford a membership system where no one has to pay money, and free membership is only given to the volunteers who edit our Wikis.

If membership has to involve member lists then we now have the framework for a decentralised system. Individual chapters could take the responsibility for member lists in the country they cover, and that should act as further protection against spammers sending legal letters against spam fighters. Privacy laws vary, but in many countries it should be possible for chapters to keep member lists very confidential.

The board may consider that some particular skill sets are needed among its membership, in that case they could create "constituencies" where all candidates had to have a particular qualification. For example if the board needs someone with a legal degree, a GLAM background or an accountancy qualification then reserve a seat for candidates with that qualification. But then let the membership choose the candidate by voting.

If all boardmembers had two year terms and about half were elected each year, there would be a reasonable mix of continuity and fresh mandates.

This is not the only thing needed to resolve the current situation. But it is one of the things needed. WereSpielChequers (talk) 20:01, 19 February 2016 (UTC)

We have one committee in our movement that is kind of experienced with how membership structures can work within Wikimedia: the Affiliations Committee. (disclaimer: i may be biased, I served on that committee for several years) Why not ask them to weigh in, come with a proposal, and use that as a basis for discussion? I am confident if there is sufficient support for it, that at least some of its members (and maybe former members) will weigh in and draft up what might be something. Effeietsanders (talk) 20:46, 19 February 2016 (UTC)
  • WereSpielChequers, I support this. There has been talk of finding a lawyer in Florida to advise on exactly what we should ask of the Foundation, in terms of it becoming a membership organization, then holding an RfC to request those things. The Foundation could presumably ignore the RfC, but if enough people supported it, they would find that difficult. SarahSV talk 21:44, 19 February 2016 (UTC)

Members. An FNPC may have one or more classes of members or may have no members. Unlike shareholders of a forprofit corporation, "members have no voting or other rights except as provided in the articles of incorporation or bylaws."3 Accordingly, if the FNPC does not intend to give members the right to vote, the articles and bylaws may be silent as to voting rights.

Conversely, if the FNPC intends to grant voting rights to one or more classes of members for issues relating to the FNPC, it is important to state the qualifications for each class of memhers and to include the voting rights accorded to each class regarding certain fundamental issues, such as the election of board members, the removal of directors, amendments to articles and bylaws, the sale or disposition of substantially all assets, plan of merger or dissolution, and plan of distribution of assets. Regardless, the inadvertent failure to include member voting rights in the articles means that the directors or incorporators named in the articles have complete control of the FNPC.

SarahSV talk 22:04, 19 February 2016 (UTC)

I'm generally not opposed to some sort of expert participation on the board; I would be happy to see some seats left for appointment rather than election. That said, I think expanding the number of community-elected seats from 3 to a majority would be a move in the right direction, especially given current concerns that the board and WMF do not well represent the community that they supposedly serve.

Some things that could be done along these lines:

  • Remove chapter selected seats. Chapters experience very disproportionate levels of participation, and this creates a gradient of influence whereas these community seats should be universal. Along these lines, chapters shouldn't be used to generate members lists, unless there is significant overhaul of the current system. I wouldn't mind requiring people to become a member of their local or applicable chapter, and that granting overall membership, but as I said the current gradient of active and inactive chapters - and the lack of chapters in large parts of the world - makes this impractical at the moment.
  • Remove the part of the currently bylaws that allow the board to remove one of its own members, and instead add the potential for recall to be initiated either with a critical mass of members requesting it, or a majority of board members. For the elected seats to have any legitimacy, there must be a process by which they are removed by the same standards through which they are elected.
  • Why is Jimbo Wales still on the board? He certainly doesn't fill a "community" seat if he stays on.

There would need to be fair requirements to become a member, but the edit count thresholds mentioned above seem pretty standard when compared with board / steward elections. I'm curious to see what the current board thinks of this idea. Ajraddatz (talk) 22:25, 19 February 2016 (UTC)

For me, the privacy issue would be a big deal in any membership setup. And I think that it would go against cultural norms to have two classes of editors: those who are members, and those who are eligible to be members but are not because of privacy concerns. In other words, I don't want to have to choose between privacy and having a voice. Perhaps a solution would be to set things up so that one can become a member under one's real life name, but the membership would not link in any public way to the registered username or account. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:32, 19 February 2016 (UTC)
Using a pseudonym is permitted for signing the confidentiality agreement and doing OTRS volunteering, so I think there is a precedent for allowing that with membership as well. That is a concern that is definitely shared by many here. Ajraddatz (talk) 22:36, 19 February 2016 (UTC)
I thought my proposal was clear on that, but I've added a further sentence. A membership organisation can keep its membership confidential, even when distributing ballot papers. WereSpielChequers (talk) 22:55, 19 February 2016 (UTC)
Thanks. For me, it is a make-or-break issue in deciding whether to support or oppose the proposal, so whatever way that privacy can be assured, that's what I want. --Tryptofish (talk) 22:59, 19 February 2016 (UTC)
Other approaches:
Allow a class of members for organisations with only one vote each, so people who wish to keep their name off the register can mint a new organisation to use instead. This does add a cost to the prospective member, as they need to file paperwork to create the organisation, but is worth it for some people.
Create a 'pledged delegate' member who must vote in official matters according to any vote conducted on-wiki by non-members. Each year, that delegate's number of votes would be adjusted according to the balance of registered members vs non-members who participated in on-wiki decision making. That would make formal membership entirely optional. There would be a little bit of administrative headaches ensuring that members didnt get two votes by participating on-wiki, but I am sure that the movement can afford a warm body to cross check that there were no voting irregularities. John Vandenberg (talk) 02:04, 20 February 2016 (UTC)
Solutions for membership for pseudonymous editors could be very complex, or could be as simple as if you want your main account not to be linked to your membership, create an alt account and fix enough typos to qualify for a vote. I don't see that as the difficult bit. I'm uncomfortable with the pledged delegate system, particularly for something as complex and involving as much confidential stuff as a trusteeship. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be legal in the UK, and whether or not it would be legal in the US, it would fail as soon as you had confidential matters to determine such as which of three bids you take for a contract. WereSpielChequers (talk) 21:56, 22 February 2016 (UTC)
I agree with WereSpielChequers that the simplest solution is to suggest people create an alternative account and edit with that for a while, demonstrating a commitment to the movement. --Anthonyhcole (talk) 04:47, 23 February 2016 (UTC)
I'm not sold on alternative accounts. There would end up being kefuffles over sockpuppetry (what happens when someone goes slightly beyond typo fixing?). And as I said earlier, I also would oppose anything that creates two classes of editors with different degrees of enfranchisement. It's important to keep in mind that anything would have to be approved by the community before implementation, and the community has a long history of skepticism about new proposals. I tend to think that either it should be possible to register one's existing account with complete anonymity, or this idea will never come into being. --Tryptofish (talk) 19:24, 23 February 2016 (UTC)
I agree and would prefer that we run things similarly to board and arbcom elections; Effectively it is the honour system backed with possible checkuser that limits things to one vote per person. But somewhere in these discussions there was an assertion that in moving to a membership system there would be a legal requirement to have more of a verification process than that. Clearly we'd need to check and challenge that assumption, but if it was the case, which would be the lesser of two evils, not going to a membership system or giving editors who insist on anonymity the choice between not voting or creating an alt account? WereSpielChequers (talk) 14:24, 26 February 2016 (UTC)
First, I think everything that you are saying is very fair, thanks. But I personally would opt for not having a membership system in that case, and my bet would be that that would also be the overwhelming result of a community RfC. It's just a few editors taking part in this discussion here, whereas the overwhelming majority of editors probably don't care that much about the WMF board, and are likely resist changes that impair either anonymity or equality. --Tryptofish (talk) 21:01, 26 February 2016 (UTC)
As far as I'm aware this hasn't been a big issue for chapters. But if the price of pseudonymity is that we could only vote for nominees to the board, and the existing board would have the right to veto individuals, then though I'd prefer that we elect rather than nominate the whole board, the most important thing is to stop appointing any who haven't been elected. WereSpielChequers (talk) 14:41, 4 March 2016 (UTC)