Monday, February 06, 2006


In December I started dabbling in Wikipedia. It's an internet-based encyclopedia that anyone can edit or contribute to. You'd think it would be filled with garbage, or very thin, but it's robust and self-correcting. Notice, I didn't say 'perfect.'

I bounced around a bit, fixing typos and adding a few articles which were called for in the most-wanted list.

I got some helpful feedback on my early efforts from volunteer editors. My conclusion from randomly hoping around the place was that though there were very few constraints, and a lot of room for improvement, the overall result was impressive.

On Friday, I thought about an author I like, and searched for the author. There was no entry. I decided to create one. I started with a small stub about the author's four published volumes, then added a link to the author's website, and went to add the author's picture.

When I got back from uploading the picture, I found out that the article had been deleted as spam. Thinking I was up against a snotty little vandal, I recreated the article and added a note to the discussion page behind it: "This is a published author. Are you?"

The stub was deleted three times in all, and recreated three times. It turned out that an administrator of some sort had been doing the deletions. In the 'talk' pages behind the scenes, I had defended the article and objected to the vandalism. I was told that I had an attitude problem and was "nasty" and "threatening" and might be "blocked" if I continued. The admin appealed to another admin:

Need a bit of administrative advice. A new user, User:Brainhell, insists on posting what seems to be little more than link spam to an author's website. I'm trying to be helpful; guy is being nasty. Sure enough, the article is back...and there isn't any biographical info on this individual to expand it beyond what it is. I don't want to get in an edit war, but I really don't appreciate this guy accusing me of vandalism when I'm trying to help. Thanks.

The other admin backed him up.

Y'all know the brainhell way: I used no curse words and made no threats, but I was very clear in my opinions.

The condescension and taunting from the admins was apparently exempt from the same analysis that determined that I had an attitude problem. They didn't use any curse words either, but should someone who just deleted your article three times really call you "bubbie?"

Here's one of my typical comments:

Thanks for the apology and the praise.

No doubt there is a lot of link spam. But no doubt many contributors of good articles start small and then build the piece in layers. That's completely human and completely understandable. The better recourse would have been to insert that tag about possible deletion, rather than deleting within such a short period of time. I had just created the stub. I am new to Wiki and perceived that I was up against a vandal. Indeed I was. How much more disturbing to learn that the destroyer has some form of administrative rights.

I'm new here, and it's not a paying job, clearly. I'm not sure I want to learn the ropes of Wikipedia politics and egos, as the obvious value of Wikipedia is compelling enough, and the ugliness of personalities warped by power within a volunteer effort is unhealthy to that effort. The impulse to characterize someone who stands up for their contribution as "nasty" or "threatening" ... the see-what-I-mean response to a contributor not aware of the emotional satisfaction some may draw from arbitrary deletions, from deliberately provoked confrontations to assure themselves of their own power, is sad. All my foregoing comments no doubt cements some of you more firmly in your smugness and self-satisfaction. Regardless of the barnacles that cling to its hull, I assert that the Wiki concept is, fortunately, apparently more powerful than the base human dynamics it nurtures -- but does not ultimately tolerate.

I am asked to let it drop. I don't claim to be a Wiki expert, but I bet there is a complaint procedure. Anyone care to point me in the right direction? The article stub was summarily deleted three times, but after that, the vandal chose to insert an alert of possible deletion instead. This indicates to me that the proper procedure was not followed the first three times. What's the complaint procedure? My further complaint will be regarding the dynamic of portraying someone who stands up for themselves in a reasoned and civil way as having an attitude problem. That's probably the most corrosive thing to a volunteer effort.

After much bluster from the admin and energy spent on my part defending the article -- energy which would have been better spent on the article itself -- I managed to get a chance to fill it out to the full extent I had planned. The comment from the admin was that the article was excellent, and that it would have been better had I written it all first and then posted it.

That overlooks human nature. I can see from the large number of stubs littering Wikipedia that I am not the first person to start small. Aggressive deletion of stubs will poison the experience of the very users on whom Wikipedia relies for its existence.

Fortunately in this case, after the first two admins backed each other up, a third came in and removed from the stub the tag warning of possible deletion, commenting that an author with four books seems worthy of an entry.

I'm not getting paid for this, and it's a small part of my life, but I have asked what the procedure is for filing a complaint. One part of the complaint would be about the aggressive and unwarranted deletions, but the other half would be about the snide, clubby way the first two admins reinforced each other's perception of my 'attitude problem.' That's got to be poison for Wiki.

I went to the page within Wikipedia where the vandal admin describes himself. Two items at the very top proclaimed:

  1. This user is a dedicated supporter of President George W. Bush

  2. This user supports the U.S. Republican Party.

According the "What Wikipedia is not" page: "Wikipedians have their own user pages, but they are used for information relevant to working on the encyclopedia." Further: "The focus of User pages should not be social networking but rather providing a foundation for effective collaboration."

There's also some procedure on what to do if the article is perceived to be an advertisement or other spam: "List on Wikipedia:Articles for deletion (WP:AFD)." Notice that it doesn't say "Delete three times."

There is a process for speedy deletion too. It says "Note that some Wikipedians create articles in multiple saves. Try to avoid deleting a page too soon after its initial creation, as the author may be working on it."

When I went back to Wikipedia after asking about complaint procedures, there was a message for me from the vandal admin:

That's it. You're taking a one-week time out from further editing. Next block ''will'' be permanent.

The page announcing my block provided a link for getting help from admins. I sent an email to one of the admins. I also sent this email to the vandal admin:

I read up on the complaint process, and it seems that there is an arbitration process for dispute resolution. It says that asking for arbitration should be your last resort. Are you willing to explore other avenues before I resort to the last resort? I'd like you to remove the block and any record of the block.

By the next morning, this note from the vadmin was in my mailbox:

I'll remove the block on the condition that you drop this petty argument once and for all. I have no dispute with you and this whole thing isn't worth the effort of either of us. I will assume good faith and unblock you right now. I can't remove the comments from the edit history, however. If you still have problems editing, please let me know. The system has an occasional hiccup that doesn't always recognize unblocking.

Then also he sent this:

I've unblocked your account and that of an IP that was blocked as well. Please let me know if you're still having trouble editing. I'm not one to hold a grudge and I am glad to work with you and to put this behind us. I also promise not to delete your contributions as it's clear you plan on expanding them, which I had no way of knowing before.

When I went to check, however, I was still blocked. I sent him an email in the morning, letting him know.

There is a certain adolescent wavering and lack of self-confidence in wanting to "drop this petty argument," in deleting the article three times and then warning about deletion, in blocking me and then promising to unblock. But the vadmin claims on his personal page to have bought a car, so perhaps he's an adult with an adolescent personality.

I checked again in the evening. Still blocked. Mailed him again. It went back and forth several times, but after a few more tries, I truly was unblocked, and was able to create a new article. No one deleted it immediately.

Yes, I realize that this whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, but human nature -- particularly when twisted by 'power' in a semi-democratic environment -- is just so fascinating.

In browsing through the pages devoted to Wikipedia culture and expectations, I did gain a sense of what is meant by "attack." In Wiki-land an "attack" is commentary of any kind about someone else as a person, or their motives, during a disagreement. The way Wikipedia solves the "flame" problem so common on the internet is by having a rule that no one is supposed to comment about anyone else's motives or person during a dispute -- at all. Not knowing this at the time my article was vandalized, I offered plenty of commentary on the motivation I perceived on the part of the pair of admins who were taunting me for their personal amusement. The commentary was civil and intellectual, and summed up to: Abuse of power can't be good for Wikipedia. But it was personal commentary, and therefore, according to the rules, an "attack." The admins who were deleting my in-progress stub never bothered to try to educate me on Wikipedia rules regarding "attacks"; It might cut down on the fun if the mark understands the rules and starts obeying them. But now I know: Commentary within the Wikipedia system should never be directed at a person or their motivation. In the future I can abide by that expectation. My "attacks" may provide the vadmin who blocked me with enough justification for his action. But he doesn't deserve to be an admin and should be stripped of the rank.

Left grip is 24 pounds (16, 21, 24), right grip is 75 pounds (69, 71, 75).
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