Miscellany:Leucosticte's account of his 5 March 2014 block from Meta-Wiki

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It seems useful to write up an account of why, on 5 March 2014, I was blocked from Meta-Wiki. What is striking about the whole situation is the vagueness of most of the arguments that were raised against me and the lack of evidence put forth to support claims that I was being disruptive. Be that as it may, the community upheld the block. Obviously I did not get a chance to defend myself during these proceedings, since my access to the wiki (including talk page) was completely blocked. The way in which I was treated at Meta-Wiki is in striking contrast to how I was treated at WikiIndex.[1]

Account[edit]

Background[edit]

In 2012, I posted a couple essays, most notably viewpoint censorship and pedophilia as a punishable thoughtcrime (since scrambled, since I later decided some of the points I raised there were more in the nature of bald assertions than arguments, and perhaps some points I wasn't sure whether I agreed with, or they seemed to be approaching the issue from an unproductive direction), criticizing Wikipedia's child protection policy. The viewpoint censorship essay was linked from Meta's "child protection" page, which was and is a pending proposal for a global version of Wikipedia's child protection policy. Those essays I wrote were read by a lot of people, and no one suggested deleting them, so it would seem that at that time there was no norm against writing such essays. (There was some debate about whether the link to the essay from the proposal page was appropriate, but ultimately it was removed.)

Policy[edit]

In fact, as I've often pointed out, Meta purpose #3 states that Meta is "A forum for personal essays about Wikimedia projects". The inclusion policy states that "Relevant essays or advocacy" are appropriate content for Meta. What Meta is not states, "Meta is not written from a neutral point of view. It concerns the entire Wikimedian community, and often contains the opinions of specific users." So I was not violating any policy. The English Wikipedia is a Wikimedia project, so essays about it are suitable for inclusion at Meta.

Warnings and block[edit]

The date that I posted this essay is lost to the archived revision history. At any rate, someone complained to Geoffbrigham (and mentioned in their complaint certain of my unrelated off-wiki activity), and I made clear on that page that my interest was in ensuring minority viewpoints are given their due weight on Wikipedia, in accordance with the neutral point of view policy, rather than in pushing for a particular viewpoint to get more than its due weight. MZMcBride eventually showed up at my talk page to say:

I've redirected Wikipedia's child protection policy to Child protection. You should know better than to get involved in essays with this subject matter here. You have a clear conflict of interest. If you have particular gripes with the English Wikipedia policy or the global policy, you may carefully try to discuss your concerns on the relevant talk pages, if you feel you must. But you should not be creating subject-space pages with your thoughts on the matter here; ideally, you should not be getting involved in this subject at all here.

It was unclear what he was referring to by "conflict-of-interest" or "carefully". If he means that my having an opinion concerning the child protection policy gives me a conflict of interest in the matter, then the implication is that anyone with an opinion is ineligible to express an opinion. The upshot of that would be that opinions can't be expressed. What he means by "carefully" is also pretty murky; if he means careful to not offend, I am not aware of a breach of civility that he could be referring to, and in fact none was alleged. It could be that part of what would give me a conflict of interest is that the ChildWiki I created off-wiki puts me in violation of the English Wikipedia's child protection policy.

Still, there's never been any norm that I know of that prohibits a user from writing essays about policies that have affected him, or are affecting him, adversely. Conflict of interest rules typically are not applied in that manner; and at any rate Meta has no policy or recorded case prior to this, that I know of, of conflicts of interest being raised as a reason for telling him a topic is off-limits. At any rate, MZMcBride created the original Wikipedia child protection policy and also created the proposed global child protection policy, so he arguably, by his own logic, would have a conflict of interest too.

I wonder whether the community would have responded in the same way to people engaging in advocacy against adult-child sex. Is it advocacy in general that's bad and not tolerated, or just a particular viewpoint? If someone wrote an essay advocating in favor of the child protection policy, and telling various people who disagreed with him that adult-child sex is harmful and a violation of children's rights, would he have been warned and blocked if he persisted in that advocacy? Would it have have been considered to have a conflict of interest if he were one of the main participants in, say, Ensis Wiki? I doubt it. So I think this was viewpoint discrimination.

MZMcBride later wrote, "Eh, I'm not going to argue. You quite clearly know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior here." This could be construed as an allegation that it was obvious that I was arguing intellectually dishonestly, or otherwise in bad faith; and that therefore he was not going to waste his time arguing. I didn't see then, and I don't see now what was the basis for his believing that, if he believed it. At any rate, if his arguments were stronger, it should not have been difficult or time-consuming to point to a rule or even a principle that would have supported his stance. The fact that he didn't suggests to me that his arguments, had he tried to present them, would have been weak; and that perhaps he was trying to hide this with his appeal to motive and argumentum ad lapidem. Or maybe there's something I'm missing here and he just really thought that it was obvious.

Later, of course, he writes (among other things), "I'm closely and indefinitely watching your edits here. Please behave or you'll no longer be allowed to edit. . . . For now, you're welcome to continue productively contributing here and elsewhere, but don't poke this bear. To be clear: this thread serves as your final warning." Again, he's being rather vague. "Please behave" and "don't poke this bear" probably mean what he wrote earlier, "you should not be creating subject-space pages with your thoughts on the matter here; ideally, you should not be getting involved in this subject at all here".

The appeal to the Meta community[edit]

My next step was to appeal to the community to overrule MZMcBride on the issue of whether the essay should be redirected. In my opinion, it was inappropriate to redirect an essay on Wikipedia's child protection policy to an unrelated page on the proposed global child protection policy. Regrettably, I chose the wrong forum for this, Meta:Requests for deletion rather than Requests for comment. At any rate, MZMcBride deleted the essay ostensibly at author request, despite my clearly indicating on RFD that my intent was not to have it deleted, and then blocked me for three months, writing:

You've been blocked from Meta-Wiki for three months. You were sufficiently warned to behave here and you willfully ignored this advice. Rather than moving on, you chose to try to make a public scene out of the pseudo-essay that you inappropriately created here. That's quite enough. You may appeal this block to the Wikimedia Foundation or to its Board of Trustees.

What made it a "pseudo-essay" in his view is unclear. He blocked my email and talk page access at the same time. Various users (Name redacted, Abd, Nemo bis, DanielTom) weighed in to say that these appeal channels were unorthodox, but since the matter was ultimately brought to Meta:Requests for help from a sysop or bureaucrat, a highly visible forum, these arguments were deemed moot. MZMcBride wrote,

A user was persistently engaging in pedophile advocacy, he was warned to stop, and rather than stopping, he chose to try to make a scene here at Meta-Wiki. Two users (DanielTom and yourself) inquired about the block and I responded on my talk page. I find two parts of your opening post here uncouth: (a) nobody was "robbed" of anything, and (b) nobody was blocked for defending an essay. Leucosticte was blocked for inappropriate behavior after having been clearly and sufficiently warned to disengage from this subject.

The "pedophile advocacy" (whatever he means by that; no diff was provided) was arguably on-topic, though, since it was in the context of discussing the fate of the essay. I don't agree with his statement, "nobody was blocked for defending an essay". MZMcBride also wrote,

Leucosticte seems to be a provocateur. What he personally believes or what he is are largely irrelevant. His behavior was problematic, he was warned, and he chose to ignore that warning. Now he's blocked for three months. I'm not touching this again until the three months are up. If and when he returns, if he continues to edit in this area and try to use Meta-Wiki as an advocacy platform, he'll be re-blocked.

Given the community's failure to overturn the block, MZMcBride can probably make good on his warning "if he continues to edit in this area and try to use Meta-Wiki as an advocacy platform, he'll be re-blocked". Nonetheless, as was pointed out above, Meta-Wiki is intended as an advocacy platform concerning matters related to Wikimedia projects, so he's theoretically in the wrong about that. A provocateur is "a person who provokes trouble, causes dissension, or the like; agitator." That could be anyone who advocates a stance that others will get upset over; but of course, that does not mean that the person they got upset with is at fault for their getting upset. The disadvantages of letting such users get their way was pointed out at https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Dramacracy and https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Offensive_behavior .

The statements by other users (Abd, billinghurst, Tiptoety) focused on the fact that I had been warned and hadn't followed MZMcBride's instructions. (billinghurst noted, "the user wasn't unaware of the circumstances, nor of the consequences" and Tiptoety noted, "The user was aware of the circumstances, they were just wikilawyer-ing to make it appear as if they weren't.") What circumstances they are referring to is unclear; again, the vagueness of their comments suggests to me that their arguments, had they presented them in more concrete terms, probably would have been weak. People with strong arguments tend to prove it with specific facts and logic.

Abd's argument was perhaps the most disappointing. As someone who has been blocked and/or banned before for dumb reasons, he should know to be skeptical of allegations that a user who is simply making a point should be regarded as disruptive. He advocated that I "be allowed to place an unblock template, but not to argue the merits of the block":

Without restriction, however, he will likely argue that his essay and arguments and attempt to create an MFD over his deleted essay -- which would then have opened up debate on the topic -- were not disruptive. Those arguments will be disruptive by opening up the very debate that MZM was interdicting. I know the issues and the debate, and it is more insanely disruptive than any other topic I could imagine. I've seen a wiki come completely unglued over this, with users resigning, threats of violence, off-wiki legal action, and more.

Abd here is referring to the Tisane affair at RationalWiki. RationalWiki was a wiki on which topics such as pedophilia and adult-sex child would be considered on-topic. Raising dissident views on those subjects on RationalWiki would not have been disruptive if people had simply debated those issues calmly rather than demanding dissidents be kicked off the wiki, and engaging in the other behavior Abd described. Raising dissident views on Meta-Wiki concerning Wikipedia's child protection policy is not inherently disruptive either.

All you have to do is look at my edit history, though, and it's clear that what led up to the block was not pedophile advocacy but an attempt to appeal to the community concerning MZMcBride's actions. It's noteworthy that no one included, in that discussion, any diffs of edits by me that they specifically objected to; why might that be? MZMcBride admits that it was my making a "public scene" over it that led to the block. But, all this information was available to the community and they chose not to reverse the decision, so I lose.

Analysis[edit]

The upshot[edit]

The upshot is that I probably can't speak on child protection policy issues on Meta, without being at risk of being blocked. This is especially true if the principles about my not being allowed to edit in that area because of a "conflict of interest" are supported by the community. It appears that as a practical matter, the community will probably uphold a block if I touch the issue at all, since there were already some people who wanted to see me indefinitely blocked, and they'd probably welcome any excuse to make it happen. Also, all they have to do is get vocally upset over something I post, and then they can accuse me of being a provocateur.

Somebody else should probably criticize the child protection policy, but I can't think of why anyone who doesn't have a "conflict of interest" (aka an opinion, perhaps an expressed opinion (which would render him susceptible to banning from Wikipedia) on the matter) would bother. So I guess probably no one will criticize it on Meta; and if they did, they'd probably meet with the same fate I met.

It would seem that, under the circumstances, the best action to take would be to abandon Meta-Wiki and go over to Meta-Inclu. It is evident that there are no effective checks against sysops engaging in unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious blocks, and that it is impossible to know for sure what behavior will result in a block. A sysop can simply say "Don't do x or you'll be blocked" and then if you do x, you can be blocked, regardless of what policy has to say about the matter, or whether the behavior was actually disruptive. The only safe course is to do whatever any random sysop happens to tell you to do; but that's pretty restrictive.

It's not even clear that I could post this essay, or link to it, on Meta without getting blocked. In such a community, you can argue all you want, and be right, and still lose. In fact, just arguing can get you in trouble. If you can't express yourself fully, then it's hard to make people aware of the facts, and then the decisions end up being made on the basis of bald assertions, which could be false or misleading, and I think they were in this case.

Further musings[edit]

MZMcBride, Tiptoety, and billinghurst, all of whom spoke and/or acted in favor of a block (or even, in Tiptoety's case, an indefinite block), are Meta-Wiki sysops. None of the people who spoke in my defense are Meta-Wiki sysops. The choice of sysops says something about the culture of the wiki. Unfortunately, because of Sanger's Law, it will be difficult to change the culture.

The only reason to hang out in such a place, and devote so much effort to it, is that there's no place else. All the users are there; Wikimedia is the hub of the wikisphere. So the solution, when the community is so clearly unsatisfactory, is to create a new community.

Interestingly, MZMcBride writes, on his Requests for Bureaucratship page, "I'm much more disappointed in the other oppose votes here from users I respect (Trijnstel, Snowolf, et al.) . . . . As I've watched this discussion unfold over the past day, I find myself wanting more and more to disengage from Meta-Wiki as I no longer want to be as closely associated with many of those who have become the regulars here. A wiki's culture is certainly expected to change over time, but it's becoming clearer to me that here on Meta-Wiki, the culture isn't improving. I think the user rights scheme on this wiki is broken and I think we should fix it. This request was my attempt to volunteer to help out, but the vindictiveness, hypocrisy, and stupidity of some of those who have posted here make me question my overall involvement here."

I feel pretty much the same way about users I used to respect (at least somewhat), and about the wiki's culture.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]