The Witchfinder reports on astonishing developments in the Grant Shapps MP / Contribsx Wikipedia Case, which has closed a few minutes ago. As a reminder the case before ArbCom concerns allegations reported in the Guardian Newspaper by journalist Randeep Ramesh that Grant Shapps MP operated a sockpuppet account called Contribsx, used to puff himself and badmouth political rivals in his own party.
Another body at Wikipedia has now made a further ruling unbanning Contribsx on the grounds that his ‘trial’ was a shambles, with disturbing revelations including the fact that the Guardian reported the result online before the investigation page was even created.
[Edit – now incorporating Guardian responses to my complaint 12/06/2015]
Last night the BBC correctly reported that Wikipedia’s highest committee was considering censuring Richard Symonds, who was until a few minutes ago an administrator of Wikipedia under the bizarre and apparently sexist username Chase me ladies, I’m the Cavalry. The proposed decision had three motions, respectively removing CheckUser, Oversight and Administrative permissions. The first two looked likely to pass with the final looking likely to fail due to a tie (4-4).
Overnight, your author and many enraged members of the Wikipedia community raised further submissions and queries, including at one stage discussion of a recall election. By this morning things had changed dramatically with two administrators changing their vote and a further 4 late committee members taking the vote to 10-2 (1 recusal, 2 apparent abstentions). The case has now been formally closed and a few minutes ago the penalties were put into effect and notified on Mr Symond’s user talk page.
The remedies however included no word whatsoever of the fate of the hapless mystery user Contribsx. As the matter was not taken up by ArbCom directly, a heated discussion ensued on the case talk page. For those unfamiliar with Wikipedia structure, the organisation is so massive it has institutions analogous to upper and lower courts. As Contribsx is not an administrator it was decided to refer the matter to a lower body. The matter was put to the Administrators’ noticeboard/Incidents (known as ANI by all and sundry).
ANI is a body that seeks community consensus. Users vote and if agreement can be found then administrators carry out its decisions (subject to jurisdiction). ANI is a faster and much less formal body, albeit bound by ArbCom’s findings just as a real lower court would be bound by an appellate judgement. The ruling technically occurred before ArbCom officially closed but this is allowed by Wikipedia rules. An archive of the brief deliberations is here.
The ruling is damning for Richard Symonds and indeed the Guardian newspaper. The findings of fact made by ArbCom included a neat timeline chart of events that thus far has received too little attention from the media. Of most important note is that the Guardian published its article about Contribsx being blocked before Richard Symonds even created the report to consider it.
When the Guardian published Randeep Ramesh’s words –
“Wikipedia has blocked a user account on suspicions that it is being used by the Conservative party chairman, Grant Shapps,”
– in fact Wikipedia had done no such thing and banning Contribsx was not even under consideration [via the correct Wikipedia procedure – Edit 12/06/2015 see below]. Until 17 minutes later when Richard Symonds opened a ‘Sock Puppet Investigation Report’. 1 minute later, Mr Symonds banned Contribsx. Your author checked the history page for Contribsx and the user was never given their opportunity to put their side of the story until AFTER the block occurred.
[Edit 12/06/2015 – The Guardian have responded to my complaint by providing evidence that Mr Symonds had conducted some private investigations and provided the Guardian with an email about it. This still means that when the Guardian said, “Wikipedia has blocked a user” it had not happened yet, which suggests at best Mr Ramesh had not checked the page himself. It would therefore be more correct to say here that banning Contribsx was not under consideration via the correct procedure.]
As revealed in my previous article, your author was mostly interested in what evidence there was of links to Shapps’ admitted IPs. At first my inquiries got nowhere – just obfuscatory comments. However, after a number of heated inquiries from less helpful functionaries the filing (prosecuting) administrator Risker (who has been very impressive) said the below on an official discussion page for the case (archive link) –
“[…] Bottom line, there was never any CU evidence about the earlier accounts (the allegations came long after there would have been any opportunity to do a check) so there was never going to be a CU link between the original accounts and the current one. There’s also no CU evidence linking anything mentioned in the original SPI with the named account. Let’s call a spade a spade here, there’s no CU evidence, okay? […]”
So Symonds had no actual trace or logging evidence to prove the link.
Your author endorses and supports good faith whistleblowers. The law even sometimes protects bad faith whistleblowers. However not all private conversations with journalists are proper. If a judge in a criminal or civil trial told a journalist the result would go against the Defendant before even hearing the defence then that would be wrongdoing of the most serious kind.
We can therefore be certain that Randeep Ramesh did not properly check that Contribsx was blocked before publishing because when the article was published Contribsx was not blocked and never had been. [Edit 12/06/2015 – he relied on an email from Symonds per the Guardian response to my complaint]
Randeep Ramesh did not consider any defence filed by Contribsx because no one had told Contribsx they were under suspicion or given them the basic right to be heard. The result was already decided by the Guardian source hearing the case. As no one else on Wikipedia was considering any disciplinary action against Contribsx we know the article’s source must have been, ultimately, Richard Symonds. [Edit 12/06/2015 – the Guardian did rely on an email from Symonds per their response to my complaint]
To quote one ANI user who voted for Unblock –
“As I said at the PD talk page, people are not normally blocked indefinitely by a single administrator after less than 100 edits – some of them perfectly constructive, others arguably politically biased, but all of them ultimately unremarkable in the grand scheme of things –
* without so much as a prior warning or ANI thread,
* without ever once having been involved in an edit war,
* more than two weeks after they last edited,
* almost five years after the supposedly related accounts and IPs (all of which also have clean block logs) last edited, and
* a quarter of an hour after a national newspaper has already clairvoyantly reported the block, which then becomes a major national election news story.”
“The ArbCom decision is very clear in its condemnation of the admin concerned. In my view this was a trumped-up block made to serve a media story that was already written and published before the block was even enacted on Wikipedia. As such the block is without merit and should not stand. Andreas JN466 11:23, 9 June 2015 (UTC)”
ANI also commented that, whilst there is no evidence to link Grant Shapps MP to the account, if it is his account he is actually welcome back. ANI members observed that the account would not be classed as a sockpuppet because the logs showed Grant had abandoned his admitted account(s) years before and even if he was also Contribsx had never broken enough rules to receive more than a warning and editorial guidance –
“[…] even if the 2 accounts were used by the same person, it appears that the user had abandoned the old account and was user was now using a different one, and not abusively. I don’t see a good reason to let the block stand. Rlendog (talk) 12:51, 9 June 2015 (UTC) […]”
And so it was that at 14:17 (UTC) today a Wikipedia administrator unblocked the Contribsx account.
This is obviously incredibly damaging for the Guardian. Randeep Ramesh appears to be embroiled in deeply murky goings on and appears guilty of heinous journalistic negligence. Mr Ramesh did not respond to request for comment but a Guardian News & Media spokesperson provided the following statement –
“The Guardian’s independent readers’ editor is in the process of investigating this matter and will report on his findings in due course. The Guardian will be publishing a story about the ongoing deliberations by Wikipedia’s arbitration committee in tomorrow’s paper and online.”
Mr Ramesh has not denied any of the allegations I have made publicly or the more serious allegations made privately. He is welcome to contact Matthew Hopkins News to correct factual errors or provide his side of the story at any time. [Edit 12/06/2015 – Per the Guardian response it is fair to say that Mr Ramesh had a strident email from Richard Symonds, but the Guardian response does not claim Ramesh checked the Contribsx page nor does it claim he sought comment from Contribsx, which seems very unfair on whoever Contribsx is]
As a reminder I have complained of the misconduct alleged to the Guardian’s editor and informed them that I will consider contacting the Independent Press Standards Organisation if it is not adequately dealt with.
Most regrettably, the Guardian have now published another article, which neither comments on nor explains how the timing issues referred to above arose. The article does not mention nor quote ANI, referring coyly to ‘an administrator’ unblocking Contribsx without quoting or linking comments by ANI users. Not good enough.