The Witchfinder reveals how Wikipedia’s lax policies and laxer enforcement, from the project’s beginning to the present day, create opportunities for paedophiles, their apologists and other sinister denizens of the internet. Questionable characters, even one admitted contact offender, have been allowed to hold administrator roles. Matthew Hopkins News calls on Jimmy Wales to show leadership on the issue or risk being tarnished himself.
Modern users of Wikipedia may be unfamiliar with its murky history, for example the appalling and enlightening 2006 ArbCom case entitled, “Pedophilia userbox wheel war” (Archive here). What is a ‘wheel war’?
2006 – the Pedophilia Userbox Wheel War
Wheel war is a type of edit war on Wikipedia conducted by administrators using their special privileges, for example one deleting an article and another restoring it. Userboxes on Wikipedia are a kind of badge that shows support for a viewpoint. Some examples are below, showing support for Liberalism.
To quote the witness statement by Wikipedia user Ashibaka, “It all started when Paroxysm decided we needed a userbox for pedophiles”.
Other users predictably attempted to delete the template. Chillingly, however, a contingent of Wikipedia users decided to argue that paedophilia badges were just like ones for (say) sexual orientation and should be kept.
For some reason, Ashibaka thought Wikipedia needed one too, and voted to keep it in a later deletion discussion. Your author initially thought Ashibaka had left Wikipedia but has now discovered that in fact Ashibaka (archive here) was just renamed Shii (archive here). Shii says he is a male sysop (administrator), and your author checked his contributions for February 2006 (archive here) in order to verify he was the same person.
For his services to the cause of keeping the userbox template, Ashibaka was punished by ArbCom with a temporary desysop until two weeks after the case. Under the name Shii he remains a user and administrator to this day. Another user later created an Ashibaka account but was blocked and is apparently unrelated to this story.
Frighteningly, several of those who sought to retain the template self-identified as paedophiles and this led to a vicious edit and wheel war, in which Jimbo Wales personally intervened. In fairness to Jimbo, one of his few good decisions in the case was an unambiguous stand against the templates, one of which he deleted saying, “(I’m sorry but just, no […]” (Evidence page link, here. (Archive of evidence page here).
“3. From time to time, I have admitted via a public IRC channel, to having had sexual intercourse with teenage girls below the age of consent established for the jurisdictions in which the aforementioned incidents of sexual intercourse was stated to have occured.
4. At no point did any other user, registered or anonymous, object to or even refer to this statement, neither at my talk page, nor via via IRC, nor during the discussion of my RFA (which passed 64-2 in spite of this potentially offensive text), nor in any other location, to my knowledge.
5. If I get blocked by User:Carbonite or anybody else for bringing this up, so be it, I’ll say it’s been nice knowing you guys. I feel though, that the evidence above establishes there there is clearly no consensus for the banning of self-identified pedophiles and that any action taken in light of this would be inappropriately retroactive[…]”
Freakofnurture passionately argued against the banning of paedophiles, saying, “Do we ban me too?”
Despite his clear admission to child rape, the user was neither banned nor even stripped of his administrative powers. Jimbo Wales, found in the same case to be “ultimate authority on Wikimedia projects”, did not exercise his authority in relation to Freakofnurture, despite having personally desysoped 5 other people in the same case. What sort of organisation is it when one of the only people NOT disciplined is one who openly admits to having sex with children?
In fact Freakofnurture continued to edit Wikipedia, and exercise administrative authority … unmolested, shall we say … until 2008 when he took an extended break for unknown reasons. Freakofnurture had his administrative powers removed automatically in 2011 due to inactivity.
Another administrator, Carnildo (Archive), said this – “User:Carbonite, User:El C, and User:Giano advocate banning users based on something they are (in this case, being pedophiles), rather than something they’re doing (such as trolling for children), regardless of what they’re contributing to Wikipedia.”
Carnildo was stripped of his administrative powers by the committee for wrongly blocking three anti-paedophiles who opposed the userboxes, but remains a user of Wikipedia to this day (archive here) with many awards and barnstars on his user page given by those appreciative of his contributions.
Borghunter, an administrator who undeleted one of the ‘Paedophilia’ user box templates on the grounds of ‘upholding policy’, remains an administrator of Wikipedia to this day (archive here). His only punishment was a temporary loss of adminship until two days from the end of the ArbCom case.
When asked for an explanation, Ashibaka / Shii got in touch with your Inquisitor, saying –
“[…] My reason for voting “keep” was not because I agreed pedophilia was a sexual orientation, nor because I supported pedophilia. It was because I was, at the time, a free speech extremist and believed people should be allowed to define themselves in any way they wanted, and that this would be beneficial for public debate in some way. (By the way, I was 17 years old in 2006) […] I no longer hold such extreme views — I no longer think self-identified pedophiles should be welcome on Wikipedia […] I have never supported pedophilia, but only at one time thought free speech should be unlimited as long as it’s not directly involved in harming anyone. […]”
Curiously, Shii, was using an email address that gave the impression they were female. When asked to explain Shii said –
“It’s the same reason I no longer use the username “Shii” anywhere outside Wikipedia. I wrote a LOT of stupid stuff when I was a kid, always standing up for unlimited free speech in the most ridiculous situations, and things on the Internet never really go away. So I made this fake email around 2008 to specifically talk to people who were slandering me […]”
Why would anyone slander Shii? Perhaps it has something to do with their contribution history. For February 2006 (above) the log shows they made many edits to the Wikipedia article about ‘Lolicon’ – as they did in December 2006 (archive here). The article at the time, (archive here) defines ‘Lolicon’ as – “[…] a genre of manga-style sexual artwork involving childlike female characters […]”. Here is an example of a comment they made on the talk page of the article – diff – (archive here) in response to a question from another user Ashibaka / Shii tells them where to find ‘good lolicon’ movies. He explains this by saying he was linking to an insulting video.
Readers will have to decide whether they are comfortable with Shii’s explanation and with an administrator who has behaved in the ways Shii admits.
Your author contacted Borghunter, Carnildo and Freakofnurture with these allegations pre-publication. They neither responded nor denied the allegations. Whether Borghunter or Carnildo are apologists or had some other motive, they choose not to share.
The ArbCom case would not be the last time concerns were raised about paedophilia on Wikipedia.
Erik Möller, the Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation until April 2015 (archive here), had long been scrutinised over comments about paedophilia. In a rare outbreak of journalism in May 2008, Gawker.com pointed to his controversial statements about paedophilia in online postings (archive of article here).
Gawker pointed out that Boylinks.net and Martijn (a Dutch counterpart to the North American Man-Boy Love Association) both cited Möller approvingly. Why not?
Gawker goes on to cite a German language article written by Möller entitled, “Children are Pornography”, (archive of Gawker article here). The German language article is text only and contains no illegal material, so it is here and I have archived it here.
Various journalists have mined the contributions made by Möller under his username Eloquence (archive here). Cyde Weys for example noted that on 20/06/2003 he added the following text to the “Human sexual activity” article (archive of diff here),
“[…] It is generally acknowledged that children are capable of feeling sexual pleasure, even if they are not yet able to engage in sexual intercourse with each other, and/or are not yet biologically able to reproduce. Yet, child sexuality has historically been severely limited in western societies; in the late 19th century, the hysteria surrounding so-called “self-abuse” (masturbation) among children reached its peak and fueled the adoption of circumcision in some cultures. […]”
Creepily in the very same edit Möller added a link to the Wikipedia article, “Child sexuality”, an article he himself created (diff archive here) – apparently feeling it was an important topic for the encyclopaedia to cover.
Your author contacted Möller with these allegations pre-publication. He neither responded nor denied the allegations. He did not explain his apparent apologism nor the reasons for it.
In 2007, Wikipedia said it had begun cracking down on paedophiles and in 2010 it enacted child protection guidance, WP:CHILDPROTECT, which at the time was a mere stub (archive here). The guidance stated that, “It is the policy of the English Wikipedia to block any editors who self-identify as pedophiles or who advocate pedophilia”.
The marginally more extensive current policy, (archive here), clarifies somewhat – “who advocate inappropriate adult–child relationships on- or off-wiki (e.g. by expressing the view that inappropriate relationships are not harmful to children)”.
Whilst the stated policy is unambiguous it was clearly not followed in all cases, such as that of Freakofnurture, who remained an administrator until removed for inactivity in 2011 and who appears never to have been blocked. Apparently, Wikipedia did not interpret Erik Möller’s statements as falling under the policy either.
Chillingly however, anyone who makes an allegation of paedophilia on-wiki will be subject to immediate blocking and obliteration of the allegation. Allegations must be made by email. Whilst on one level this may appear sensible, users who followed the procedure have complained of not receiving replies. It is also likely that actual children may breach this policy when raising legitimate concerns (and immediately be blocked for ‘harassing’ the perpetrator).
Sue Gardner and Child Protection Concerns
In 2013, then Wikimedia Foundation Chief Executive Sue Gardner was contacted repeatedly via her Wikimedia.org talk page (archive here) by an anonymous user and another called Peter Damian who had concerns about child protection. Damian repeatedly complained of receiving no replies to his emails to Jimbo Wales, Gardner and other senior Wikipedians.
One issue raised across Wikipedia on several occasions was the behaviour of a user called Demiurge1000 and the way they interacted with children on the site. Earlier that year a user called Kiefer.Wolfowitz was banned indefinitely from Wikipedia by ArbCom (archive here) in part for making allegations against Demiurge1000.
Were the allegations true? Was Demiurge1000 in breach of the Child Protection policy? Who knows, but a speedy, snappy, 15 months or so later, Demiurge was globally banned across all Wikimedia projects (archive here).
Sue Gardner no longer works at Wikipedia. Your author contacted Gardner with these allegations pre-publication. She neither responded nor denied the allegations. She did not explain the long delay in acting.
Huge issues remain on Wikipedia, with its terse and very basic child protection policy. A core problem remains the lack of policy for allowing ordinary users to complain about administrators.
Ordinary users may complain of each other at the Administrator’s Noticeboard, sometimes described as Wikipedia’s ‘Lower Court’, which has various specialist divisions (for example, Incidents, Edit Warring). However, the powers of Administrators do not extend to removing other administrators – a power only possessed by Wikipedia’s Bureaucrats.
The Arbitration Committee, ArbCom, does have the power to remove Administrators but also rarely accepts cases, choosing to take on only intransigent or high profile disputes – often brought by administrators. In practice this means that ordinary editors find it hard to obtain redress.
Members of the community proposed the creation of a resolution forum (archive here) in 2004. The same issues remain to this day. Whilst the leadership of Wikipedia frequently talks the talk, the walking-of-the-walk has often been deficient.
Similar issues arise (for example) in terms of the Wikipedia Conflict of Interest policies. In my article, Improper, I covered the case of Mark Bernstein. Bernstein has repeatedly promoted his company Eastgate Systems on the site in defiance of policies which, on a literal reading, should have seen him banned.
Bernstein is not a paedophile nor an apologist but he has been accused of uncivil conduct towards other users and repeatedly blocked and topic banned (archive here). For example on one occasion he was topic banned for, “behavior incompatible with collaborative editing”.
In a series of essays, Bernstein has accused the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee of ‘Carelessly’ enabling harassment of women due to their handling of the #GamerGate case. Your author considers #GamerGate to be a benevolent movement. Ironically though, Bernstein may not be far off in his description of ArbCom – only with the wrong target. There are clearly far darker forces on Wikipedia than #GamerGate.
The sheer vileness of what has been revealed on Wikipedia puts Bernstein in perspective. He just wants to make money and fight for his (misguided) idea of social justice. He is a minor wrongdoer in comparison to those administrators who apparently fought for (in effect) a paedophile solidarity badge (There were rumours of Barnstars also. Barnstars? Barnstars??)
Nevertheless according to Wikipedia policy Bernstein should have been permanently removed from the community many times over. Yet he remains.
Wikipedia’s failure to respond at all to serious complaints is also an issue. Grant Shapps MP tells me that he has so far failed to receive the immediate acknowledgement he requested to his letter to the Wikimedia Foundation. Shapps wishes the UK chapter of Wikipedia, WMUK, to explain aspects of the conduct of the former Wikipedia functionary Richard Symonds. Whilst there is no suggestion Symonds is a paedophile ArbCom did make one of the most critical findings in its history against him for misusing his position.
At the same time I have written to ArbCom indicating that I wish to make a complaint of harassment against two administrators.
Harassment has serious consequences and it is a concern to me that so far the functionaries have failed to properly respond. They have certainly received the correspondence. Whilst complaints of harassment made to the functionaries list are supposed to be confidential, ArbCom member Doug Weller made a sarcastic comment revealing some of the contents on Jimmy Wales’ talk page (archive here). Apparently he found the idea of Parliamentary scrutiny, “chilling”.
It is incredibly serious that a functionary should refer to private, confidential correspondence in the course of disparaging a harassment complainant before even knowing what the complaint is. The fact that no one on the functionaries list has properly responded is prima-facie evidence of mala fides by the functionaries as a whole.
Doug Weller’s comment reveals another problem with Wikipedia – it has a policy called WP:NLT, which stands for ‘No Legal Threats’ (archive here). This policy simply states that anyone who threatens, or actually takes, legal action will be immediately and indefinitely blocked from editing Wikipedia. This includes perceived legal threats, such as a reference to a crime or tort.
The policy is incredibly problematic – it means that people who have a valid claim such as libel, can be prevented from using Wikipedia’s dispute resolution processes. I believe that the rule should be treated by the UK Courts as a prima-facie grounds for adverse costs consequences.
The ‘No Legal Threats’ policy means a child subject to an adverse approach by a paedophile can be immediately blocked for an incautious remark about, say, the police (not unlike the case of unfortunate Wolfowitz) whereas an aggrieved user can be blocked for complaining of an inaccurate article.
I will not name the subjects of my complaint here as no determination of the matter has been made. Indeed so far the complaint has not even begun as Wikipedia has failed to respond. However, whilst Doug Weller’s actions in this case only relate to alleged adult-on-adult harassment, the sinister failure by Wikipedia officials to follow its own procedures and to publically attack complainants has the effect of chilling legitimate complaint. Such conduct empowers paedophiles and their supporters whilst disempowering children and other victims.
Your author contacted Weller with these allegations pre-publication. He acknowledged one email but neither responded to nor denied the allegations.
Doug Weller should resign or be dismissed from ArbCom immediately. As for Jimmy Wales, he needs to show leadership and ensure Wikipedia is seen to have clean hands, not only in the area of Child Protection but in areas such as conflicts of interest. Your author suggests that Wikipedia needs to do the following –
(a) immediately and permanently block (and desysop where appropriate) Borghunter, Carnildo, Freakofnurture and Shii
(b) immediately and permanently block Erik Möller
(c) immediately and permanently Block Doug Weller
(d) immediately and permanently Block Mark Bernstein for his generally unacceptable behaviour
(e) clarify the status of Richard Symonds as an employee of Wikimedia UK per his involvement in the Grant Shapps / Contribsx case
(f) take action to create a forum accessible to ordinary users to deal appropriately with misbehaving administrators
(g) end the harassment and defamation experienced by members of the internet watchdog group, #GamerGate, on Wikipedia
If Wales fails to do so I imagine that Wikipedia will be facing a great deal more scrutiny in the United Kingdom than it has faced to date. Perhaps Parliamentary calls to prohibit cooperative arrangement with public Universities and other similar educational institutions are in order.
In my last article I pointed out other victims of Wikipedia deficiencies, including politicians, as well as journalists at Slate, Breitbart and the consumer group GamerGate. At present these groups have been dealing with Wikipedia in good faith – a good faith which has not been returned. GamerGate, Slate and Breitbart may feel Wikipedia has a great deal of nerve condemning them when its own skeletons rattle so loudly in the closet.
For example, if Wikipedia will not enforce its harassment policies, why should members of /r/TheGGGreatWork/ honour Jimmy Wales’ request to be upfront about their real identities? Such is not required of anyone else on Wikipedia. The Great Work team may need to consider whether to change the guidance given to our members.
However I fear that if action is not soon taken difficulties will soon arise. Wikipedia has been given many opportunities to change and many opportunities for dialogue. If it does not seize them then it is about to see the alternative.
Your author contacted Jimmy Wales and the Wikipedia functionaries with an earlier draft of this article. They neither responded nor denied any of the allegations.
HOW TO RAISE CONCERNS – Jimmy Wales, the Founder of Wikipedia, has a talk page he uses as an open forum for concerns. It is the place to go to raise issues and is frequented by many senior Wikipedians. So why not visit and let him know what you think? HERE Please be courteous and polite.
The Witchfinder gratefully thanks three brave Wikipedia Whistleblowers, Wikipediocracy.com, and the ethics movement and internet watchdog GamerGate.