My decision to found the admin IRC channel has meant that I've had to
take a lot of flak from some of my friends which has been quite
upsetting. I thought I would write this email to the list to explain
what I see its purpose as. This also serves to highlight the importance
of RC patrol.
I started the channel following Danny's suggestion that there should be
a private place for discussion of confidential issues which we don't
want the public (and by extension, the media) to know about. Such issues
include complaints to the Foundation about libel in articles. Everyone
should know this is one of Wikipedia's greatest problems, that anyone
can say nasty things about someone else and quite often this isn't
picked up on RC patrol.
Danny's suggestion for a private method of communication between
"trusted users" given the issues we face was an excellent one in my
opinion and I thought that an IRC channel is an ideal medium for this
type of discussion to occur. Admins form a pretty diverse group of
trustworthy users (all admins have the best interests of their project
at heart) so for simplicity I created the channel for admins only.
The suggestion of a "trusted user" group is an interesting idea but
unfortunately very selective. Who is responsible for choosing who is a
trusted user? Whoever it was, there would be a large number of people
who would be missed off even though they are perfectly trustworthy.
Also, think of the consequences if someone found out if they weren't
considered trustworthy as they weren't given channel access - it would
be quite demoralising for one. Rationally, there may be perfectly solid
reasons why they weren't given access but emotionally it is still
demoralising. That's why I went by the simple, easily-defined standard
of admins on the English-language Wikipedia.
Later Danny and I talked about the scope of the channel and raised the
point that people who work the OTRS lists should be given access, since
they get the bulk of the libel complaints and are best placed to notify
people of potential issues. This is an entirely sensible argument.
Some people have raised concerns about backroom decisions, cliques and
the lack of transparency this channel will create. These are fair
comments to raise but I believe they are unfounded. Firstly, the
channel's purpose is not a decision-making one. Unrelated chit-chatter
and non-confidential discussions are pointed out as inappropriate for
the channel and go on to take place in #wikipedia. Some admins have
refused to join because they think the channel is closed and hidden. I
think a better action for them to take would be to join, and
self-regulate what the channel discusses. If it's not appropriate, ask
the people discussing to talk in a different channel.
On a related note, the entire reason this channel exists is due to the
problem we face from libel. This is why we must be grateful for the
existing work people who work RC patrol do, and we should do everything
we can to help them out. Problems which are ending up in OTRS and the
admin channel are due to edits slipping through RC patrol. What we need
to do is make their job easier. Admins who help out on RC patrol know
the huge difference admin rollback makes, compared to having to do it
manually. This is why we should either make the majority of RC
patrollers admins, or give them access to rollback. Because of the
rising standards for becoming an admin on the English language
Wikipedia, the former is becoming more hard. Arguments of "adminship is
no big deal" have now become "adminship should be no big deal". We have
to recognise that this shift has taken place - and those who hold this
principle should take part in RFA more, supporting more candidates.
Another - and better - solution, however, is to grant the rollback
privilege to good contributors who are not admins. This would make the
jobs of RC patrollers much easier - and will have the knock-on effect of
lowering the amount of complaints the Foundation gets. The Foundation
agrees that this is a great solution to the big problem we face. There
is a poll to gauge community consensus on the issue:
"Mistrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful."
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra