[Foundation-l] Accountability

Samuel Klein meta.sj at gmail.com
Mon Mar 12 01:24:37 UTC 2007

The community and Foundation responses to Essjay's unmasked roleplaying 
have been rather disappointing.  Each time it comes up, every community 
member has an opportunity to remind the world that Wikipedia does not 
privilege credentials but rather quality of contribution; and that 
Essjay's contributions and participation were acclaimed and emulated for 
their consistency, reliability, sensibility and eloquence, not for claims 
about his present work or past accomplishments.

I cringe at the overemphasis on "using credentials in content disputes" as 
it relates to this particular case, since there are so many people who DO 
use their credentials, real or otherwise, in misguided and harmful ways in 
content disputes on Wikipedia every day -- including active editors and 
admins who see it as their mission to 'normalize' the POV of the site 
without consideration of others' perspectives.  Essjay's use in this 
manner was tame and sporadic in comparison.

I blogged something about this:

But I was responding to a thread about accountability in general..

== Accountability and credentials ==

As to Anthony's proposal to validate credentials:

Wikipedia does not privilege editors with academic credentials. Nor are 
academic credentials a special case of information about oneself on the 
     Therefore, if you want to create new policy about lying, involving 
which chastises or otherwise punishes editors for not being truthful, be 
sure to define the policy in a way neutral to the "academic-qualification" 
nature of the facts in question.

Wikipedia does not require Real Names, nor does it privilege giving out 
lots of personal information.  It also encourages and depends on 
verification of FACTS, and not of PEOPLE.
     Therefore, if you want to set up a verification service for facts -- 
please do.  We would all support this.  If you want to set up a 
verification service for people -- for real names, number of children, 
age, weight, people slept with -- you can of course offer the ADP stamp of 
personal-information approval... but I would hate to see it as an official 
part of Wikipedia.

Finally, adminship is no big deal, and standards for admins should relate 
directly to their ability to sensibly carry out editing and other policies.

And for most positions it should be confirmation enough to have explicit 
"ask me no questions" pseudonymity...


On Fri, 9 Mar 2007, Kat Walsh wrote:

> On 3/5/07, Erik Moeller <erik at wikimedia.org> wrote:
>> On 3/5/07, Anthony <wikilegal at inbox.org> wrote:
>>> There are two parts to the suggestion: 1) marking some statements with
>>> a "verified credentials" tag, and 2) a "policy of gentle (or firm)
>>> discouragement for people to make claims like those that EssJay made,
>>> unless they are willing to back them up".
>> I'm cross-posting this to wikipedia-l and foundation-l, because it may
>> very well become a Foundation-level issue at some point.
>> I would support the following:
>> 1) Any user can ask for his or her professional credentials to be verified.
>> 2) Making up professional credentials is prohibited, and may result in
>> a ban. (This may or may not be covered by existing policy, but judging
>> from the Essjay case, it is probably not sufficiently clear.) This is
>> independent of whether or not the user asks for credentials to be
>> verified. We may investigate claims that are dubious when they are
>> pointed out to us.
>> 3) Any user trusted on admin level or higher who makes a statement of
>> credentials on their user page must have them verified through a team
>> of volunteers designated to this role by the Wikimedia Foundation (we
>> may want to involve the chapters if this becomes international). The
>> process of verification could be similar to what Citizendium uses,
>> i.e.:
>> a) have an existing, credentialed user vouch for the credentials to be
>> correct based on personal knowledge,
>> b) respond to an email associated with a reliable institution, and
>> point us to a web page of that institution where their credentials are
>> listed,
>> c) point to someone associated with a reliable institution we can
>> contact to verify the credentials.
>> We may extend this to regular users if it proves to scale well.
>> 4) Users with verified credentials will get a little "Verified
>> credentials on <date>" marker on their user page, nothing more. This
>> marker would ideally be independent of the wikitext of the page, and
>> set in the user table instead.
>> I am opposed to any marker of edit contributions and such -- users who
>> care about credentials can look them up, those who do not care should
>> not be bothered by them in discussions or contributions.
> As many others do I believe this is too bureaucratic, and I don't
> think it will ever be followed on a wide enough scale to be useful.
> I believe that for all but the most hardcore contributors it is too
> much bother; they won't do it. And among the more dedicated
> contributors, many will be against it. There's a reason we don't
> simply take experts at their word -- not because we do not respect
> expertise, but because for our purposes we need to know *where* the
> experts got what they know so that someone can independently verify
> it, no matter how reliable the contributor may personally be.
> And how reliable that person is does not necessarily match up to how
> well-qualified they are... or how much information they are willing to
> give. There are plenty of cranks who are more than happy to prove six
> ways from sunday that they have a load of letters after their names,
> in the hopes that you will be impressed enough to defer to their
> crankish viewpoint. And plenty of solid contributors who are
> uncredentialed, who aren't willing to go to the trouble, or who don't
> believe that it should be required and wouldn't want to use them to
> influence discussion anyway, who will not participate.
> Is it wrong to claim you are something you are not in order to
> influence decisions? Sure, and I don't condone that. But mandatory
> credential verification is not something I see as effectively
> addressing the problem. For whatever reason, some people make things
> up. Most people don't lie, and I do not think that telling everyone
> who says on their user page "hi, I live in Arizona, I have a Ph.D. in
> math, and I want to edit articles about graph theory" that they have
> to let someone check credentials is going to go over well -- nor is it
> necessary.
> Positions of personal-level trust are different -- checkusers, press
> contacts, and similar. And for those, I don't care about credentials,
> unless the credentials are in some way related to what they are doing
> -- just identity, that they are who they say they are. Already we ask
> that stewards prove they are over age 18; checkusers *should* be the
> same. I'm sure we will be more stringent about checking on the
> identities of press contacts in the future. It is reluctantly that I
> can accept restricting users from being able to fill these positions
> without proving identity, because I want to trust that people will not
> misrepresent themselves, but I recognize that they do not always do
> so.
> As for admins? I'm afraid it may even be counterproductive. It implies
> that credentials and identity are important to adminship. And this is
> exactly the wrong impression. It says that we care what kind of
> standing our admins have for adminship -- separate from their roles as
> content editors. (And many of the most well-regarded and prolific
> content editors are not admins.) There is nothing about adminship that
> needs special qualification other than experience with the site. I
> care that people who are contributing content are not backing up their
> statements with false authority -- false credentials, misquoted
> references, hoaxes, anything of the like -- regardless of their status
> as admins or not. There is nothing about the position of admin that
> requires us to know anything other than their history with the site.
> (The press likes to make a big deal about admins, but if we are doing
> something in response to press alone against our better judgment we
> are in a sad state.)
> Even assuming we all thought this was a great idea and we were all on
> board, who is going to be doing the checking? How deep is this going
> to be? Is someone who has a diploma mill Ph.D. still able to say "I
> have a a Ph.D." or will all instances needed to be marked with
> {{unaccredited}}?
> I am afraid this is a knee-jerk response, and I am also afraid that
> saying to the media that we are going to do it (and that is what has
> been said so far) foolishly commits us to something that may not be a
> good idea even if we had the resources to do it. And so even as I am
> for knowing the identities of those in positions of trust, I am
> against this proposal.
> -Kat
> who advises you to take all of the above with a grain of salt; she
> only has a BA, which no one here has personally checked up on
> -- 
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