[Wikimedia-l] Policies to Protect Users from Abuses and Mobbing in the Wikis

Lars Gardenius lars.gardenius at yahoo.de
Wed Jun 19 21:37:35 UTC 2013

Letter Regarding Mobbing and Abuses in the Wikis

have during the last several months been the victim of several kinds
of abuses and mobbing in the German

has for some time been an unfortunate development in the Internet,
with an increasing number of Internet users being subjected to abuses, harassmentsand mobbing.
Especially serious are those cases when children and youths have been
the victims, which have even led to suicide.
There seems to be a spread belief among, probably relatively young
Internet users, that Internet is an arena where you can do things,
not allowed in the society in general. That Internet is an arena outside the law.
However the authorities in care of the administration of justice have
lately become more and more aware of this problematic situation.

have to my sorrow seen that these kind of problems are also
present in the Wikis. I will here mainly talk about the
Wiktionaries, since I have worked there myself, but I believe that it
is present also in other types of  Wikis. My own experiences
orginates largely from the German Wiktionary.

Many Wiktionaries are very small, i.e. there are very few
regular participants. That also means that a small group of people,
say 5-10 persons, can very easily "take control"
over a Wiktionary. This group can then control, who gets elected as
adminstrator and bureacrat.  They can also to a large extent control
decisions over the dictionary, since they, in contrast to other
users, coordinate their voting and act as a group and thus  often
overpower other users.

may be lamentable, and not good for the development of the
dictionary, but could still not be considered really serious, since
there is always the possibility that these kind of effects will grow
away as the dictionaries get more active users. I must also stress
that there are naturally also Wiktionaries with a few regular users,
who does an incredible job and who does not try to misuse their

Wiki-organization has however a responsibilty since it provide
these platforms that the Wikis constitute. The Wiki-platforms also provide a brand and a goodwill that these groups
can use.  However, as it is today, there is nothing that will stop a
small group of users to use these platforms for their own purposes.
These groups can belong to extreme political (extreme right or
extreme left), or religious movements, with goals quite opposite
to the goals of the Wiki-movement. In the German Wiktionary a
group like this has openly expressed their contemp for democratic
values * (see below).

groups can on one hand influence the content in a way, that is not in
accordance with current knowledge, but what is perhaps even more
important, they can also through the harassment and bullying of
other users, make sure that only users that obey their rules will be allowed to participate. I have several times observed that
these kind of groups are much more interested in controlling other
users, than to recruit new participants or work with the dictionary.
Rather a few obedient users than many contributors. In the German
Wiktionary this policy has been expressed openly.

The Wiki-organization also has a responsibilty to protect the Wiki
users from being the victims of harassments, insults and mobbing
in the Wiki-community and to guarantee that the wikis really are open
to all people, not only in theory, but also in practise.

will below list some weaknesses in the Wiki-organization and
administration that allow certain groups to harass and mob other
users without risking any consequences neither within in
Wiki-community nor through legal means.

protect the users and the dictionaries the following reforms are


the Wiktionaries are a humanistic endeavour, every user should
actually be able to use their real
namewithout having to fear harassment. That is unfortunatelynot possible today, so for the time being we might have to accept
that the use of aliases is allowed. This leads however also to that a
perpetrator can hide behind his/hers alias.

to stop those groups and individuals from abusing other users one
should introduce the following

That a user most log in to the Wiktionary, before writing
anything on that forum. That is a minimum requirement to be able to
stop abuse and being able to identify a perpetrator. The log in
procedure is also so simple that it will not stop anyone from
participating. Similar Internet sites have this policy.

That the user must state his/hers real name when creating an
account. The user shall then be able to use an alias when
contributing to the dictionary. The real name should only be visible
to people supervising the Wiktionaries ( i.e. the stewards or other
type of similar supervising function).

The real name is only revealed to people outside of the supervising
function when e.g. a serious offense is investigated.

The real name will also simplify for the supervising function to prevent the use of multiple accounts. Today there is no
practical way to ensure that groups, that have as goal to harass
other users, are not using multiple identities. By using multiple
identities these groups can seem much larger to the victim than they
actually are, and in that way even more intimidating.

weak role of the stewards

problem that I have tried to describe above becomes really serious
when it involves a number of administrators at the Wiktionary in

solitary user has today no way to defend himself/herself against
these abusing administrators and bureaucrats.

have in connection with the abuses against me in the German
Wiktionary, investigated the role of the stewards, and found that it
is very weak function when it comes to upholding the rights and the
protection of the ordinary user.

must therefore exist a possibilty for the ordinary user to appeal against a decision. There must also exist a possibility for the
ordinary user to call in an independent investigation when
serious offenses against users are perpetrated.  

The role of the stewards thus has to be strengthen or
alternatively another kind of supervising function has to be


Wiktionaries offer three types of communication between users, the talk pages, through chat fora and through E-mail.

communication through the talk pages is transparent, every user can
follow this communication, and it is also traceable afterwards,
through the history file. This communication channel fulfills all the
needs for the dictionary work.

other two communication channels are very problematic. I can through
own experiences testify that for example the chat is used by
people for plotting and coordinating attacks on other
users. The chat is not transparent, it is not supervised by
anybody in Wiki-organization, it is not possible even for the
stewards to investigate what has been said on this channel, according
to the information I have received from the stewards.

same criticism can be launched at the E-Mail communication channel.
If users want to communicate privately  through E-Mails they can do
so without the help from the Wiki.

can see no need or use for neither the chat nor the E-Mail
communication channel in a Wiktionary that is open to all.

Wiki-organization  has a responisbility when it provide these
channels, at least to supervise and log the information
transferred, to ensure that they are not used to abuse users, and so
that in the case of an investigation, these channels can be
scrutinized. The Wiki-organization shall also be able to ensure that
these channels are not used, as they are today, to harass and abuse
other users.


I am strong believer in
the Wiktionary idea, especially since I see the future for the
printed dictionaries as being very precarious.

If the Wiktionaries shall
however be able to prosper, the growing problem of abuses, and groups
acting in their own interest only, must be met with forceful actions.

I believe that the
Wiki-brand today enjoys respect in the society, but if nothing is
done the brand and goodwill of the Wikis will be damaged. When these
problems will be noticed by the media and people not themselves
actively working with the Wikis it will create a problem in
recruiting new members as well as raising money for the Wiki-projects

This letter will be
distributed to a large number of people within the Wiki-organization
as well as to some people outside it.

Lars Gardenius
Physicist and 

* Example of statement
from administrator in German Wiktionary on democracy:
Dann werde ich jetzt ausnahmsweise mal
sehr deutlich:
Wikipedia ist keine
Demokratie. Gleiches gilt auch für Wiktionary. Wir befinden uns
hier in einem Projekt zum Aufbau eines Online-Wörterbuches.
Demokratiespiele bitte woanders spielen. Das Ziel von Wiktionary wird
leider hin und wieder aus den Augen verloren: Es geht hier nicht um
persönliche Eitelkeiten, nicht um ein soziales Netzwerk, nicht
um psychologische Betreuung, nicht um Integration aller Nutzer um
jeden Preis. Es geht hier einzig und allein um den Aufbau eines
Online-Wörterbuches. Wer das nicht akzeptiert und dabei massiv
stört (vor allem, wenn es sich um rechtliche Drohungen wie
Anzeigen bei der Polizei handelt, die direkte Auswirkungen ins
Real-Life haben), hat in diesem Projekt nichts zu suchen. Punkt.
--[[Benutzer:Stepro|Stepro]] <small>([[User
talk:Stepro|Diskussion]])</small> 20:22, 15. Jun 2013 (MESZ)

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