Wikipedia was in a bit of chaos today, as some of its administrators and its Arbitration Committee seek to wipe away any mention of the real name of a user who goes by the nickname "Russavia". One popular and prolific editor of military history articles has been indefinitely blocked for "outing" Russavia. And an administrator with nearly five years under his belt who sought to unblock the history buff was defrocked of his admin toolkit in the early hours of March 5th. Alas, the people who built Wikipedia have developed an accompanying set of rules that are so extreme, heavy-handed, and (not surprisingly) unevenly enforced, it's not hard to believe that fewer and fewer people have the courage to edit the wiki encyclopedia any more.
What is especially perplexing is the fact that "Russavia" has identified himself as Australian web merchant Scott Bibby in numerous places across the Internet, but because he has never sought to identify himself on Wikipedia, no other Wikipedia editor is ever allowed to identify him by his real name. Furthermore, Russavia's account on Wikipedia has been blocked since April 2012, so this entire kerfuffle has been fought over the identity of someone who was already kicked off of the site.
The puzzling affair began with a blog post on the Wikipedia criticism site, Wikipediocracy. The post explained in clear detail how Russavia is one of the most prolific and intractable contributors of photos to Wikimedia Commons (the photo album cousin of Wikipedia), how he so offends opponents that he got blocked for a year from Wikipedia, and how his name is without a doubt Scott Bibby. The post also described a moment on Wikipedia when a female editor complained to its co-founder Jimmy Wales about all of the pornography found on the site. She lamented that there were so many public masturbation photos on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, that "it hurts". Russavia jumped into that conversation to mock the lady:
"When I masturbate in public, I don’t really feel any different than when I do it in private; can you possibly tell us why when you masturbate in public, it hurts? -- Russavia"
Given that the Wikimedia Foundation's director, Sue Gardner, has been struggling with an editor retention problem -- especially among females -- one Wikipedia editor thought that Gardner should read the Wikipediocracy blog about Bibby, so that she might comment on his continued rule over Wikimedia Commons. Little did Charles Ainsworth realize that his re-posting a link to a blog that documented a blocked Wikipedia editor's identity would get himself in trouble. As Ainsworth told Examiner:
"It didn't occur to me that anything would happen. I thought it would be ignored."
Blocking and unblocking and de-sysoping
Wikipedia's community is bizarre in the way that it not only creates an entire world of rules for both site veterans and novices to follow, but it then worships those rules, even to the point of eliminating the very producers of the encyclopedia, so that trolls and ne'er-do-wells are preserved. That's what happened with the "WP:OUTING" policy. Suppose some clown named Pinto Colvig joins Wikipedia, creating the User name "Bozo Rules". Now, suppose Pinto never publishes on Wikipedia his real name; on Wikipedia he always goes by Bozo Rules. Next, let's say Pinto writes a letter to the editor of The New York Times, documenting his experiences as "Bozo Rules" on Wikipedia. The letter is "signed, Pinto Colvig", and it gets published in the newspaper and is read by millions of readers. The next day, several Wikipedians who are fans of Pinto Colvig might be found chatting with each other on their Talk pages on Wikipedia -- "Hey, did you know that User:Bozo Rules is actually Pinto Colvig? I read his letter to The New York Times!" Those editors would be in violation of Wikipedia's policy, and they would be subject to an immediate block. Wikipedia could not be more clear:
"Posting such information about another editor is an unjustifiable and uninvited invasion of privacy and may place that editor at risk of harm outside of their activities on Wikipedia. ...attempted outing is grounds for an immediate block."
So, that is how a seven-year editor of military history articles is now expelled from Wikipedia. One Wikipedia administrator named Kevin saw that Ainsworth promised not to repeat the offending posts, so he reversed the block. As Kevin explained to Examiner:
"One of the policies of Wikipedia is that blocking is only used to prevent disruptive edits, so once the threat of disruption was removed, the block became unnecessary. The other reason [for unblocking] is that [Ainsworth] was blocked from responding on his own talk page. All the while, discussion raged on that page about what should be done with him, of course he was unable to respond. I find this situation offends my sense of natural justice, and is one of the more obnoxious aspects of Wikipedia."
Within hours, Kevin himself would have his administrator tools removed by order of Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee -- he had broken the code, after having held the administrator position since 2008. Examiner asked Kevin if he would seek the restoration of his administrator designation. He said:
"It is interesting to note that the Arbitration Committee rules state that 'Removal is protective, intended to prevent harm to the encyclopedia while investigations take place' and that 'advanced permissions will normally be reinstated once a satisfactory explanation is provided'; however, in this case at least two Arbitrators have indicated that the removal is permanent."
The irony of it all
The really fascinating thing is that while Wikipedia's policy against "outing" is meant to quiet the disclosure of personally identifying information to a wider audience, Wikipedia's culture of punishment has achieved the exact opposite. When Charles Ainsworth shared a link to information that revealed Russavia to be Scott Bibby, he did so on Sue Gardner's Talk page, which was seen by no more than 40 or 50 people. However, when Ainsworth was blocked for doing that, it drew the attention of far more people to his own Talk page, to see what the fuss was about. Ainsworth's Talk page has been opened nearly 3,000 times in the past five days alone. And when Administrator Kevin was stripped of his sysop privileges, traffic on his Talk page increased one hundred fold. Way to go, Wikipedia -- now everybody knows who Russavia is.