Group 4 Dispute Results

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Note:This page has been linked to multiple times on Wikipedia. Just something to be aware of us as you make comments here (and of course anywhere on this wiki, it being on them fancy tubes and all). Kp 18:36, 8 January 2008 (EST)

  • Thanks, Senator. -Lciaccio 18:56, 8 January 2008 (EST)
  • I've tried to clean this up a bit and move the large chunks of WP content onto their own pages so that we (and anyone visiting) can use this page to discuss reflections, thoughts, and other sort of meta responses. Kp 13:40, 9 January 2008 (EST)

Overview and Brief History of the Project

Preliminary Discussion

Group 4 Preliminary Discussion Archive

The Debate

Although looking at the RFC page may lead one to believe that the debate is "Is waterboarding torture?", as far as we can tell, the debate is actually (or was intended to be) "Is it disputed that waterboarding is torture?" or -- to put it another way -- is it conclusory / does it violate Wikipedia's NPOV policy to declare as the lead statement "Waterboarding is a form of torture..." Vhettinger 23:00, 8 January 2008 (EST)

The RfC Proposal

After diligent review of the existing arguments and thoughtful discussion of the merits, our group came to what we believed was a fair compromise. We created a new section to the RfC page, and initiated a call for consensus.

  • Lciaccio, Shamulou, Pri2008, Theokrat, and Vhettinger are group members in this discussion.

Reported for Possible Sock Puppetry

As a result of the comments that were made on the RfC one wikipedian, Jehochman, reported a possible incident of sock puppetry. A copy of that report is available here: Group 4 Accused of Sock Puppetry.

Furthermore, there is a section on the Waterboarding/Definition RFC page following our call for consensus which was previously entitled "confirmed meatpuppetry on Waterboarding", but which thanks to Eryck's aggressive and well-reasoned lobbying has now been changed to Harvard student group discussion.

There is also a section on the regular Waterboarding Talk page which still bears the title confirmed meatpuppetry on Waterboarding, but the text of this section is not the same as that on the RFC page.

This has also now been changed. [1]-Lciaccio 15:38, 10 January 2008 (EST)
Good work, LT! Vhettinger 14:28, 11 January 2008 (EST)

Generally supportive comments on this issue can be found on our various talk pages.

Moving on up . . . to the ANI

After revealing who we were on the sock puppet report the discussion was then moved to the ANI where it received a significant amount of comment. While the discussion has been removed from the current ANI a copy of it's archived form is available here: Group 4 ANI Incident Archive.

  • Lciaccio, Vhettinger, and kevparks are group members in this discussion.

Further Fallout

At some point while the discussion was going on in the ANI, there was a call for vandalism of our course wiki at Wikipedia Review. TAs, a few course members, and friends came to the rescue, and the matter seems resolved for now.

  • While there was the initial call for vandalism, there is actually some interesting discussion worth reading over at the review now. Kp 13:34, 9 January 2008 (EST)


Wikipedia Culture

Much of what happened occured when two of the users who we had disagreed with began an accusation of sockpuppetry and posted on the admin noticeboard. Indeed, most of the opinions criticizing the group stemmed from these same two users. On reflection, we might have fared better had we chosen a less emotional subject matter. The strong reactions stemmed at least in part from tempers that had flared over the matter long before our arrival.

I did spend a good amount of time reviewing disputes to get a sense of the policies and culture that would govern our contributions. Until this point, my own participation on Wikipedia was mostly fixing grammar and adding source citations. However, I probably chose a bad place to familiarize myself. Although the incidents surrounding a PR firm's creator of pages for its minor aspiring actors were interesting, they gave me no clue of how Wikipedians behave on more sensitive subjects.

I think our main failure was a lack of transparency. I was of the view that as long as we were following polcies otherwise, there was nothing that warranted disclosure. I failed to see what a sense of community thrived on these boards, and how great the disdain for those percieved to be outsiders. Absent a future assignment demanding otherwise, I would love to go back to adding the fact pattern to the entry on Perez v. Sharp, improving the Loi Gayssot‎ page, and adding famous alumi from Iona. It was far more rewarding, and contained far less emotional turmoil. -Lciaccio 23:15, 8 January 2008 (EST)

  • I'm not sure I buy the argument that disclosure was necessary and that some great evil was perpetuated against Wikipedia by our actions. The only error that we may have made was in picking an article where the tensions were already so high from previous questionable actions. If Wikipedia is actually opposed to having groups approach an issue with some knowledge that they have gained and/or conversed about IRL I don't think that this is the best way to build an encyclopedia. While we might not have specific knowledge on this issue (a position that I would actually dispute given the fact that 'what is torture' is in many ways a question of international and domestic law), I would think that Wikipedia should encourage people with specific or specialized knowledge on a subject to comment. Just because a group engages in some collective action exterior to Wikipedia ought not to disqualify them from contributing when they have more knowledge about the issue on hand that singular individuals. Kp 00:13, 9 January 2008 (EST)
    • I understand WP's concern for transparency given the degree to which a poster could remain anonymous through sock puppetry. Nevertheless, I think the entire dispute points to a fundamental tension in WP's dispute resolution system. On one hand, calls for consensus are highly decentralized and would seem to imply a highly informal process. Yet we were critiqued for not fully familiarizing ourselves with the WP dispute resolution process. Not only does this imply the process is actually much more formal than it appears, but in some sense, it also implies WP constitutes its own jurisdiction. To the extent that I believe WP is meant to be an informal community, I don't believe disclosure was or should have been necessary. What I think this dispute shows, though, is that the informal WP ethos is unsustainable where interaction is manipulable by things like sock puppetry and similar shenanigans. Ac 01:16, 9 January 2008 (EST)
  • I agree that disclosure (or lack thereof) is what folks ended up fixating upon at the end as the wrong they felt we committed. That said, I feel like a huge part of wikipedia editing is the very anonymity we tried to retain. The only information anyone has on any other user is (1) the information they choose to reveal on their userpage, and (2) their edit history. People make changes with effective anonymity, and others anonymously modify those changes if they appear incorrect.
  • Honestly, I believe that much of the uproar arose because there was a clear group of parties involved in this controversy, and that group was not incredibly large (only about 5-6 active players); when we showed up, we doubled that number and all had the same basic opinion (with minor variations). I think this shows a considerable flaw in the talk-page format: it relies upon the presence of a discrete and small number of individuals, arriving at the page by chance, working things out among themselves. The process has no way of adapting to a sudden influx of individuals all at once; although one or two can insert themselves into a conversation at a given time without too much difficulty, a group of them cause things to break down, as all of the original participants suddenly discover that their (relative) power over the discussion has shrunk dramatically. Unfortunately, to my mind, the current system of talk-pages is too ingrained at this point to be entirely overhauled, and I figure that means that any sort of organized effort, particularly one that, like ours, arises outside the bounds of Wikipedia, simply cannot function effectively on that site, because it's going to excite too many participants who have too much investment in the issue already. Kratville 01:47, 9 January 2008 (EST)

I'm reposting this because it appears to have been deleted and is, I think, useful commentary. Ac 10:00, 9 January 2008 (EST)

  • Comment from a completely non-involved Wikipedian. This is, after all, a free-to-edit Wiki ;). Please feel free to completely disregard anything I say - I speak entirely for myself, and don't necessarily represent the views of the entire Wikipedia community. I've read the whole fiasco on ANI, as well as the sockpuppetry case, and this page, but as of yet I haven't commented on the whole situation anywhere. I really wanted to get back to this group as a whole, and felt that leaving a message here may be the best route. Firstly, I have to disagree with a number of users on Wikipedia: I don't think that this was a case of sockpuppetry, or meatpuppetry. However, I agree with them that it certainly looked like that, without all the facts. This is why I do think that it would have been beneficial for you to disclose your position immediatley. Also, as you rightly point out above, picking an article where tensions were already at breaking-point perhaps wasn't the wisest decision, but in all fairness, short of spending a few weeks looking at the disputes beforehand, I honestly don't see how you could have realised this fact before jumping in, and so I feel that this was nothing more than an unfortunate but unavoidable mistake. Finally, in response to this comment from Lciaccio: "I failed to see what a sense of community thrived on these boards, and how great the disdain for those percieved to be outsiders". You kinda got that both right and wrong. Yes, the core Wikipedia community is certainly tight-knit, and, very unfortunatly, there are some occassions when outsiders are not welcomed as they should be. However, I don't really feel that this is the case here. I think Jehochman got it bang-on when he posted this on the ANI: "These are students. We hope they have learned something—that online communities do not like being experimented upon". It's really not so much that you, a bunch of outsiders, jumped in and were rejected by the community, but more that when people learnt of your project, (especially when links to this page were posted), they felt uncomfortable, uneasy about being part of essentially an experiment without their consent. I know that, especially having read through this page, I sorta feel "Hmm, here I am participating in Wikipedia for enjoyment, but I could quite easily be being watched, analysed or even used in an experiment without my knowledge". That's certainly not entirely you or your lecturer's fault - anyone can do it - I suppose that this wiki page that I'm editing right now just highlighted the fact so plainly. I do, however, feel that it would have been courteous for you to be as transparent about the project as possible from the outset. In conclusion, yes, you could certainly have handled the situation better in some ways, but no, it's really nowhere near as bad as some users are making out. As far as I can tell, none of you have been blocked from Wikipedia, so I sincerely hope that we haven't lost you as editors - being from Harvard, I should think you'd be a greater asset to the project than Joe Bloggs off the street ;). I really hope that I haven't intruded here - as it's a free-to-edit Wiki, I don't think I have, but feel free to ignore me completely ;). Finally, just to reitterate, the above represents entirely my own views, and not that of the entire Wikipedia community (though I'd hope that a fair few would agree with me :P). Regards, Islander 06:08, 9 January 2008 (EST)
    • I have two minds about this post. I certainly understand how some might interpret the assignment as an experiment. But I’m not convinced that it was. WP is open to all users, and we participated as I imagine many novices might. We neither attempted to sabotage the project nor attempted to force WP users to react in ways they might not otherwise react. Our participation was extremely limited because: 1) we edited a talk page, not the actual article; 2) we did not reframe the RFC but rather refocused it as originally framed; 3) we attempted to find micro-consensus amongst ourselves but ultimately posted our individual opinions; and 4) our suggestions were neither outrageous nor clearly disruptive in and of themselves. Perhaps we should have disclosed our project. But what would that have accomplished? Ex ante disclosure would only have been relevant in so much as it would have allowed WP users to alter their behavior. But I think that would have ultimately resulted in either over- or under-weighting our comments. Most of us are new users, and according to WP norms, our opinions should be weighted accordingly. I somehow doubt that would be the case had we disclosed our identity as HLS students.
    • I also understand the psychological reaction to feeling somehow tricked (although I maintain that we acted as novice users without trickery). Yet given that every other user is allowed anonymity and need not disclose his or her purposes in joining WP, I think it’s unfair to require a higher standard from us. Although we were required to participate for a class, we were only trying to further what we individually understood to be WP’s neutral point of view. I have no doubt that there are many benevolent WP editors out there; I also have no doubt that there is a significant minority of WP editors who participate for some reason other than to further a quality encyclopedia with a neutral point of view. The latter group does not self-identify prior to editing, and I submit WP should be far more worried about them than us.
    • Lastly, I’d like to address our choice of topic. Waterboarding is a contentious issue, and it is true that we could have chosen less disputed disputes to resolve. But given WP's social importance, it is important to understand its mechanisms for enforcing neutrality on these kinds of highly contested issues. The way in which WP resolves whether Santa is a mythical character might be a good way to learn about how most of WP functions, but the stakes are clearly less important. "Waterboarding is a form of torture" is an extremely strong and unequivocal statement for an encyclopedia that has a reputation for taking a neutral point of view. The original RFC asked if there were sources to support the proposition that any dissent was a non-trivial, non-fringe view. The RFC was clearly going in circles because people were addressing the substantive heart of the dispute rather than the more abstract question the RFC rightly asked. In some ways, I think WP is a victim of its own success. It is now the first source many people turn to when asking questions online, but that very prestige should subject WP and the way it functions to much closer scrutiny by society. Ac 09:56, 9 January 2008 (EST)