Two policies in conflict?
Over the past week the English Wikipedia has seen a reactivation of the controversy surrounding the intersection of two key policies: those for paid-contribution disclosure and outing. It began on 27 June 2016 with the blocking by arbitrator GorillaWarfare of Jytdog, with “outing” being the justification. Jytdog is a long-standing editor on medical topics who also works in the area of conflict of interest. The aftermath has raised a number of issues that the community is struggling to address including: who gets to decide policy, what is and is not “outing”, and whether it is permissible for Wikipedia volunteers to discuss and link to publicly posted job offers for Wikipedia PR work and the public professional profiles of writers undertaking such work.
Who gets to decide?
The first issue raised is who gets to decide policy. Many editors view the decision of GorillaWarfare to indefinitely block Jytdog and ArbCom not unblocking as of publication as a misapplication of our outing policy, or borderline at best. The discussion of what the policy actually is and where we draw the line between "outing" and "not outing" has been closed by Mike V, a checkuser, with claims that these discussions are outside the community's remit.
The functionaries have gained a head start in the discussion through their use of private channels. Two of them—DoRD and Thryduulf—tried to remove important wording from the harassment policy: "posting links to other accounts on other websites is allowable on a case-by-case basis", apparently with the intention to leave the impression that posting links to other accounts is never allowed. The clause in question has been in the policy in one form or another since early 2015.
The removal was without community consensus, and it appears that the majority of the functionaries have decided that their interpretation of WP:OUTING trumps that of everyone else.
On the question of who gets to decide, my objective is to stand up for the community. When I was on the board of the WMF, I pushed hard for broad community involvement in determining our long-term strategy; I saw it as inappropriate for a small group of individuals to make decisions behind closed doors. The same applies in this case: I believe transparency and community involvement is vital in determining policy as it is in determining strategy.
Some editors have argued that a very strict interpretation of WP:OUTING is a requirement coming from the WMF. However, the Foundation's legal department has published a statement on this question, indicating that this is not the case:
It appears people are taking a policy that applies to non-public information and attempting to force it onto all information contained in personal and corporate accounts outside Wikipedia.
Our purpose: stating the obvious
Jimmy Wales summarized the purpose of our efforts well: "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."
Our purpose is not to create an anonymous online utopia but to create sources of knowledge, and our rules need to be created and maintained to achieve this end. To the degree that anonymity achieves our goals, it should be supported—but this does not mean it should be supported absolutely and in all situations.
Others have stated that we should never need to use links to justify concerns of undisclosed paid editing. They feel that we can simply express the concerns on a person's talk page without providing evidence; but what we end up with is the casting of aspersions. Our essay on the topic in fact states, “An editor must not accuse another of misbehavior without evidence ... If accusations must be made, they should be raised, with evidence, on the user-talk page.” Those accused also deserve the right to defend or justify themselves openly and transparently.
We currently have an open RfC regarding a statement I posted to WP:COIN in September 2015, and whether we feel this type of comment should be allowed or disallowed. In part, it concerns a job offer for Wikipedia editing publicly posted on Elance, a website frequented by those intending to commission and those willing to undertake paid online PR work:
Public and private domains
The privacy of volunteer contributors is a vitally important value. But public-relations work is, as the very name implies, public, not private. The LinkedIn profiles of marketing managers as well as the job and service advertisements on freelance PR writers' sites like Elance are posted there with the explicit intent to catch the eyes of the world.
Many editors may conclude that it is wrong that the entire world should be free to review, discuss and use that information, except for the unpaid volunteers whose work is directly affected and not infrequently compromised by the efforts of PR writers—people whose primary allegiance is not to the Wikimedia project but to those who pay them.
MD, CCFP(EM), Wikipedian
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