Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2022-11-28/Concept


The relevance of legal certainty to the English Wikipedia

An anonymous editor gave their thoughts on how they believe "the administration of this free encyclopedia is flawed, and how it may be fixed". See revision 842176683 for attribution. This was written in 2018, and found again on a spelunking expedition in the Signpost annals.

The German philosopher of law Gustav Radbruch is widely credited with popularising and emphasising the concept of legal certainty (from the German Rechtssicherheit). This concept means that everyone who is subject to a certain legal code must be able to know which actions of his are legal (under that code) and which are not. In my opinion, on our encyclopedia, this concept is grossly violated, and I hereby intend to show some of the problems that I perceive to occur, and to offer some ideas on how to solve them.

Quite regularly, an administrator of this encyclopedia may encounter a user that he finds, for whatever reason, unsympathetic. We all know that some people we just can't stand, be they politicians, lawyers, civil servants, chief executives or teachers, just to name a few. Now in the real world, this does not really have any consequences, because we (in many cases possibly quite fortunately) do not have the power to inflict any serious damage to these people. But in the online world, where whole human beings, valuable, special and equipped with their own unique emotional worlds, are disguised as mere non-impressive text-strings with an underscore, this situation changes dramatically. Here, an administrative clique that does not have any substantial legal training in any of its facets (neutrality, the suppression of personal preference, the evaluation of evidence, the reading skills required to understand complex legal codes) or any substantial emotional fortification, decides on practically everything, in particular on user bans, the final version of articles and many more things. Isn't it strange, one asks, that admins basically never get blocked? Is this kind of immunity really implied by the rules of Wikipedia? Why, further, may administrators institute arbitrary blocks against people they themselves have a problem with? Have we not created a clique of overly powerful, nonconstructive superusers who, by aggressively having their way, shoo away large chunks of the Wikipedia community who, in real life, expect from their fellow humans a just and fair treatment and therefore are unable to deal with the realities of day-to-day Wikipedia work?

I have compiled a list of suggestions that may improve the situation as described.

  • It is crucial that administrators be elected only for a certain term duration. There is a reason why this is done in real politics.
  • Users that have been blocked should, by and large, be able to participate in the elections of the administrators, so that administrators cannot simply block users whom they worry might vote against their nomination.
  • One could think about making user groups, so that for each user group, there is one responsible admin. These usergroups would be formed randomly and have a fixed size (eg. 50 users), and only the users in this group vote for the admin responsible for them.
  • There should be no immunity for admins. Admins should be held to the same standards as any other user. In particular, administrators must not form "alliances" that serve the purpose of bullying down a perceived outgroup while at the same time ignoring any misbehaviour that occur in their ranks.
  • There should be a committee that reviews admin misbehaviour. Whatever is in place, it's not working. It is a statistical impossibility that admins are just so much nicer than the average person that they never get blocked. This committee should have the power to reverse malicious admin decisions, as well as de-admin administrators that have misbehaved. There are several such committees, but in my opinion, they do not operate effectively, since they don't monitor the admins, but rather only act on request. They also may be unknown to many users.
  • Administrators should, under all circumstances, be made to follow the guidelines precisely, word for word, so that certainty of law becomes available.
  • The value of free speech, which is a cornerstone of the ethics behind the Wikipedia project, should be upheld in the strongest possible fashion.
The relevance of legal certainty to the English Wikipedia: A lost article from our deep annals