Wikipedia bans agenda-driven editor from British politics, but punishes the messenger too

2 August 2018

Wikipedia's arbitration committee (ArbCom) has finally voted to ban editor Philip Cross from the topic of 'post-1978 British politics'. He had spent years making agenda-driven edits on the site. Having spent some time documenting his hostile edits and his conduct toward his Wikipedia subjects on Twitter, it's good to see Wikipedia finally taking action:

Philip Cross warned

1) Philip Cross is warned to avoid editing topics with which he has a conflict of interest. Further, he is warned that his off-wiki behavior may lead to further sanctions to the extent it adversely impacts the English Wikipedia.

Philip Cross topic banned

2) Philip Cross is indefinitely topic banned from edits relating to post-1978 British politics, broadly construed. This restriction may be first appealed after six months have elapsed, and every six months thereafter. This sanction supersedes the community sanction applied in May 2018.

But the whole affair also highlights how susceptible Wikipedia is to agenda pushing, and how it took a huge outcry (including BBC coverage and front page Hacker News exposure) for something to be done.

Shooting the messenger

In a petty tit-for-tat move, however, Wikipedia's arbitration committee decided it would also punish the editor who tried to alert the community to Philip Cross' conduct. Before Wikipedia arbitrators got involved, editor Kal Holmann had raised the issue of Philip Cross' conflict of interest. His efforts were shut down almost immediately by Wikipedia admin Guy. When the matter did finally get to be discussed, the same admin proposed a topic ban for Kal Holmann "from any further mention of user:Philip Cross". The community rejected the ban, but Wikipedia's arbitration committee decided they would punish Kal Holmann anyway:

KalHolmann restricted

3) KalHolmann is indefinitely restricted from linking to or speculating about the off-wiki behavior or identity of other editors. This restriction may be first appealed after six months have elapsed, and every six months thereafter.

Unsurprisingly, the committee had nothing to say about the conduct of Wikipedia admin Guy, who obstructed Kal Holmann's attempts to notify the community and misrepresented the issue in his own statements (see our earlier pieces).

We also witnessed how another Wikipedia admin went on a witch hunt when this story was published, accusing another editor of being Five Filters:

Block evasion

You seem to be block evading. I should probably block you. Yes? I surmise you are the author of the Five Filters page. Would you care to disclose your identity or plead your case? Andrevan@ 22:08, 25 May 2018 (UTC)

I have nothing to do with Five Filters and never heard of it before seeing the Hacker News link to it that I posted in the "off-wiki mentions" section. (talk) 22:12, 25 May 2018 (UTC)

OK, but you're knowingly sending messages for a banned user - you just said that. My reading is that the policy actually does prohibit this. Andrevan@ 00:53, 26 May 2018 (UTC)

What banned user are you talking about, and how am I doing anything for them? Look, I appreciate your vigilance in wanting to protect the site, but really your detectors are on the fritz. First everyone is a Russian spy, and now this. If you're wound up about stuff on Wikipedia (we all get that way sometimes) the best thing to do is quit editing til it passes. You're simply way off base here. Could you get some advice from another admin about this if you think I'm up to something, which I'm not? Thanks. (talk) 02:39, 26 May 2018 (UTC)



Responses to the arbitration committee's decision on Philip Cross can be read on the decision's talk page and on the Wikipediasucks forum.

An earlier complainant, whose complaint against Cross went nowhere, writes:

The worst aspect of the proposed decision is the failure to express due contrition or concern for those harmed, in particular the way it presents the perpetrator as a victim and the defensive actions taken by some of the many real victims in response to Wikipedia abuses as "harassment." The mindset of insider solidarity against outsiders that has been evident at all stages of the process, while it is to be expected, is not conducive to public confidence in the justice of Wikipedia procedures and will not reduce the future likelihood that action against abusive editors will be taken by their victims without reference to Wikipedia interests and processes and in ways that contradict Wikipedia's internal norms.

And this comment from CrowsNest puts it well:

ArbCom are most strident in how they have sought to clear him of any more serious crimes, and portrayed him as someone who has been wronged as much if not more then he has done wrong. I hope this is just a lack of perspective from ArbCom, but it really does look like an attempted whitewash, a case of protecting a member, their own reputations, and that of Wikipedia. If they want to make a useful finding, one that reflects a harsh truth of this case and indeed many others before it, they should acknowledge that it is quite rare, most likely extremely rare, for random Wikipedians to just one day suddenly become a target for harassment. And it is unheard of at this scale. It is almost always the case that 1) they did something bad, and 2) the Wikipedia machine tried to avoid having to deal with it, usually by shooting the meseenger, closing ranks, erecting huge obstacles to justice, or just plain lying their asses off and pretending everybody else was crazy or stupid. Just like Jimmy Wales did on Twitter in this very case.

More information

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