The Events are Superficially Similar, but differ in extremely important ways
Here's the broad similarities I've noticed:
- It involved a high profile admin user
- getting stripped of their admin privileges
- over accusations of breaking the Code of Conduct
- that seem to potentially relate to accusations that the user engaged in openly Transphobic behavior
- with very poor explanation of these circumstances from the organization itself
- with said organization being responsible for making the actual decision to ban the user
I think it's important, however, to recognize that after these similarities, the differences become very stark.
The Banned User (Fram) had already seen warnings for incivil behavior in the past, creating a pattern of behavior
From the Article:
Much of the hard work that has gotten Wikipedia to this point has been done by people like Fram. Within the Wikipedia community, Fram is known as a rigorous and prolific administrator with a special talent for quality control: removing spam, handling copyright issues, and, ironically, booting banned users who post under new names. He’s exactly the kind of diligent, obsessive volunteer that Wikipedia needed to thrive. (Fram declined to speak to BuzzFeed News for this story.)
Fram is also known within the community as an asshole. “He’s like Inspector Javert,” one Wikipedian wrote of Fram recently, comparing him to the ruthless and inflexible antagonist of Les Misérables. “Brusque, bordering on rude sometimes,” another longtime admin, Floquenbeam, told BuzzFeed News. “He has a reputation for almost always being right on the underlying merits in a dispute, but going about it in a fairly obnoxious way.” Over the years, Fram has clashed with other admins, with editors, with ArbCom, and with the foundation itself. Still, he remains part of a caste of old-school admins, with nearly 15 years of social capital in the community.
The foundation banned Fram shortly before 6 p.m. on June 10. Within an hour, admins had left dozens of messages on their private noticeboard demanding an explanation. That night, the foundation released a short statement explaining that the ban had originated in complaints from the Wikipedia community. It did not, per its own safety guidelines, disclose the complainer nor the complaint. The statement made things worse. So did a statement from Fram, the next day, on his Wikimedia Commons page, where he, confusingly, had not been banned.
Fram explained that he had received two previous “conduct warnings” from the foundation’s Trust and Safety Council for his incivil style toward other Wikipedians. He then claimed that the foundation told him he had been banned for a single edit to the Wikipedia entry for the Arbitration Committee itself, which began, “Fuck Arbcom.” Once he had received the conduct warning, he wrote, any “flimsy justification” for banning him would do.
We have a lot more detail regarding what may have been the inciting incident that led to his banning
Those dynamics are central to Fram’s ban. Egged on by Fram’s insistence that the foundation had actually banned him because of a grudge, and stymied by the foundation’s refusal to name the complainant, Wikipedians began to scour his history on the platform, looking for someone to blame.
Much of that blame fell, perhaps predictably, on a woman and a transgender editor. In 2017, a fledgling Wikipedian accused Fram of monitoring her activity on the site to such an extent that felt like harassment. The editor, whose contributions focused on women athletes, lesbian history, and abortion rights, felt that Fram’s pattern of correcting her spelling and deleting her stubs — short, unfinished articles that are culled when they sit dormant for too long — demonstrated a lack of good faith.
“Stay off my talk page Fram,” she wrote at the time. “If you have a problem with my work, then you need to talk to another admin and have them handle the problem. It should not be you.”
More recently, Fram had an acrimonious semantic debate with a high-profile transgender editor over whether referring to them as “xe” constituted misgendering. It culminated in an ugly claim by Fram that he would not be misracing a black person by calling them the n-word, only being racist.
On Wikipedia and in the forums of Wikipediocracy, a site where Wikipedians gather to discuss and criticize Wikipedia, users speculated about a secret romantic connection between the woman editor and a member of the Wikimedia Foundation board and about whether the trans editor might’ve been pretending to be trans to win a fight with Fram. The vitriol toward those two users grew so intense that Risker chastised some Wikipedians in her critical note about the ban.
“Please, stop being cruel to individuals whose names have come up in the course of this issue,” Risker wrote. “If ever you wondered why User:WMFOffice exists, those of you who have overpersonalized this situation have illustrated the point quite well.”
A much quieter group in the community were thankful for the ban. BU Rob13, a former member of ArbCom who recently retired from administration, said that Fram’s behavior toward him, including “taking shots” at him in an edit summary and following him to unrelated cases, felt like harassment.
“[Fram's] actions, and the Arbitration Committee's failure to act promptly in condemning them, were a major factor that led to my resignation,” BU Rob13 told BuzzFeed News. “It is also a major reason why I no longer believe the current Arbitration Committee can handle harassment.”
The real cause of the Fram flare-up wasn’t the sudden overreach by the foundation, BU Rob13 said, but the community’s own laissez-faire attitude about toxic users.
“The community is currently blaming the foundation for their own mess, in my opinion,” he wrote, “which was caused by our abject failure to develop procedures to enforce civility without Foundation intervention.”
The Wikipedia Foundation appears to have a more staunch attitude on how to address issues of "important admins who appear to be toxic"
“There are users in the community who have a reputation for creating good content, and for being incredibly toxic personalities,” Wales said. “On this issue, I have a very simple view that most of these editors actually cost us more than they're actually worth.” In 2016, the Wikimedia Board of Trustees resolved to address toxic behavior in the community.
Getting a handle on the size and severity of the toxicity problem in the Wikipedia community is difficult. The relatively small number of admins and active editors of Wikipedia compared to the number of active users on a major social network means the scale of harassment is necessarily smaller.
“Harassment is a problem, but for us its small,” Katherine Maher the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, told Slate’s If Then podcast last year.
But it can be severe. In 2016, an editor said the toxicity of the community had led him to contemplate suicide. And abuse on Wikipedia can be baked into the tools used by admins themselves.
Sidebar: I was initially worried people would accuse me of taking things out of context if I trimmed away too much from these quotes, so they're longer than I think they should be. If you feel this post would benefit from trimming down these quotes to just the parts I think are relevant, let me know and I'll do so.
Why these differences matter
If we're going to argue that this situation with Wikipedia and Fram's banning, and the more recent situation here with the Code of Conduct Changes and Monica's dismissal are meant to be comparable, then that means taking as a given the following stipulations (most of which, I suspect, the users here would not agree with):
- That Monica had a prior history of being hostile towards users, to the point that many other users had reported previously that she was harassing users and admins and being a generally toxic actor
- That Monica has previously already received warnings for incivil behavior
- That Monica had been specifically accused of harassing users by other admins and users on this site
If we argue that these stipulations are untrue, then we must also conclude that the Wikipedia situation with Fram and the Stack Exchange issue with Monica is not a comparable situation, and that therefore, there's not much that Stack Exchange can learn from that situation.