The Post Wikipedia Doesn't Want You To See

(33 comments)

Due to my revelation in this post that Charles Ainsworth, an employee of the US Military (aka Chelsea Manning's jailers) has been editing Wikipedia under the username Cla68 to argue that transgender people are too biased to edit the article on Chelsea Manning, the Arbitration Committee of the English language Wikipedia has removed my administrator privileges and banned me indefinitely, forbidding any appeal of the ban for a year.

As discussed in the post, Ainsworth has, prior to this, been open about his participation on Wikipedia, freely giving quotes to the media and engaging in discussion on Wikipedia about those quotes. It's only now that he's begin editing with an obvious conflict of interest that he has suddenly developed a desire to keep his identity a secret. My "revelation," in other words, is nothing of the sort. Indeed, it's difficult to see how this decision comports with Wikpiedia policy, which declares that "Posting another editor's personal information is harassment, unless that person had voluntarily posted his or her own information, or links to such information, on Wikipedia." Which, again, Ainsworth has done.  Since my post, in fact, Ainsworth has posted on Wikipediocracy, a Wikipedia criticism site on which he's a forum moderator, confirming his employer. Furthermore, I've made no mention of Ainsworth's identity on Wikipedia, nor have I linked to that blog post from there. I revealed Ainsworth's identity in my capacity as a z-list blogger, not as a Wikipedia editor.

My reasoning for outing Ainsworth was and is simple: it's in the public interest. The sixth largest website in the world is sanctioning trans allies and Chelsea Manning supporters for being "too involved" to work on the Chelsea Manning article, but is giving a pass to members of the US Military, who apparently have no conflict of interest. This is straightforwardly something that deserves to be talked about.

This shockingly harsh sanction - the harshest the committee ever hands down - takes on an unnerving tone when one considers that the bulk of that blog post consisted of criticism of the Arbitration Committee's decision to punish editors complaining about transphobic behavior on Wikipedia more harshly than they punish transphobic behavior itself. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see this move as anything other than petty retaliation.

Particularly entertaining is that I've been banned for attempting to disinfect with sunlight with regards to Chelsea Manning. Not only does this sanction look petty, it looks particularly ridiculous when applied on the topic of someone who is in jail for her commitment to transparency. I'm actually taken aback by the comedy of it. The Arbitration Committee censures its critics for leaking things in the public interest. Over the Chelsea Manning article.

It is not the ban in particular that bothers me. I rarely edit Wikipedia anyway, have not used administrator powers in ages (though they were quite nice for finding well-written articles on fiction that got spuriously deleted on "notability" grounds). I knew there was a risk in criticizing the Arbitration Committee, and I took it because the consequence - banning - wasn't one that personally mattered to me much at all.

Nevertheless, the underlying issues are real. The Arbitration Committee has sanctioned people for complaining about transphobia while leaving transphobic commentary unsanctioned. It has further declared transgender topics to be subject to "discretionary sanctions," which mean that any editor who, in the judgment of an administrator, "fails to adhere to the purpose of Wikipedia, any expected standards of behavior, or any normal editorial process" can be banned after a single warning. The result of this is a clear precedent that complaining about transphobia can result in being banned. And now they have moved on to trumping up reasons to ban people who call them out on that. 

I have, for what it's worth, appealed the ban to Jimmy Wales. I'm not particularly optimistic, but it's not out of the question that he will overturn it. Even if this happens, however, the fact that the Arbitration Committee has engaged in such astonishing behavior needs to be called out and condemned.

At present, the English language Wikipedia has, on basic matters of governance, committed itself to being an environment where transphobia is tolerated while criticism, whether of transphobia or the site's governance, is not.

The Arbitration Committee wants a culture of silence. One where bigots go unchallenged, hypocrisy goes unexposed, and criticism goes unvoiced.

We cannot let them have it.

Comments

Seeing_I 3 years, 11 months ago

Shameful behavior on their part!

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Guy 3 years, 11 months ago

I struggled for a long time to respect Ainsworth, for his actual contributions, but he has been such a drama monger for so long that, well, fuck him.

His participation in the various fuckwitteries of wikipedia watch sites was bad enough, but getting someone actually good banned for exposing your bigotry? That's a special kind of arseholery, especially given the effort those sites go to, to out people who frail to conform to their anti-Jimbo agenda.

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Ben Williams 3 years, 11 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Ben Williams 3 years, 11 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Ben Williams 3 years, 11 months ago

Am I to understand that Charles Ainsworth, who has openly identified himself in the MEDIA as Cla68, objects to your naming him as Cla68 in this blog? That is beyond idiotic.

Ainsworth uses computers belong to the taxpayers to pursue his Wikipedia hobby, which seems to consist almost entirely of editing for pay. The commander of Camp Zama should be apprised of his activities, so that he can put a stop to them. Enough is enough.

If you want to see what Ainsworth looks like, go to p. 9 of the base newsletter available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/71113223/Torii-U-S-Army-Garrison-Japan-weekly-newspaper-Jul-28-2011-edition

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 11 months ago

Simple comment. I'm glad you're calling attention to this, Phil. I'm not sure how many folks really know the detailed goings-on of how Wikipedia is (mis)managed, and I'm hopeful that we can gain something at least from publicizing the problem of both purposeful and ignorant versions of bigotry in Wikipedia.

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Ben Williams 3 years, 11 months ago

Phil Sandifer, your banning was Ainsworth's idea. It's obvious that he initiated this, probably by privately contacting Arbcom. See https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia_talk:Arbitration_Committee/Noticeboard&diff=580517979&oldid=580517577:

"Arbcom is acutely aware of the Streisand effect, as is the user who was the subject of the outing. He made it clear that he felt that Arbcom should proceed, even knowing the potential for further repercussions. Risker (talk) 22:41, 6 November 2013 (UTC)"

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 11 months ago

Well this is complete Bull Shit. After your comments on Wikipedia previously I don't know what I was expecting...but an obviously drummed up charge intended to squash dissent seemed too heavy handed. Is there an effective place to voice disagreement with this decision and with the Manning Case in general without having to delve deep into the morass that is Wikipedia's inner workings?

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Ben Williams 3 years, 11 months ago

I think that the story of Charles Ainsworth needs to be spread far and wide. http://charlesainsworthiscla68.blogspot.com/2013/11/charles-ainsworth-is-cla68-on-wikipedia.html

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 11 months ago

...this might be taking this too far, but somebody ought to sic Anonymous on this whole thing.

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Josiah Rowe 3 years, 11 months ago

The short answer to your question is "no". Wikipedia's bureaucracy rivals that of Imperial Russia for incomprehensibility and inaccessibility to outsiders.

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William Silvia 3 years, 11 months ago

In Soviet Russia, Wikipedia edits you!

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TG 3 years, 11 months ago

As a librarian, I find this interesting on a couple of levels. First, it certainly confirms the general consideration in the library world of Wikipedia as not being a reliable reference source. It also makes me appreciate that these sorts of issues will probably not come up in the subject classification of Manning. Certainly not if/when she decides to write a book of her own.

Second, particularly in light of reading about the Google barges in this morning's paper, it is, as Phil points out so well, ironic that these organizations that claim to harness the power of the open internet in the name of information freedom and transparency end up as ominous and secretive as the political and commercial institutions they aimed to supplant. Ironic, but not amusing.

Meanwhile, let me point out that when it comes to transparency, open information, inclusiveness and a commitment to individual privacy, the old-fashioned, old-school libraries have been doing it all longer and better than anyone.

It might be a small battle in a larger war, but Phil is doing something important and standing up for something meaningful. It's the good fight and the right side.

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Ben Williams 3 years, 11 months ago

@Matthew: Why not? This is all material in the public domain. So is the photo, a public domain photograph in a U.S. Government publication.

The world at large is not Wikipedia, with its crazy rules and hypocrisy. Let the word go forth that Charles L. Ainsworth (User:Cla68 on Wikipedia) is employed by the U.S. Defense Department at Camp Zama, a United States Army post located in the cities of Zama and Sagamihara, in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

Each of us should create a blog stating that fact, and we should solicit media attention, especially from The Guardian, concerning that fact.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 11 months ago

It is important, I think, to keep one's eye on the ball here. I see little value in making Ainsworth the target here. He's an odious twerp, but the Internet is full of those. Making him the target isn't activism - it's bullying.

What is significant is the degree to which the arbitration committee is willing to protect him, his hypocrisy, and his creepy and stalkerish antics while continuing to silence trans activists and its own critics. The only reason to push the story is the fact that the Arbitration Committee is trying to silence it. Ainsworth isn't just small potatoes, he's banal potatoes.

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Sean Daugherty 3 years, 11 months ago

I was willing to play devil's advocate for ArbCom (to an extent, at least) in my comments on the Manning situation previously, but this is a bridge too far for me. WP:OUTING explicitly states that "if individuals have identified themselves without redacting or having it oversighted, such information can be used for discussions of conflict of interest (COI) in appropriate forums." Ainsworth has done so, so the entire basis for ArbCom's decision to ban Dr. Sandifer comes down to two ridiculous sleights-of-hand.

The first argument is that there was no possible conflict of interest in Ainsworth's association with the military, and that the lack of any such conflict was self-evident. Which is, well, I don't know what to say to that, frankly. Even if you don't accept that the conflict played a role in Ainsworth's activity during the Manning debate, the possibility of such a conflict seems obvious and worth discussion.

The second argument appears to be that because Ainsworth's self-identification occurred off-site, it's may not be mentioned. That's ridiculous on its face. If Ainsworth willingly identified himself and his connection to Wikipedia, it's not ArbCom's right or responsibility to second guess him, or to protect him from his indiscretions. But even if that is the rule (as silly as it is), it's not conveyed adequately (or at all) in WP:OUTING and it isn't applied consistently to all users.

And the most damning thing about this is that arbitrary or inconsistent enforcement of the rules effectively takes out the one thing that might have made the earlier decision regarding the Manning issue defensible. If the rules demanded that ArbCom act the way they did in that situation, and they were unable/unwilling to make an exception for an obvious shortcoming in those rules there, why were they able/willing to do so now? Let's ignore, briefly, that there has been basically no institutional push to address that shortcoming in the aftermath of the Manning decision, which is admittedly a more convincing, if possibly less brazen, takedown of this defense.

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Sean Daugherty 3 years, 11 months ago

Not that it's a good idea (because it isn't), but would Anonymous even be interested? Zealous protection of anonymity is pretty much Anonymous's stock-in-trade, which might well put them closer in sympathies to ArbCom than Dr. Sandifer in this case.

That said, it's an attitude to which I don't have a huge amount of sympathy. Privacy should be respected, absolutely. But there is a large degree of personal responsibility involved in protecting that privacy. If you don't want your real name associated with your Wikipedia edits, don't go writing articles or giving interviews under your real name talking about how you edit Wikipedia. If Phil had been tapping Ainsworth's phone, diving through his dumpster, or anything that sought to uncover and reveal information about him that he hadn't publicly made available, it would be another matter. But it shouldn't be ArbCom's job to protect Ainsworth from his own decisions, which is basically what their (largely unstated) WP:OUTING policy seems to be doing here.

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radtransfem 3 years, 11 months ago

When you are popularising someone's private information as a way to act as an ally to trans women, be careful what justifications you make. Doxing (publishing someone's private info) is a frequent threat to us. Of course doxing a trans woman and doxing a transphobe aren't equivalent actions. But the justification should be solid. In this case you're justifying in two ways: one that he's a threat to trans women and has a conflict of interest, which I think is sound. But you're also justifying by saying that he'd put the information out there elsewhere. Here I think you're out of order. This justification is commonly used to support doxing of trans women by saying, "well, she* put it on this other website, all I'm doing is reproducing it or linking to it" (* transphobes wouldn't say "she" but I won't use their language). This justification's duff because all information can be accessed somehow, what matters is how wide the floodgates to access are. I think you should withdraw this defence ("he put it out there") and rely only on the solid defence that outing a transphobe is not the same as outing a trans woman and that this case justifies outing him because of the damage he is doing to trans women. By doing this you situate yourself on stronger ground and don't lend energy to arguments which are used against trans women, and you avoid doing harm even as you try to help (and I have found your articles very helpful, so thank you).

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 11 months ago

I'm in the awkward position here of arguing on two not entirely compatible fronts. From a journalistic perspective, I agree - the defense of how the information was acquired is a distraction. The ethics of doxing Ainsworth would be unchanged if it were based on private e-mails someone leaked to me. I mean, there's certainly some methods of information gathering - phone hacking, for instance - that are categorically out of bounds, but broadly speaking, yes, I agree, the methodology is irrelevant.

But I'm also, at this point, trying to show that Wikipedia's sanctioning of me on this is politically motivated and has no basis in their own policies. Which, because they are stupid policies written by techno-libertarian fetishists, put all of the emphasis on what sort of information was used and how it was obtained. In that context, at least, the fact that the information is all public does matter, because it's the fact that demonstrates that the arbitration committee is being hypocritical and ignoring their own policies. Secondarily, I find the fact that Ainsworth has only begun trying to hide his identity when he began editing with a clear COI to be deplorable - it's not, in other words, that he used to be open about it. It's that he stopped being open about it in order to hide a COI.

But yes, thank you for holding me accountable on it. I hope my reasoning satisfies your concerns - if not, please do continue holding me accountable.

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SJ 3 years, 11 months ago

Phil, I understand your concern about motivation and sanctions. But I don't think your doxing here is ethical, and hope you will reevaluate its merit. It is an easy way to harm someone, both directly and by facilitating harrassment by others. In particular (I know you know this, but just to be clear), the personal harm often comes not from publishing secret information, but from providing enough personal information for others to easily harrass, in a forum where the tone is one of anger or resentment towards the target. This has already started to spread: with one of your readers creating a dox-only site, tracking down photos, &c. This is the sort of mob harrassment we should all be fighting against, in word and action.

In the case of your original post, you only need a tiny bit of this information - stating the personal connection to the military - to make your point about COI. Full name and location are irrelevant to that argument; and only serve to intimidate or support others in intimidating.

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Sean Daugherty 3 years, 11 months ago

Whether or not the doxing was necessary or helpful is another question, and I'd probably agree that it was unnecessary to reveal as much as Phil did. But being unnecessary isn't the same as being wrong. And that's where context is essential: Ainsworth was open regarding his association with Wikipedia. He had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

I'm sympathetic to people who actively seek to preserve their privacy and/or anonymity. I have much less regard for people who would actively demand that everyone else ignore or forget inconvenient facts on demand. There was nothing revealed that wasn't already readily available, and the sanction against Phil ultimately amounts to little more than punishment for his daring to raise a point that Ainsworth and ArbCom didn't want to hear.

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mengu 3 years, 11 months ago

Not to mention that the policy applies to outing *on Wikipedia*, and that ArbCom has decided against acting on other cases of off-site outing...

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Unlikely Lass 3 years, 11 months ago

I think Wordpress ate my comment. :/

At any rate, the gist is this: if you google the strings 'cla68 ainsworth' you get tons of hits -- some as old as 2007. One of the top five is, yes, this very blog post. But another has a google summary which explicitly links Ainsworths real name, his wiki use rid, and states that he's in Japan. And this is itself information coming out of an old Register article about the Wikipedia.

At some point you have to ask yourself: is sharing information from the yellow pages (or google, in this case) *actually* a violation of privacy?

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Howard Slow 3 years, 11 months ago

Phil Sandifer, I don't understand why you say you doxed Ainsworth. Didn't he dox himself?

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Ben Williams 3 years, 10 months ago

I have another post on Charles Ainsworth up on my blog. http://charlesainsworthiscla68.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-to-find-charles-ainsworth-of-camp.html

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

I must confess, I find your approach here pointless and stalkerish.

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Ben Williams 3 years, 10 months ago

My blog provides public domain information about an official of the United States government who has identified himself as User:Cla68.

Charles Ainsworth reads this website as he changed his setting so that his Facebook page can no longer be accessed.

I have a new blog http://charlesainsworthiscla68.blogspot.com/2013/11/charles-ainsworth-of-camp-zama.html

Other blogs will be posted in the future.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 10 months ago

Blog what you want, but please stop posting the links here. I don't think what you're doing is helpful or right.

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John Reglio 3 years, 10 months ago

I believe Ben is providing an important service by helping disseminate information about this jerk far and wide.

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Howard Slow 3 years, 10 months ago

I agree. Ainsworth's hypocrisy is unbelievable.

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Jessica Evans 3 years, 10 months ago

Hostile work environment

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sswam 3 years, 10 months ago

Well, I don't know about transgender issues, but banning you has earned Wikipedia $0 donations from me for a few years.

Trans people have a conflict of interest so shouldn't edit? That US Military dude has a real conflict of interest and he's the one who should be banned.

Not surprising that the US power would seek to control wikipedia, it's a major source of information for everyone.

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Brenda Palmeri 2 years, 2 months ago

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