Commenter 'Belette' has questioned
my attempt to connect anonymity with the failure of democracy. I thought this would be obvious, but fair enough: this is a logic blog and the argument I gave in the previous post was far from demonstrable, being full of all sorts of missing assumptions, handwaving, enthymeme and absent premisses. Let's try and tidy it up and take it from the top with the following pseudo-syllogism:
Anonymity leads to conflict of interest
Conflict of interest leads to bad governance
, anonymity leads to bad governance
Even this is not deductively valid, but it will do for now. I will leave the minor (COI leads to bad governance) unless anyone objects, for while not self-evident, it can easily be made so by supplying some missing assumptions. Note also that I have substituted the idea of governance for that of 'democracy'. Democracy does not always result in good governance, and it is governance we are interested in. I also use 'governance' rather than 'government'. The latter almost always implies the action of a state, whereas it is governance in the widest sense that I am concerned with.
So let's focus on the major premiss: does anonymity lead to conflict of interest? Certainly. A conflict of interest arises when an individual under one description F1 has an interest which is opposed to the the interest of that individual under the description F2. For example, let F1 be 'director of charity X' and let F2 be 'commercial supplier of provisions and services to charity X'. Clearly the individual under the first description has an interest and a duty to procure the same service at the lowest possible price, whereas, under the second description, he has an interest in supplying them at the highest possible price. Allowing the directory of a charity to be the same person as its chief commercial supplier is therefore a conflict of interest. But if we cannot identify the individual satisfying each description, it will be practically impossible to prevent such a conflict. Let F1 be satisified by John Smith, a publicly identifiable individual. Let F2 be satisfied by some individual under a fake user name. Unless we can connect the public name with the made up one, we will never know if there is a conflict of interest.
One recent example of such a conflict on Wikipedia was when the PR agency Bell Pottinger was found to be editing Wikipedia under the fake user name 'Biggleswiki'. Another less recent example was when London Labour councillor David Boothroyd was not just an editor of Wikipedia under the pseudonym 'Sam Blacketer', but was a member of its important 'Arbitration Committee', probably the most senior decision-making body on the project. Paul Williams, then director at Wikimedia UK, said: "Sock-puppeting is a very serious offence for anybody. But for someone on the Arbitration Committee it is even more so. It can result in a lifetime ban. The problem with Wikipedia is that you can hide behind user names, but there is an expectation that you don't write for self-interest. In this case there is a conflict of interest." There you go.
There are other instances of politicians anonymously acquiring important positions in Wikipedia, and who don't want to be publicly identified, but I will leave those for now, as they are for use in the book I am writing on Wikipedia. I will leave you with an example from last weeks 'Blackout vote'. The full vote for the blackout was on this page
. Over 700 members of the Wikipedia 'community' voted in support of an action that affected hundreds of millions of people across the world. Closer inspection reveals that many members of this community may have voted twice
, or even more. About 150 of the support votes were from accounts opened specifically for voting, or re-used. There were a number of obvious 'sleeper' accounts, opened some time ago, almost certainly by existing accounts who wanted to vote twice or more. Typical of the first kind is Korney654
*, who only edits twice, the first time
to the article on Oboe, displaying knowledge of Wikipedia that is untypical of a first time user, the second time
to vote. Typical of the second kind is Phauxcamus
* who opened his or her account in 2006, made a handful of edits since then, and now votes
for the blackout. It is highly probable that all these votes were second or third votes from more established Wikipedia account names. There is no more evident and absurd form of conflict of interest than pretending not to be yourself under a different, anonymous description.
Belette will probably argue that such conflict of interest only arises in the real world, because it has dishonest motives, whereas Wikipedians only act in the best motives. There is no reply to that except to laugh or shrug, with a wink at the gallery.
*With apologies to any editor who was really acting in good faith. The point is, it is difficult to know under a system that almost guarantees anonymity in this way.
Labels: corruption in wikipedia, wikipedia