It’s unfortunate that The Wikipedian has been in suspended animation for the week or so, because it has been a big past week or so for Wikipedia in the news. On May 28, Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee — the court of last resort for Wikipedia disputes — banned all IP addresses associated with the Church of Scientology from editing Wikipedia for repeated disruptive editing and the use of “sock puppet” accounts to tilt Wikipedia consensus on Scientology-related articles.
The decision has been all over the tech and mainstream press since, from The Register’s first report on May 29 to the New York Times finally covering the story this morning. In between, Google News shows hundreds of results about the subject.
I have not looked closely at the decision, but my own general take on it is about what you might expect: Wikipedia reserves the right to regulate its own community and, upon fair consideration, expel those who are determined to prevent Wikipedia from operating. This was certainly the case here, as the deliberations ran for more than six months, reportedly the longest in Wikipedia history. It is not the case, as one Huffington Post contributor erroneously imagined, that “all members” of Scientology were banned from editing. Instead, Wikipedia merely banned IP addresses known to be controlled by Scientology. Any Scientologist can still log on from home and, one expects, have their individual account banned if they too persist in deleting good information that the Church does not like.
This is not the first time Wikipedia has taken such an action, and I’d say it’s easily less controversial than the ban on an entire Utah neighborhood in 2007 for incredibly involved reasons that you can read about here.
If I had an objection it would be that an indefinite block, which is what the ArbCom imposed here, should be less desirable than a period of one year or perhaps even two. However, it is probably the case that a year or two from now Scientology would be just as interested in deleting critical information about their organization from Wikipedia as they are now. And to some extent it is likely to continue in any case.
After all, the flagship Scientology article has a long history as one of the most contentious on Wikipedia. Visit the discussion page, and you’ll find 27 archive pages of discussion stretching back to 2001. (Few articles are so active as to need their discussions archived; and the Roman Catholic Church, with vastly millions more adherents, has just 26 archived pages of discussions associated ith its article) The very first, undated, comment on the Scientology Talk page was this one:
As in entries on like organizations such as The Local Church of Witness Lee and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, no fair discussion can take place on this topic. If anyone dare edit this article, it will be swiftly and aggressively reverted to reflect only the official point of view of Scientology. Try it.
And in the week since, more than 6200 words have been expended on the Scientology Talk page, as veteran and newbie editors alike — some of them undoubtedly Scientologists — continue argue over what the article should say.
Scientology logo via Wikipedia, reused here with the same non-free use rationale.