Wikipedia’s Grueling “Elections” Hotly Contested

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Free online encyclopedia site Wikipedia’s screening process for admin privileges has become a hotly contested title among a very exclusive group of prolific writers.

English Wikipedia has 1,034 admins or sysops (system operators) for short—but only about 500 admins are active contributors, which means they have made 30 or more edits in the last two months.  

Despite a lack of financial compensation for their work, Wikipedia admins are given  special powers, including the power to block and unblock other editors, protect articles from disruptive editing, and delete bad content from the site. Most of the time, admins have these special privileges for life.

During RfA or Request for Adminships sessions, editors ask the candidate to answer controversial subjective questions. What criteria would the admin use to block a “bad” user? What is their vision for the Wikipedia project as a whole? These sessions take place in public and in real time. Moreover, candidates could be asked about comments they made several years back on the site. 

RfA candidate Tazmin’s main roadblock during the sessions was question 14 where she was asked to explain a comment she wrote in 2021 during another candidate’s RfA? Her comment wrote: “I would be fine with a rule that we automatically desysop any Trump supporter. I will never vote for an admin candidate who’s right-of-center by American standards (although I wouldn’t vote ‘against’ someone solely on that basis).”

In retrospect, Tamzin admitted that her response to the infamous Q14 was quite hasty. She then proceeded to clarify that she shouldn’t have said that she would never vote for a right-of-center admin candidate. Similarly, Tamzin opined that “support of oppressive regimes should be disqualifying, period,” and that in her view, “avowed, continuing support for Donald Trump translates to supporting an oppressive regime.”

This statement pushed her detractors to rally in droves. “Anybody who believes that half of the population of the United States can’t be a Wikipedia administrator, shouldn’t be a Wikipedia administrator,” wrote user Noel S. McFerran. 

On the other hand, Tamzin’s supporters rebutted that she was within her rights to consider her personal circumstances. Tamzin describes herself as a “disabled queer trans leftist Jewish woman.” Her supporters claim that her views were justified because of the Trump administration’s anti-trans positions.

The last two hours of the seven-day RfA sessions were cutthroat, with Tamzin just within a few tenths of a percent of the required threshold. But in the end, she prevailed.

In her debrief essay about the RfA, Tamzin said that her difficult experience points to the reason why there’s a shortage of Wikipedia admins: Few sane people want to undergo that much scrutiny. Although there have been a number of calls in the past for RfA reforms, Wikipedia editors have not made any real progress.

For more information, read the original story in Slate.

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