The Saga of Wikimedia UK and its Chair
The following story is very instructive about the sort of people in the Wikipedia universe, and what sort of people actually run things on the sixth most popular website online.
In case you didn’t know, there is an organization, Wikimedia UK, that is legally independent of the Wikimedia Foundation headquartered in San Francisco. Wikimedia UK has a separate budget of £1 million, and is currently headed up by someone who calls himself “Fae” (among many others) on Wikipedia, and whose real name is Ashley Van Haeften.
Van Haeften is a charming character. Among his many exploits, he is reputed to have posted pornographic pictures of himself in bondage gear to Wikimedia Commons, although any evidence has by now been deleted, so we now have only copies like this. While he has been a high-profile administrator on Wikipedia, he routinely lobbed personal attacks at those who dared to criticize him. And much else.
So the High Court of Wikipedia, the Arbitration Committee, declared on July 20: “For numerous violations of Wikipedia’s norms and policies, Fæ is indefinitely banned from the English Language Wikipedia. He may request reconsideration of the ban six months after the enactment of this remedy, and every six months thereafter.”
In other words, Van Haeften, the head of a £1 million charity devoted to the promotion of Wikipedia, has been banned from Wikipedia itself, and for violating Wikipedia’s own policies!
Now that is, I’m sure you’ll agree, just appalling. It speaks volumes about the Wikipedia community at present that Van Haeften attained the position he holds. But it gets even worse.
On July 26, Wikimedia UK held a closed-door meeting in which the Board declared that they are “united in the view that this decision does not affect his [Van Haeften's] role as a Trustee of the charity.”
In other words, the board that manages a £1 million budget, devoted to promoting Wikipedia, supports its chair even if the chair has been banned from editing Wikipedia itself. One has to wonder: how can the Wikimedia UK Board pretend that Van Haeften can continue to be a credible chair of a well-funded Wikipedia charity if the judicial body of Wikipedia has deliberately excluded him from the website for violating Wikipedia’s own policies?
It is a stunning revelation of just how huge a pass the mainstream media has given Wikipedia that this story was nowhere to be heard, outside of online forums and blogs, until this morning. Eleven days after Van Haeften, head of Britain’s £1 million Wikipedia charity, was banned from Wikipedia, and five days after he was unaccountably supported by Wikimedia UK, a single story came out in the mainstream media.
This morning, the Daily Telegraph came out with a pitch-perfect and (as far as I can tell) factually accurate report:
Ashley Van Haeften is chairman of Wikimedia UK, a charity with an £1m annual budget funded by donations by Wikipedia visitors and dedicated to promoting the website among British museums and universities.
Despite his volunteer role at the head of the charity he is now banned indefinitely from contributing to Wikipedia because of “numerous violations of Wikipedia’s norms and policies”.
Mr van Haeften’s punishment exposes a deep rift among Wikipedia contributors over the mass of explicit material in the online encyclopaedia, at a time when the Government is developing new controls on internet access to protect children online.
The story goes on to discuss Wikipedia’s problem of unfiltered porn, readily available to the school children who use it, and includes my YouTube video about the problem, and the following quote from yours truly: “Some things are worth going to the mat over and this is one of them. It goes to the sense of seriousness of the whole project. Wikipedia can’t command respect if it regards itself as above the norms of wider society.” The story was also followed up by an excellent report in CivilSociety.co.uk. (Update: And on August 1, FoxNews.com.)
I hope the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is paying attention. They will lose credibility by being associated with Wikimedia UK (WMUK). They should not allow Wikimedia UK to use Wikipedia.org for any further fundraising. Nor should WMF cooperate with WMUK in any other way. The WMF should also release a statement condemning WMUK’s recent action. They should continue this non-cooperation until the WMUK Board has been replaced. If the WMF continues to act as if nothing has happened, they will become complicit in the appalling behavior of Ashley Van Haeften and his colleagues on the WMUK Board who supported him.
If Van Haeften had any decency, he would have resigned on July 20. If the WMUK Board had any sense, they would have fired him as soon as Van Haeften made his defiance clear.
This story’s front page thumbnail is from a screen capture of this Google Images search–note, the fifth search result for the image search is taken from this article. (Update: that search is made when SafeSearch is “off.” As it turns out, Google’s optional filter excises Van Haeften’s self-pornography.)
UPDATE (8/2/2012): Van Haeften has finally resigned.
About the author
I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started Wikipedia.org, Citizendium.org, and WatchKnowLearn.org, and ReadingBear.org. I write about education and the Internet from a broadly philosophical point of view.