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.

By the way, if you want to get into the sordid details, some places to start are this long Wikipediocracy thread and this Wikipedia Review thread. Frankly, I haven’t read much of either one.

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.

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 131 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

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.

7 Responses to "The Saga of Wikimedia UK and its Chair"
  1. Reply Gregory Kohs July 31, 2012 21:44 pm

    Already, predictably, the Wikipedia Signpost is calling the Telegraph article a “cheap shot”, and the Wikimedia UK mailing list is trying to figure out ways to marginalize the numerous re-prints and re-tweets of the story, which are cropping up across the globe.

    Even a dog will show shame when you point his nose to the filthy mess he made on the kitchen floor. Wikipedians are just the opposite. They strut around and belittle everyone else when the Wikipedian’s stinky pile is pointed out to them.

    • Reply Larry Sanger July 31, 2012 23:22 pm

      “Cheap shot” doesn’t make sense. How is it a cheap shot to point out the facts that Ashley Van Haeften has done what he has done, that he has been banned, and that the Wikimedia UK Board supports him nonetheless? Res ipsa loquitur.

      • Reply Adwait Thakur August 4, 2012 11:30 am

        Totally support you for this Larry Sanger. People like us like to learn from the leaders of yesterday but Ashley was into something that didn’t suit him or will ever suit somebody such senior as him. I despise him because of his immoral traits.

        • Reply Larry Sanger August 4, 2012 14:20 pm

          I won’t comment further on what I think about Ashley Van Haeften. My point is certainly not that he is “immoral.” We are all immoral, to some degree. I don’t know Van Haeften or even know much about him, beyond what I’ve put in this blog. Indeed, my criticism is not really of him. It is of Wikimedia UK. He was banned from Wikipedia, and it is a seriously dysfunctional organization that cannot bring itself to remove someone who has been banned from the website–for violating its own policies–from all positions of authority.

  2. Reply Alex Perekati August 1, 2012 19:02 pm

    I am afraid WMF has no credibility to loose, no matter if they are to release a statement condemning the action of WMUK’s recent action or they are not. WMF has lost any credibility a long time ago.

    Back yo Ashley Van Haeften, some people made some valid points:Ashley Van Haeften was not banned “after pornography row”. One could upload as many pornographic images as one wants, one could write as many articles about porno stars as one wants, and never get banned for doing this. Ashley Van Haeften was banned for his disagreement with the Arbitration Committee, and not for pornography, and this should have been underlined in the articles about Ashley Van Haeften’s affair because this is important to let people know that neither the Arbitration Committee nor WMF do absolutely nothing to stop “pornography row” that is chocking Wikipedia.

    • Reply Larry Sanger August 1, 2012 19:44 pm

      It is highly questionable whether Ashley Van Haeften would have been banned if it had not been for the external pressure brought to bear on the Wikipedia community over issues regarding unfiltered pornography. I think this must have been the point of the Telegraph article, although I wouldn’t have been the one to suggest the point to them. It was actually quite a surprise to me that they contacted me the day before the article came out. I had no idea they were working on an article.

      Anyway, your basic point is taken. He was not banned for posting pornography.

  3. Reply Larry Sanger Blog » On the moral bankruptcy of Wikipedia’s anonymous administration August 19, 2012 15:13 pm

    [...] administration has been nothing but one long string of scandal and mismanagement. The saga of Wikimedia UK and its chair is only the latest. Did you know that the deposed chair, Ashley van Haeften, continues to sit on [...]

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