01 June 2009

Wikipedia to Church of Scientology: You’re Banned!

29 05 2009 - The Web’s struggle with Scientology has been well-documented. Anti-scientology protesters have put out YouTube videos, attacked Scientology’s website, and organized worldwide protests as part of Project Chanology. Scientology has responded on the web with online campaigns of their own, but it looks like they took it a little too far for Wikipedia’s tastes.

According to The Register, Wikipedia has banned multiple IP addresses related to the Church of Scientology for extreme, one-sided editing in an attempt to remove Scientology criticism from the Web. The decision wasn’t an easy one though: Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee took nearly half a year to resolve the matter.

The decision, made after users submitted statements, responses, and considerations in what is equivalent to a virtual courtroom, involved votes on 19 principles stating essentially that the Scientology-related accounts violated the core principles of Wikipedia on multiple occasions - even likely coordinating their efforts to erase any critical mentions of Scientology.

The Wikipedia arbitration committee, in a unanimous vote, made the following statement:

3.0) This longstanding dispute is a struggle between two rival factions: admirers of Scientology and critics of Scientology.

A) Editors from each side have gamed policy to obtain advantage and disputes have spilled over into, for example, articles for deletion, the reliable sources noticeboard, the conflict of interests noticeboard, and sometimes the administrators’ noticeboard.

B) Aggravating factors have been (i) the presence of editors openly editing from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities; and (ii) the apparent presence of notable critics of Scientology, from several Internet organisations, apparently editing under their own names and citing either their own or each other’s self-published material.

C) Each side wishes the articles within this topic to reflect their point of view and have resorted to battlefield editing tactics, with edits being abruptly reverted without any attempt to incorporate what is good, to maintain their preferred status quo.

D) The worst casualties have been biographies of living people, where attempts have been repeatedly made to slant the article either towards or against the subject, depending on the point of view of the contributing editor.

E) However, this problem is not limited to biographies and many Scientology articles fail to reflect a neutral point of view and instead are either disparaging or complimentary.

F) Neutral editors entering this topic are frequently attacked from both sides and stand little chance of making progress until the key players disengage or are required to disengage.

The end result has been the banning or restriction of dozens of Scientology accounts. While Wikipedia has made every effort to be fair and transparent in the process, this is probably not the end. After all, this is the fourth Scientology-related arbitration in four years, and we doubt banning a few dozen accounts will end the editing wars.


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