March 12, 2008

Debunking Jeffrey Merkey Alleging Wikipedia protection racket

Jeff Merkey


"According to Merkey, in 2006, Wales agreed that in exchange for a substantial donation and other financial support of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, Wales would use his influence to make Merkey's article adhere to Wikipedia's stated policies with regard to internet libel "as a courtesty" and place Merkey under his "special protection" as an editor. Merkey later withdrew his financial support of the Wikipedia project after reviewing evidence of diversion and mismanagement of the charities funds by Wales and the Wikimedia Board of Trustees and was immediately banned from the Wikipedia site by the Arbitration Committee for frivilous and unsubstanciated claims after he terminated the payments of $5,000.00 per year to the Wikimedia Foundation."

Jimmy Wales

It's nonsense.

I've held back about posting in this, because I didn't want to even give an impression of fanning the flames from my supposed highly-read and influential blog (sarcasm). But given that this story has already made the rounds on media sites ranging from Slashdot to the BBC, my shouting to the wind can't even be alleged to have affected anything.

The irony is that while the circumstantial evidence looks bad, as to donations and action on the article, I think there's nothing in it.

Basically, I don't believe Jimmy Wales would ever be so blunt and crude as accused. He's far too sophisticated to have an explicit quid-pro-quo. This may not be the sort of defense he'd like, but it has the virtue of being a lot more credible than sycophancy. And what's the charge? $5,000 to the Wikimedia Foundation? It's not even a claim of $5,000 in honoria or as a "consulting fee" (which is roughly how I'd expect any hypothetical bribe to be handled), which would be money directly to him. Merkey may have thought a donation would buy him influence - and he might even be right there in an extremely narrow way - but nobody at this level is ever going to make it an outright contract.

I think Jeffrey Merkey confused the Wikipedia jargon of protecting an article (restricting editing) with the sense of the word in "protection racket", hence misunderstanding "special protection".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 12, 2008 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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"I think Jeffrey Merkey confused "

You may be missing a a two letter word "is".

It must be tempting to let them all have it with both barrels for being basically stupid but I can see why you don't.

It just is not worth the drama.

Posted by: tqft at March 13, 2008 06:35 AM

"I don't believe Jimmy Wales would ever be so blunt and crude as accused. He's far too sophisticated to have an explicit quid-pro-quo."

And why not?

Getting BLPs changed is a strictly favor-only process on Wikipedia. You should know this Seth.

Once your Bio was edited, weren't you a lot nicer to them... and then were reluctant to step over the line? And your BLP removal was a long time coming.

The system shouldn't be as it is, is the bottom line. As for Wales editing his boffing partners, or for small grants, well, what do you expect of a former porn dealer with an attitude problem?

Posted by: sb at March 13, 2008 01:34 PM

tqft: Exactly. I'm trying to walk a fine line here.

sb: Didn't I answer why not? Because it's not the way bribery works. Of course there's complicated issues of favor-trading, I hope I was clear I wasn't denying those. But going to the wall over a dubious incident hardly educates about those complex matters.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 13, 2008 07:10 PM