Wikimedia Foundation and Antisemitism

jw1I chanced upon this discussion on Jimmy Wales’ page. It is best to read it in full.

I think a fair summary is, one particular Wikimedia Foundation employee was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and alarm bells didn’t ring with his employer.

Or maybe they did? His contract was subsequently ended. However, the lingering impression is, many connected to Wikimedia can’t simply understand what the fuss is about.

Perhaps they should read Wikipedia’s page on World War II casualties and ponder the role of a certain Austrian corporal?

I am reproducing it here in full as a public record, just in case it gets “accidentally” deleted:

Antisemitism in the Foundation

The person in question no longer works for the Wikimedia Foundation (cf. wmf:staff). It’s probably best not to use Jimmy’s talk page to discuss personal views of a regular editor on a different project. If you disagree with the Arabic Wikipedia’s user box policy, you’ll need to discuss the issue with the Arabic Wikipedia. Though I’d caution that cultures vary widely and Arabic as a language can be particularly difficult to properly translate into English. —MZMcBride (talk) 23:44, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

I just saw this post on Wikipediocracy about the allegations of the Croatian Wikipedia being co-opted by the far right, but what really caught my attention was this detail:

Extreme right-wing views can apparently be found even among the Wikimedia Foundation’s own staff. Its Education Program Consultant for the Arab World, Faris El-Gwely, sports a little green userbox with a black and white picture of Adolf Hitler on his user page in the Arabic Wikipedia. The Arabic text next to that image reads, “This user respects Adolf Hitler”.

The translated version of the user page in question can be found here. It is not the only userbox of concern as there is one stating “This user believes the existence of evil schemes to destroy Arab”, another saying “this user stands violently against the Zionist crimes against the Arab people will never forgive them what they had done the displacement and murder, terrorism and rape of freedom and dignity of the Arabs”, and one stating “this user is anti-Zionist”. Now the last one would not be of concern on its own, but an “anti-Zionist” who “believes in the existence of evil schemes to destroy Arabs” and “respects Adolf Hitler” sure as hell sounds like a virulent antisemite.

I understand that many Arabs are bombarded with misinformation on certain points of Jewish history because of Israel, so finding this type of attitude on the Arabic Wikipedia should not be totally surprising, but it is a whole other kettle of fish for the Foundation’s education program consultant to the Arab World to adhere to such views. This isn’t some programmer or technical assistant whose actions will not have an impact on the content. His page has had those userboxes since before he started working with the Foundation so it is not as though this could not have been caught beforehand.–The Devil’s Advocate tlk. cntrb. 16:53, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

Is his position in the Foundation a paid one? If so no way will I ever donate money to the WMF ever again and I’m sure I am not the only Jew who will feel this way, and trust me lots of us will be hearing about this. The Foundation, I am sure is not anti-Semitic as a whole or in its decisions, however- if this is all true and he went through a venting process and hired and receives a paycheck, are you telling me at no point did anyone decide to check his page on Wikipedia to see what it said…? So, either someone’s incompetence allowed him to be hired without removing that and repudiating the statement or even worse, the Foundation did not see it as a problem. IF what is written is correct about this individual- which is it? Incompetence or a belief that anti-Semitism is ok?Camelbinky (talk) 19:04, 7 October 2013 (UTC)

The discussion above is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.
I think this discussion should be moved to either Meta Wiki or the Arabic Wikipedia. However I have notified him on his talk that this thread took place. Looking at his talk, there may also be some backlash from the German Wikipedia. Ross Hill Talk to me!  23:53, 7 October 2013 (UTC)
  • I also saw the post and am startled to see that a user who appears to be verifiably xenophobic/racist was employed by the foundation. Not sure what “cultures vary widely” by MZMcBride means. By the way, he still has a WMF account here: User:Felgwely_(WMF), and I’m not sure he no longer works for the foundation, I’d like to see some confirmation of that. He also has an active account here: User:Faris_knight, so this isn’t just an editor on another project, he edits here. IRWolfie- (talk) 00:06, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Even if he is no longer working for the Foundation it beggars belief that they would bring him on board for such a role without taking the most basic step of looking at his user page.–The Devil’s Advocate tlk. cntrb. 00:08, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
  • I can confirm that Faris El-Gwely’s contract with the Wikimedia Foundation ended on September 30, 2013. — LiAnna Davis (WMF) (talk) 00:16, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
Why are indicators left on the account that he is currently employed by the WMF a week after leaving: User:Faris_knight? Are old WMF accounts like User:Felgwely_(WMF) not locked after contracts expire? Is this a WMF work twitter account (which is linked on his WMF account): [5] (i.e it certainly looks like a still active WMF account)? IRWolfie- (talk) 00:19, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

Old (WMF) accounts aren’t locked – mine from several years ago is still in existence and I can still log in to it, although Philippe did change my userpage to indicate I have no affiliation with the WMF. I don’t think anyone systematically marks (WMF) accounts as soon as contracts expire. Practices have certainly changed since, but when I was an intern my (WMF) account wasn’t properly marked as a (WMF) account until my internship was almost over, and it wasn’t marked as no longer being an active (WMF) account for something like four months after that. I think people just occasionally go mark all the old accounts as being old accounts, instead of trying to do so as soon as someone’s official affiliation ends. (N.b.: I have no knowledge of this situation in particular, I just wanted to point out that (WMF) accounts are not systematically locked or staff categories removed as soon as contracts expire.) Kevin Gorman (talk) 01:28, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

That would be a rather simple and helpful thing to make a policy of doing, if the (WMF) tag is intended to be in any way informative. —SB_Johnny | talk✌ 01:40, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
@Ldavis: was the termination of his contract related to this issue? —SB_Johnny | talk✌ 01:40, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
I believe the problem is wider than that. A few months ago one “smart” Wikipedian said: “What I wrote was that the Mrs Grundys of WP are a liability – and yes, as long as the quality of an article is good, I couldn’t care whether the contributor is gay, a paedophile, has nasty toilet habits or is a supporter of the Taliban – and neither should you.” I am not sure about pedophiles, but I know for sure that some Wikipedians are racist, some are members of such forums as stormfront, and some are simply dirty bullies. Sadly those are the ones who often participate in the so called Community discussions. Jimbo and the WMF are well aware about the problem, yet their trust in the so called Wikipedia community’s ability to govern the site remains firm. (talk) 02:41, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

24.4, you just wrote that “the ones who often participate in the so called Community discussions” are racist and/or members of such forums as stormfront and/or simply dirty bullies. That´s not polite and I don´t think it´s true. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 10:59, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

That is an incorrect summary of what was said. The editor said some, IRWolfie- (talk) 12:06, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for replying. English is not my first language, but I still think my reading is correct. 24.4 wrote that “some wikipedians are [bad things]”, and that those “some” are “the ones who often participate in the so called Community discussions”. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 12:47, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

English is not my first language either, but I have the same reading. —cyclopiaspeak! 13:00, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
  • @24.4 With the quote you are comparing gay people to paedophiles and Taliban, etc, which is highly offensive and homophobic. —Space simian (talk) 00:12, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
    • I’m not comparing anything, I simply quoted a Wikipedian. I don’t agree with the author of that quote. I agree with you that the quote could be read as homophobic. 00:35, 9 October 2013 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)
      • OK, thanks for clarifying. I’m sorry if I jumped to conclusions. —Space simian (talk) 00:46, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
As of today the user page of that user still states “This user works at the Wikimedia Foundation”, and that his employer is the Wikimedia foundation. Even if that user no longer works for the WMF he’s still a member of the Wikipedia community. If the translation of his Arabic user page is correct and that user really respects Hitler, I’d be ashamed to be a member of the community that tolerates such users, but I see the user was notified about this discussion. Let’s wait for his explanations. (talk) 16:39, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
  • Not trying to stir the pot here, but a user should be allowed to state his or her own opinions. Just as some are pro-Zionist, some can be anti-Zionist too. I don’t agree with anti-Zionism, but if we allow free speech (ie people who put “I like my religion” everywhere) we should allow free speech across the board. Konveyor Belt express your horror at my edits 16:50, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
A statement that “This user respects Adolf Hitler” is not ‘Anti-Zionist’. It is a statement that the user respects a genocidal psychopath responsible for the murder of millions. It is a statement utterly at odds with the objectives of the WMF, and of basic human dignity. (And for the record, read WP:FREESPEECH – Wikipedia is not a platform for advocacy). AndyTheGrump (talk) 17:27, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

Exactly. Besides the user is in the category “User-abiding Adolf Hitler” (talk) 17:31, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

I don’t agree with it either. But playing the devil’s advocate, if you are allowed to have 200 different userboxes with a cross or star of David on it, and that isn’t soapboxing, then what is? Hitler is really inapporpriate, but should we target people for having one religious or politically motivated infobox? Where do we draw the line? Konveyor Belt express your horror at my edits 21:17, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

Should we target people for having one politically motivated infobox? Yes, if the infobox says “This user respects Adolf Hitler”. Any more stupid questions? AndyTheGrump (talk) 21:31, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

There’s no reason to personally attack me about it. Konveyor Belt express your horror at my edits 22:40, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

Were this simply a matter of someone working as a programmer for the Foundation or someone who was just a regular editor having this userbox it would be one thing, but we are talking about someone who directly interacts with projects recruiting prospective editors, while guiding and instructing them in how to edit Wikipedia. A person who would be responsible for monitoring what these editors are doing as part of these projects. That goes beyond just having someone with unsavory views editing on this site.–The Devil’s Advocate tlk. cntrb. 22:49, 8 October 2013 (UTC)
A person publicly supports someone who has committed genocide should not be editing wikipedia or be associated with/employed by Wikimedia in any way. Comparing someone supporting the Nazis seemingly because they killed the Jews to someone having a star of David on their user page is patently ridiculous. This kind of “all views are welcome” mantra never seems to realise that there are moderate views and then there are loony bin extremes. I doubt many here would associate themselves with Nazi-sympathisers in real life and it shouldn’t make a slight bit of difference just because we are on the internet. IRWolfie- (talk) 09:09, 10 October 2013 (UTC)

We don’t know what his views are, we’re making assumptions here that are not necessarily correct. While I agree that he shouldn’t have been hired by the WMF, one cannot say that he supports genocide of Jews by Hitler. The hidden assumption one makes here is that he would accept the historical facts about the Holocaust. While Holocaust denial in the West is typically seen as a disingenuous attitude to hide that you do support the extermination of the Jews, in the Arab World many people really do not accept the truth about the Holocaust. There exists a widely supported conspiracy theory in the Arab World that what we know to be the facts about the Holocaust, is Western propaganda to support Israel. That may be difficult for us to swallow, but it is still a reality. Count Iblis (talk) 14:08, 10 October 2013 (UTC)

Your basically saying “Wait a second, he might not be supporting genocide, he might be a holocaust denier instead”. Both of those are far right extremes and in both cases he should be blocked, IRWolfie- (talk) 20:39, 10 October 2013 (UTC)

As I pointed out, there are many Holocaust deniers in the Arab world who genuinly believe in this, they are not necessarily extreme right wing people. Also, by your logic we should ban almost all Turkish editors for denying the Armenian Genocide. Count Iblis (talk) 23:54, 10 October 2013 (UTC)

There is no problem here because of the disclaimer which says: “Disclaimer: Although I work for the Wikimedia Foundation, contributions under this account do not necessarily represent the actions or views of the Foundation unless expressly stated otherwise. For example, edits to articles or uploads of other media are done in my individual, personal capacity unless otherwise stated.” Count Iblis (talk) 23:51, 8 October 2013 (UTC)

It is a problem when the person was given a position that allowed him some significant influence over editing activity on Wikipedia. He was a Foundation employee whose job was helping to recruit and organize new editors for various Wikipedia projects and monitoring their activities. That he has apparent antisemitic views is not a good thing as it suggests he might favor certain things or ignore certain things that an editor without such views would recognize as inappropriate for an objective encyclopedia.–The Devil’s Advocate tlk. cntrb. 00:06, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

So much for the closing of this thread, but hey…you can’t stop someone from having a horrible, personal view…but you can make them keep their personal bias off the articles and project. I hope we are not just on a witch hunt due to someone’s own opinion that may not be popular or even accurate. But…every editor has a right to their opinion and a witch hunt to remove them wont’ remove the bias. it may just make it worse.–Mark Miller (talk) 00:26, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

Its not a witch hunt when they declare their views on the talk page. No editor has any rights to edit wikipedia beyond what they are given. This is not a democracy. Wikipedia’s constitution isn’t the United States constitution. People have the rights to their opinions elsewhere, but not here, IRWolfie- (talk) 09:11, 10 October 2013 (UTC)
Yes, that could have been a problem. But then, it’s possible for his actions to be evaluated to see if there had been problems with his work at the WMF. Usually the sort of statements made on that infobox are meant to be extremely provocative, they don’t actually reflect well how that person really thinks on this issue. The point is to say things that they know are hurtful to their enemy. So, this person may well believe that Hitler was a bad person and that the Jews in Israel are normal persons like he is. The statement in that infobox is then an attack against Israel motivated by the things that Israel has done wrong. Count Iblis (talk) 00:32, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
To expand on this a bit, we in the West live in peace today, so we are not used to this. But when we get involved in a war, then our own norms about acceptable behavior changes a lot, take e.g. this. Count Iblis (talk) 00:43, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

Really? “We in the West live in peace today? (talk) 02:17, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

Yes, these attacks and the way they shocked society points to us being accustomed to living in a peaceful society where these things don’t normally happen. Count Iblis (talk) 03:00, 9 October 2013 (UTC)—you are editing from an IP address. Your argument that “you are the co-founder of Wikipedia, and it is disappointing you haven’t bothered to comment on this topic” doesn’t make much sense as you are not offering a clue as to your identity in relation to the history of Wikipedia. Are you a banned account? Are you a productive editor? You are revealing little about yourself. Yet you are pointing out that somebody else is “the co-founder of Wikipedia”. I’m not opposed to unregistered accounts. But the differences should be recognized. Bus stop (talk) 16:29, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

OK. I have a registered account and I’m a “productive editor”, so you may have to listen to what I’m saying without dismissing it out of hand. I want you to conduct a thought experiment. A person shows up for a job interview—as a representative of a Foundation which espouses humanistic, Englightment values as its core principles—wearing a button that says “I respect Adolf Hitler”. That’s basically what happened here. How should that interview go?

The fact that some people are defending this on free-expression grounds or calling it a “witch hunt” demonstrates how bizarrely out of touch with the real world the Wikipedia community has become and, frankly, why sane editors have been fleeing this place in droves for the last few years. I never, ever thought I’d find myself typing these words, but The Devil’s Advocate is entirely right here. It’s not fair to hold Jimbo personally responsible for every hiring decision, but it is fair to ask for some sort of response from the Foundation. MastCell Talk 17:17, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

He would not get the job; he has freedom of speech, but companies have the freedom to hire people based on their preferences. But the reason why some people are leaving Wikpedia has nothing to do with this sort of an issue. Most people who hold politically incorrect views are nice people who don’t cause problems, while the people who do cause problems that lead to editors leaving here are usually the average people whose political views look normal.
If I hold certain extremist views then I have to deal with that when interacting with other people, this would typically lead to me becoming a lot better than average in communicating with people on controversial subjects. The average person will have less experience with that, and then things may well go wrong on Wikipedia. Count Iblis (talk) 17:48, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

The concern is not that the right people would leave, but that the wrong people would join. He could not control the content, but his position did give him some influence over the environment and the trajectory of some Wikipedia projects. Are you saying you see nothing wrong about someone with such views helping to shape how new editors enter Wikipedia?–The Devil’s Advocate tlk. cntrb. 04:19, 10 October 2013 (UTC)

I do see the potential problem with that sort of job, I agree that this should lead to a priori disqualification from being considered for such a job. In this case, I don’t think the infoboxes point to a big problem, we look at this from our Western perspective and that leads to a picture of some Neo-Nazi like person. But in the Arab world such views are far more normal than here, therefore that picture we get is wrong. So, while he shouldn’t have been hired as a precaution, that doesn’t mean that when he was in the job he would likely have caused big problems. It’s just like that to prevent drunk people from driving you need to have a limit on your blood alcohol levels that must be set rather low. That doesn’t mean that everyone who is caught driving at slightly higher levels would have caused problems due to the alcohol. But the law must be upheld, therefore one shouldn’t drive even after drinking half a glass of beer. Count Iblis (talk) 13:54, 10 October 2013 (UTC)

I believe the Foundation needs to make a public statement on this issue, as it calls into question the Foundation’s ability to hire and supervise staff overseas. The educational program isn’t just about spreading knowledge, it’s also about spreading the community’s values (public access to knowledge, public participation in knowledge-creation, etc.) The statements made on the user’s talk page, (including his support for Hitler and his apparent endorsement of violence), if they are being translated reasonably, lead me to believe that this user should not be representing the Foundation and the community. That he was a paid representative of the Foundation is deeply troubling and the Foundation should provide more detail on how they view this incident and what changes, if any, they believe need to be made to prevent a recurrence.GabrielF (talk) 17:07, 9 October 2013 (UTC)

I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with something that came from Wikipediocracy, but yes, the WMF needs to take serious action here. Someone hired this guy, and whoever that person was made a serious mistake and needs to be held accountable; I’d assume reading userpages would be a basic first step before hiring anybody. Furthermore… he’s a sysop and a ‘crat on ar.wp… am I the only one who has a serious problem with this? Jimbo, you’ve said in the past that people who believe horrible things have no right to edit Wikipedia. To me, this seems like the perfect opportunity to apply that philosophy. The WMF should pull any privileged access that El-Gwely holds, and should do the same for any other users who have displayed views such as his. — PinkAmpers&(Je vous invite à me parler) 03:10, 14 October 2013 (UTC)

While I am most presently concerned with what it says of the WMF’s hiring practices, the way some other language wikis have been completely co-opted by abusive governments or the far-right is a grave concern. Even if the WMF does not traditionally get involved directly in the content, there should be a point where a situation is so severe that they take extraordinary action. They should not wait for someone to bring it to their attention either as such developments should be caught before they get out of hand.–The Devil’s Advocate tlk. cntrb. 04:18, 14 October 2013 (UTC)


One thought on “Wikimedia Foundation and Antisemitism

  1. Andreas Kolbe 19/10/2013 / 02:29

    The best (worst?) part of it was that Jimmy Wales never commented on this discussion, even though it was on his user talk page for over a week and he replied to many other discussion threads during that period. But on this one, not a peep.

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