Column 5: Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!

Two interesting things happened over the last week.

It may not be immediately apparent to the casual observer, but as I am writing this, there is actually a siege going on at Conservapedia. I am not talking about the vandals that have been amusing themselves and keeping the Sysops busy with attacks on various articles recently. Nor am I talking about the criticism that has been raised against Conservapedia from various sides. No, I am talking about the siege against the castles that Conservapedia’s userpages and user talk pages have been up until this point.

It has been a long-standing policy at Conservapedia that an editor’s user talk page, and, one would logically assume, by extension also his or her user page, is a castle. The policy has been established by mr. Schlafly himself, who has stated that,

I realize there are good reasons for having rules about one’s own talk page. But we’re not Wikipedia, and it seems to me that a man’s talk page is his castle. 🙂 . It’s his own room, his own car, his own basement, his own office, etc. It’s his, limited only by our rules against obscenity. I’ve even allowed our detractors to thumb their noses at us on their talk pages, giving it special deference. [Source]

This has also been established at the page “Differences with Wikipedia”:

11. We respect users’ control over their own talk pages as much as possible. Wikipedia treats users’ own talk pages like government or public property, and it becomes a place for Wikipedia editors to bully users. [Source]

This seems reasonably enough. The user page is a castle, except for some things, and that’s all fine enough. Obviously, there are things that should not be allowed on user pages/talk pages. Mr. Schlafly mentions obscenity, and some may remember certain misguided individuals in the past who have posted swastikas and other Nazi propaganda on their pages.

Recently, however, things seem to have become a little more complicated. As I mentioned in the previous column, one reason that was stated for my banning (other than the fact that I said I was going to leave) was that my page contained “personal attacks”. This is rather confusing. We have seen that obscenity on a user page is grounds for banning, but personal attacks? Those are not mentioned anywhere. We check the Commandments, which mention family-friendliness and avoiding gossip and foul language. Nothing at all on personal attacks, though. We wonder if personal attacks could perhaps be considered a special type of obscenity, or if anything in the Column in question could possibly be construed as obscene? Doesn’t seem likely.

But then we remember that besides the Commandments, Conservapedia also has a set of Guidelines. We check, and sure enough – here we find the article Conservapedia: Civility, which mentions that,

Your user page/discussion pages, are indeed your castle, from which you can agree, disagree and discuss issues as you will. However you cannot use them to bully, ridicule (make fun of) or attack (denigrate) Conservapedia or other users, and their opinions. There is a difference between intellectual discourse, and attacking someone for what they believe. Wikipedia condones bullying and mob rule, we don’t. [Source]

Looking at the page history, we see that this paragraph was added by Sysop TK himself.

(This is quite ironic, since Sysop TK himself is, as have been mentioned earlier on this space, one of the users that definitely could use a basic course in civil behaviour. Unless, of course, there is a special conservative definition of ‘civility’ that includes thinly veiled threats, arrogant and malicious remarks, and the extensive use of weasel words, while on the other hand excluding honest concerns and constructive criticisms. The evidence would seem to support this interpretation, but testing will continue.)

But getting back to the subject, it’s obvious that this new policy – and it has been stated several times that the guidelines are just as binding as the Commandments – means a serious curtailing of the editors’ rights when it comes to content on user pages. There is a considerable difference between “no obscenity” and “[do not] bully, ridicule (make fun of) or attack (denigrate) Conservapedia or other users, and their opinions”, especially when, as we saw in the previous Column, sysops apparently have free hands in deciding what does and what does not constitute a “personal attack”. This is problematic in itself. Transparency and accountability, people.

Another problem is that it is unclear how official this new policy is. The page states that the guideline,

…has received approval from senior staff and Mr. Schlafly. It is an adjunct to the Commandments.

However, this passage was already present on the page when TK added the new rule. It must be assumed, therefore, that the passage refers simply to the original and much less controversial guideline by Sysop Ed Poor, which merely read:

You must be civil. No bullying. [Source]

But does the endorsement also apply to the new rule, which was added about an hour later? It appears that way to the casual reader, but in actuality, we do not know. What we do know is that the policy seems to contradict previous policy stated by mr. Schalfly, so either mr. Schlafly changed his mind completely and forgot to tell the community, or Sysop TK is doing some private legislation on his own. In either case, let those editors with a critical disposition beware, for the Sysops are stiffening the sinews and summoning up the blood.

The other interesting thing that happened recently – just yesterday, in fact – was the quiet replacement of the pages Request for Adminship and Request for Bureaucratship with redirects to the new Sysop Contest page. This, of course meant the wiping of every single previous nomination and the votes that had taken place on those pages. Thank God for the Page History function.

If one was inclined towards cynicism, one might imagine that this removal were an attempt by management to cover up a mistake that had become potentially embarrassing because unwanted sysop candidates had proven to be much more popular than expected. One might also be struck with the thought that the pages in question had become problematic because the voting taking place on them might lead to an implicit expectation that the Conservapedia community would get to actually participate in the selection of new sysops.

One is, however, fortunately not inclined towards cynicism, but rather towards a friendly and open-minded nature which is always prepared to give one’s fellow human beings the benefit of doubt. As such, one is certain that the removal of these important pages are merely the result of an unfortunate oversight that will be rectified soon.

While we are waiting for this to take place, I wish you good night, and good luck.

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