Sunday, June 17, 2007

Wikipedia SLAPPed?

Eli, the innocent bunny, appears to have wandered into the mother of all SLAPP suit between Mark F. "Thor" Hearne and the Wikipedia. The Wikipedia is playing it tight so this looks serious folks. Will the Electronic Frontier Foundation ride to the rescue?

UPDATE: The Wikis have their say:

For those who are reading all kinds of wild stuff into this (yes, I've read Rabett's blog), I'll just say a few words about OTRS volunteers, who we are and what we do.

Wikipedia gets quite a lot of email from people who have a problem with an article, and it's our self-selected job to handle it. Usually when we get an email, it's because there really is something wrong with an article. It's not a matter of people saying "do stuff or we'll sue", because if it ever got to that level we'd have screwed up and the Foundation would be handling it (commonly known as Wikipedia:Office). We're ordinary editors and administrators who try to fix problems. If you're dissatisfied with the way we perform our edits or use our administrative powers, we're approachable and will fix a problem if we screw up. If you can't get agreement from us that we did screw up, you can use the normal dispute resolution procedure, up to and including Arbitration. We don't make an edit that we wouldn't do anyway, with due regard to the biographies of living persons policy and under all other relevant policies of the community. We're not special and we don't carry a badge. But we do ask you to please make allowances for the fact that we can't talk about emails we receive, which are confidential. --Tony Sidaway 06:13, 18 June 2007 (UTC)

Frankly, as Eli has said before, if this were the case the REASON for wiping the entry could be posted without posting the name. What we do know is that Hearne is a lawyer who was energetically editing his own biography and anything he could lay his hands on to eliminate all references to the ACVR.

CONTINUED: First some background. Mark Hearne is a partner at a St. Louis Law firm, with strong connections to the Republican Party in the US. He was, until not so long ago, also General Counsel and one of the founders of the American Center for Voting Rights, a 501c(3) (tax free) organization. According to its entry in the Wikipedia

The American Center for Voting Rights or ACVR was a non-profit organization founded by Mark F. "Thor" Hearne that operated from March 2005 to May 2007 and pushed for laws to reduce voter intimidation and voter fraud, including photo ID for voters. Its lobbying arm was called the American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund. Critics noted that it was "the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem," and called the Center a Republican Party front group whose support of a photo ID requirement was intended to suppress the minority vote.[1]
The Wiki entry for Hearne, in addition to large sections from his law firm bio, included
In February 2005, with encouragement from Karl Rove and the White House, Hearne founded the American Center for Voting Rights. Although the group posed as a nonpartisan watchdog group looking for voting fraud, critics, such as People for the American Way and various state chapters of the League of Women Voters, have said that the group was a Republican effort and pursued only allegations of voting fraud by Democrats.
As the scandals in the US Department of Justice heat up, and it has became increasingly clear that the firings of old US attorneys and the appointment of new ones was closely connected with Republican attempts to suppress voting, the ACVR disappeared Mark Hearne disappeared all references to it in his bio at the law firm. If you want more detail about Hearne's involvement, go read Murray Waas' article.

And then things began to disappear in the Wikipedia. It started as your usual revert war, but then the editors stepped in and sent Mark F. "Thor" Hearne down the memory hole by redirecting any Wiki search on Mark Hearne to the page for the ACVR. And when the redirect was reverted, they protected the revert against anonymice, and when it was reverted, they protected the revert against anyone but an editor (listening o' Stoat). BUT all the redirecting was done without placing ANY notice in the discussions, or in the talk pages about WHY this was done, so it looked like your usual Wikivandals at play.

Now, as we said at the top, Eli is just your average carrot munching Rabett, and so he inquired (at 3:06 on June 16) WHY this was done on the page for asking about such things:

Mark F. "Thor" Hearne (edit|talk|history|links|watch|logs)ZScout370 has deleted a substantial article redirected anyone from this page to four times since 13 June an. Tizio has protected the page. These actions have eliminated a substantial article. The last edit by should be restored and protected against ZScout370's vandalism.
and got this reply
Declined - talk to the protecting administrators who seem to have good reasons. Accusing them of vandalism is a bad idea. Kusma (talk) 13:42, 16 June 2007 (UTC)
which seemed a mite touchy. So the bunny first wrote to Kusma

Zscout370 provided no information in the "Mark Hearn" page discussion as to why he had taken action. This by itself violates the spirit of the Wikipedia which asks that major changes be commented on and justified in the discussion. After I inquired ZScout370 wrote that someone (no identification) sent an email asking that the article be removed and ZScout370 redirected it. ZScout370 provided no further information. This has no explicative power whatsoever. I have put a series of questions about this action on ZScout370's talk page. To justify ZScout370 action, to show that it was not vandalism, ZScout370 should provide satisfactory answers, such as, in what way was the article unfair or incorrect. Please note that in asking this I am not claiming that the article was fair or correct, but a short search shows that it was pretty accurate, with much of the information coming from Hearne's own bio at his law firm.

and then got hisself over to Z's talk page and saw this:

There is no reason to have Thor Hearnes page directed else where except for political motivations. Ignisdu 17:55, 14 June 2007 (UTC)

OTRS is the email communication system people outside of Wikipedia use to email us. Someone complained about the article and in my decision as an OTRS user, I decided to redirect the article. To answer Yellowdesk's questions, OTRS emails are private and only those with access can read the emails. No political considerations were made when doing this action, since Democrats also use the system. User:Zscout370 (Return Fire) 18:09, 14 June 2007 (UTC)

Which says very little, but it does establish the fact that there was a letter from someone somewhere somehow that said nasty things about the Wiki article on Mark F. "Thor" Hearne and the editors (whomsoevertheymaybe) assigned old Z to pull the plug. To their credit, they did provide some back up (see Kusma's backhander up above and)

  • I don't know if this helps, but I have reviewed the ticket, and looked at Zscout's actions here. The article on Hearne appeared to be what we are now coming to call a coatrack, an article that was actually about something else. Such articles can be POV forks in disguise, or may simply give undue weight to a small part of someone's life - especially where the rest is not especially visible, as appears to be the case here. The solution - a redirect - is sane and practical, and does not preclude discussing Hearne's role within the group, provided it is done in accordance with our policy on living individuals and is properly supported by sources. Guy (Help!) 19:20, 14 June 2007 (UTC)
  • Do you think there is a method to rectify the topic complained about so that editing may resume on the article? -- Yellowdesk 19:24, 14 June 2007 (UTC)
  • OK, thank you both, JzG / Guy and Zscout370 for the clarifications on this surprising topic. -- Regards, Yellowdesk 23:01, 14 June 2007 (UTC)

Guy and Yellowdesk are good buddies and backup for Z while he plunges the redirect in. Eli tho is a Rabett who reads, so first he asked Z:
*So let me understand this, you get a mysterious Email from somewhere, you will not disclose the contents, but you claim this validates your action??? The fact that you get Emails from Democrats also proves what?? Do you also take action on Emails from Democrats? Like what?? Sorry, that does not even pass the silly test.

It appears that there are several open questions. The first is what was the specific complaint about the content. Specific, e.g. factual errors, omissions not just and "I don't like it". If there were no specific complaints your action is against the spirit of the Wikipedia.
Second what did you do to check the validity of the complaint. Please point to primary sources which show the specific complaints were valid. Other issues noted belowUser:Eli Rabett

and Guy, well Eli asked Guy
*What specific part of Hearne's career is being neglected. This is a person who has been very prominent in the discussion about voting law in the US. Much of the text comes from his bio at his law firm, which was found at the top of a simple Google search
A lot of this stuff in the Wiki bio has a "citation" needed in the last edit before you started to redirect the page. I just gave you one. What is missing in his law firm bio is his connection to the redirect page American Center for Voting Rights, information which he has only recently edited out of his law firm bio. BTW, there is a picture on that page also.

Since Hearne has actively tried to eliminate all references to his involvement with ACVR a further question arises as to whether the letter of complaint came from his law firm or from him and if it did, if any actions were threatened? User:Eli Rabett
Z proceeded to blow the gaff
I am not allowed to say. User:Zscout370 (Return Fire) 03:38, 17 June 2007 (UTC)
If you follow the droppings, even a young bunny could tell you what is going on.
Are you allowed to say why you are not allowed to say? Was it because legal action was threatened? If so, what actions is the Wikipedia taking? User:Eli Rabett
Tim got his Ball handed to him. We may hope for a similar outcome, but judging from some other editing going on at Wikipedia by the editors, there is a foul wind coming out of St. Louis.


On the blogging side, Brad Friedman has been the go to and read guy on Mark Hearne and Josh Marshall has owned the US Attorney scandal story. Oh yeah, here is a real goodie from Murray Waas

Hearn was reported to have urged, through a senior Justice Department official, William Mateja, that United States attorneys investigate voter groups registering individuals likely to be democratic voters, or to cease investigations of Republican candidates.[3]


Taran Rampersad said...

Wikipedia admin is imbalanced and demonstrates something which could be called *censorship* on many different levels. The outcome of this is not surprising.

By the grace of Wikipedia Admin doth one contribute. All hail might Wikipedia Admin, who doth alloweth you to post and doth taketh away for any reason.

Wikipedia has just inadvertently recreated what it was supposed to fix. This is why I stopped contributing.

Belette said...

These are sensible people, so probably have a good reason. You are a humble red user so may not be taken too seriously. If you want, drop me an email and I can enquire on your behalf -W

Anonymous said...

If you take a gander at Christopher Monckton's page you'll see that he is threatening to sue Wikipedia for libel. Because his entry links to George Monbiot's piece and a discussion at RealClimate. It's on the Biographies of Living persons noticeboard now.

Of course, nevermind that there is nothing even close to libelous in Monckton's page. I hope Wikipedia makes the right decision in this case.

EliRabett said...

Hi, I don't doubt they are sensible people, and they were clearly under pressure. However, in the meta of things, they either were structuring it to provoke what is posted and get the word out or they are clueless about how people react. Given the first sentence the Rabett votes for a. There are all sort of other odd things going on there wrt Hearne. Glad to do them a favor.

Anyhow, Eli is a carrot orange user, and probably not a favorite one in this case.

Anonymous said...

BTW--whassup with changing one's handle from Mark (name of one of the Apostles, author of eponymous Gospel)--to Thor--Norse (heathen) god of thunder?

Anonymous said...

Eli, your links to Brad and Josh are broken. The former leads to comments (quite "strong" tones there btw) instead of the story, and the latter to google.

-F C

Hans Erren said...

Before attempting to contribute to controversial wikipedia lemma's, check the discussion page. If the discussion is longer than the article contribute to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Oh, look. It's little Albert giving advice. :)

Hans Erren said...

Oh it's coward anonymous again who doesn't RTFR.

Anonymous said...

Poor, poor Albert.

No one looks at his home-made graphs.

EliRabett said...

Did Hans, there was nothing there when I did.

Anonymous said...

belette, so what's the sensible answer for removing the bio?

Mus musculus anonymouse

Marion Delgado said...

Wikipedia is here to stay. Therefore, polite struggle to preserve or increase its goodness is never time wasted.

In all honesty, Stephen Colbert loses this one. It's very much yelling "Get a horse!" at the passing Model A.

TokyoTom said...

Was the Waas quote only in print, or do you have link to it?

"American Center for Voting Rights" - I just love the Orwellian doublespeak.

Not really looking forward to handing all the keys to the candystore over another party, but fervently do wish for a string of weel-deserved indictments to release the pus.

EliRabett said...

sorry, the Waas article was one of the earlier links