Directory:The Wikipedia Point of View/Law

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User Law was a Wikipedia editor and administrator who had previously been banned as editor and administrator 'The Undertow', by the powerful Arbitration committee in 2008, but who returned without admitting his former identity. This fact was known to at least three other members of the Wikipedia administration who knew his identity, but actively helped him to become an administrator again, or, as in the case of one Arbitration committee member, kept silent and said nothing even though they knew the truth. This incident caused concern among many members of the community, because of the implication that its administration was a closed circle of friends and enablers, with one rule for those in the circle, and another for the outsiders.


Law began editing as The_Undertow in August 2006 [1], mostly reverting vandalism[2]. He was made an admin in July 2007 [3], passing 49-1. Undertow was blocked by Raul654 on 16 June 2008 with an expiry time of 9 months ‎"Per discussion on the arbcom mailing list" [4]

The reason for the block was never made public, but a member of the Arbitration committee has claimed that Undertow "threatened to (and possibly did) file a lawsuit against another editor, also starting a revenge biography on the person. He made various statements, then excused them as mental health issues. ArbCom decided, in essence, that Wikipedia was not therapy" [5], [6].

Shortly afterwards, Undertow rejoined Wikipedia as User Law in September 2008 [7], making over five thousand edits by March 2009 [8], nearly half of which were in mainspace, when he was proposed for adminship by 'GlassCobra'.

Some time in August 2009, an anonymous IP outed Law on Law's talk page. The talk-page history shows that two edits were oversighted on August 16, the page protected, and the anon blocked [9], [10]. The implication is that someone used oversight to hide that Law had violated an ArbCom ban and had gained adminship by lying to the community, and that other admins blocked the whistleblower and protected the page against further revelations.

On September 20 2009, Law unblocked user ChildofMidnight , overturning an arbitration enforcement block which had been placed by Sandstein. It is expressly forbidden to overturn ArbCom enforcement actions in that way. When challenged, Law was unapologetic. Somewhere around then, it was discovered that Law was a reincarnation of Undertow.

Adminstrator connivance

  • LaraLove"He's my best friend. Big deal. I trust him. That's why I supported him. I don't care if he broke a rule on a website. He wanted to get into new areas, I knew his intentions were good (which is more than I can say for most of the RFAs I vote in, where I assume the intentions for people I don't know are good), so I supported him. I'll always have his back no matter what, because we're friends regardless of what's going on with Wikipedia. I would never put a website before a friendship. And I would never not get his back because I'm an admin. If you don't trust me with my tools, recall me, but I won't be admonished for supporting my best friend. Lara 13:29, 30 September 2009 (UTC)" [11]
  • User GlassCobra admitted to knowing Law in real life. " It is quite a mystery to me why this particular instance seems to be generating such a dramastorm. " [12]
  • MZMcBride who participated in defending Law here against a claim that he was acting like a cowboy administrator[13]
  • Ched Davis "While I was on IRC, a few weeks ago, I learned that Law = the undertow. To be frank, I didn't really give it much thought since "the undertow" had come and gone before I ever started here. I assumed that anyone was entitled to WP:CLEANSTART[14].
  • Jayron32 "You can go ahead and add me to the "parties" section of this case if you choose. I knew that Law was the undertow. I supported him in his RFA knowing that. I am not ashamed or embarassed by that. --Jayron32 05:48, 2 October 2009 (UTC)" [15]
  • Iridescent

The motion for their removal of administrator rights is here.

Community reaction

This revelation caused concern among other members of the community, because defending friends "No matter what" implies that no matter what policy a friend breaches, the other friend will cover for them and assist them to evade repercussions.

It also looked, to outsiders and ordinary editors, as a sign that Wikipedia had abandoned the idea of enforcing its ban policy, at least for insiders and their friends, and that this was an open secret among a significant number of Wikipedia administrators and well-connected editors, even to the point that they are surprised and offended that the right of administrators to protect their friends who are editing as ban-evading socks should even be challenged.

Those who weren't in on the secret, and who thought the ban policy meant something, felt betrayed. There seemed to have been dozens of these, given Law's admission that he had told "half the project". They felf that there should not be a climate that condones and enables such open deception in violation of policy, undermining the trust of the community. It was even more worrying that this seemed to have been accepted by the Committee itself - deception was being condoned by members of ArbCom and therefore there was no part of the governance structure of Wikipedia that ordinary editors could consider trustworthy [16].

This was not helped by the apparent insouciance with which senior administrators regarded the event, saying that the Committee was 'just human', and criticising the outsiders as starting a 'witchhunt' [17], [18].

We are no longer a club

"We are no longer a club working on a private project. Whether or not we like it, we have in reality acquired a public responsibility for maintaining a resource important to the general public on an international level. In practice, becoming an arbitrator requires such a period of activity here that it is impossible to avoid having friendships and preferences within the community. A very few people can put these entirely to pone side in a cold-blooded fashion--most people cannot, and it is in any case questionable whether such people would have a sufficient understanding of human behavior to serve properly in the position. We might need at the highest level people who are independent of the community they will govern. Should we consider replacing arb com with a group either selected from people working only on other Wikipedias -- there are many responsible people there with a sufficient knowledge of English--or of obtaining funding to hire professionals. They may in each case have their biases but they won't have the personal feelings.

"Short of this, the minimum is establishing technical barriers against the worst forms of abuse: as a first step, the work of an not just an arb but an admin is sufficiently sensitive to require positive identification of all sitting and future people in this position. The immediate preliminary need is requiring all members of arb com to disclose their knowledge of admins using undisclosed accounts, or any variant of this". DGG ( talk ) 18:26, 2 October 2009 (UTC) [19]