Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is being dragged through the mud by a new type of trash blog. Tabloid journalism has always existed, but the new marketplace of ideas online allows for the rapid evolution of the most effective types of trashy pseudo-journalism: Those blogs that find the right tone — that combination of malicious insinuations, salaciousness, and half-truths — will develop a large audience; those that are just boring (like Kelly Martin rambling about Jimmy’s mortgage) will whither and die.
The recent attacks against Jimmy allege that he had some huge conflict of interest when it comes to editing the “Rachel Marsden” article. Jimmy routinely asks people on our ticket-system, OTRS, to look into articles that are one-sided when people ask him to. He had a conflict
of interest here, which, for obvious reasons, he didn’t want to disclose – so he suggested a smaller conflict of interest in his e-mail to OTRS as a reason for recusing himself from editing it. It would have been better to stay away from the matter entirely, obviously, but I don’t see it as a big deal. I’ m more worried that the community will now massively push it in the other direction as a reaction against perceived bias.
As for his personal life, it is just that: his personal life.
There are two real stories here, IMHO:
* a destructive, trashy kind of pseudo-journalism that invades people’s personal lives under the pretense of a real story;
* the destructiveness and maliciousness on the fringes of our own community.
Jimmy not only created an extraordinary project — he decided to base it on the principles of the open source / free software movement, and turned it over to a non-profit organization. This was, by no means, the obvious thing to do: Had events played out a little differently, Wikipedia would today be a dot-com with ads, probably a subsidiary of Google, Microsoft or Yahoo.
As community leader, Jimmy has developed and emphasized the values that we cherish: the assumption of good faith, the importance of neutrality in open collaboration, and the belief in a shared purpose. When he talks about bringing education to those who cannot afford it, he’s not just trying to impress. Anyone who spends 5 minutes with him will understand that this is his personal life goal.
Moreover, Jimmy stepped back graciously as Chair of the Foundation when he no longer could dedicate as much time as needed to the role. He’s helped us connect with philanthropists here in the Bay Area — donations like the recent 500,000 dollars from the last fundraiser were only possible because of his outreach efforts. His international network of contacts has helped us to build our Advisory Board, really smart people who have supported us on many occasions. In short, he’s been humble and helpful, and has always acted in the best interests of the organization.
When people try to create a malicious caricature of the man, then please remind yourself that actions speak louder than words. And also ask what the self-interest is of those who make the attacks. Whether it’s for personal reasons (15 minutes of fame, a vendetta, or simply an inherently destructive nature) or because of advertising revenue — spreading lies, insinuations and half-truths is in many people’s interest. The emergence of the new open media also means that we, as readers, have a greater responsibility to distinguish the bottom of the barrel crap — designed to stir up trouble — from honest inquiry.
Not too long ago, Jimmy and Tim O’Reilly proposed a Blogger’s Code of Conduct that we, bloggers, would voluntarily adopt. I am increasingly agreeing with him: If we want the emergence of an honest, responsible, but dynamic and healthy new media sphere, we will need a new code of ethics and a set of principles to subscribe to. We need to indicate that we are different from the trash blogs. As such, I am hereby adopting the following modules from the proposed Code of Conduct:
1. Responsibility for our own words
2. Nothing we wouldn’t say in person
3. Connect privately first
4. Take action against attacks
6. Ignore the trolls
8. Keep our sources private
9. Discretion to delete comments
10. Do no harm
I encourage you to do the same.