Sunday, September 25, 2011

Terminated with Extreme Prejudice

For the past 15 years, I have provided pro bono technical support to the faculty and students of School of Journalism and Communication (JCOM) at Utah State University in Logan Utah.

A week ago, the USU IT Security Team, spearheaded by Ken Andersen, unilaterally terminated that long-standing relationship in favor of a non-negotiable dictat in which they become the sole purveyors of computing resources for the Hard News Cafe and related academic resources previously provided via two machines housed in the JCOM department and operated by the faculty and staff.  The USU IT Security Group abruptly shut down JCOM's own independent servers without notice, without consent, without appeal, and without a plan for restoring the lost services or recovering the lost resources residing on those now-disabled machines.

Significantly, the technical support which I routinely provided, pro bono, to the JCOM faculty and students can no longer be provided from my quarters, as I am now locked out of all remaining on-campus academic computing resources.  This lockout has also left me without access to my own collection of scholastic files that I had accumulated over the past 15 years on the now-disabled JCOM machines.

Update:  A week after shutting down the JCOM machines, USU IT Security agreed to let the JCOM faculty pull the hard drives from their machine and send them to me so that I could recover my files.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Detecting WikiCulture: Corruption and Borderline Sociopathic Incivility

There is a terrific new mini-series on PBS Masterpiece Theater in which Benedict Cumberbatch renders a brilliant portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, updated to 21st Century London.

Holmes is the Consulting Detective whom Inspector Lestrade is obliged to call upon because his own bumbling team of crime scene investigators are not quite up to the challenge of solving the perplexing mystery of the week.

The mutual contempt between Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade's stupefied crew is deliciously manifest from the outset. They consider Holmes to be a dangerous psychopath who is as likely to be the murderer as anyone given to a peculiarly single-minded obsession.

When Lestrade's forensic man, Detective Anderson, calls Holmes a psychopath, he snaps back, "I'm not a psychopath Anderson, I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research."

That bit of dialogue amplifies the caricature of those whose pursuit of the ground truth comes at the expense of the wreckage of rudely bruised egos.

There is more than a little sociopathy to be found in everyday culture, and nowhere is this more visible online than in WikiCulture, which frankly seems to attract and cultivate a wretched excess of amateur sociopathy.

The most visible examples would be the characters who habitually go trolling for lulz — baiting, taunting, ridiculing, and otherwise scandalizing the hapless residents of WikiLand.

Is it possible to deal with this issue without becoming a net contributor to the rising tide of sociopathic incivility?

Journalists routinely cover political scandals, sometimes scooping rival news organizations by being the first to break a scandalous story about some corrupt politician whom the public has never previously heard of.

Given the public's voracious appetite for juicy scandals, is it any wonder that journalists occasionally go over the top in such stories?

I have a colleague on the Internet who has become a "Citizen Journalist" at Examiner.Com, where he covers Wikipedia and related projects and activities of the Wikimedia Foundation. There has been no shortage of embarrassing scandals in the ten-year history of Wikipedia, but only a few of them have been notable enough to be featured in the mainstream press. My friend, the Citizen Journalist at Examiner.Com is filling in the gaps.

Investigative Journalism is a difficult beat to master. One has to tell a coherent story both accurately and succinctly, and do it in a way that brings credit to semi-professional journalism, even when it brings a measure of discredit to the subjects of the stories.

A recent story about a new hire at the Wikimedia Foundation generated a substantial backlash, divisive enough to prompt me to call in the USU faculty experts on Mass Media Ethics for their thoughtful commentary.

And so we come to our newest ethical conundrum of the season. How does one cover a complex subject that features more than a little corruption, incivility, and borderline sociopathy without losing one's own moral compass and becoming ensnared in the pathology that one seeks to eradicate with the disinfectant of fresh air?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Cyber Harassment and the Law

On Point: Cyber Harassment and the Law

Cyber bullies verbally savaged two Yale law students. The women fought back. Their case may change the rules on what you can say online.

Cyber-bullying is too mild a term for some of what goes on in the rougher corners of the Internet.

When anonymous online attackers went after two young women at Yale Law School, it had the feel of a gang beating. Maybe worse. Brutal. Obscene. Relentless. And done, it seemed, for fun.

Now the women have pushed back in the courts. Defendants say it’s not their attacks but free speech that’s really under fire. The case may change what you can and cannot say online.

From National Public Radio — On Point: Mob psychology, harassment on the web, and how one case may change the rules.

Have you seen it? Bullying? Harassment? A mob attack online? Can it, does it, go too far? What about free speech?

Tom Ashbrook hosts an hour-long discussion on National Public Radio with his guests:
  • David Margolick, contributing editor at Portfolio magazine. His article “Slimed Online,” about the case of the two Yale law students, appears in the March issue.
  • Danielle Citron, professor of law at the University of Maryland. She has written extensively on cyber harassment and the law.
  • Anthony Ciolli, University of Pennsylviania Law School graduate and former administrator of the online forum AutoAdmit.
  • Marc Randazza, attorney who represented Anthony Ciolli. He has commented on the case on his blog.
The program aired live this morning on NPR. The audio archive is now available.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How Wikiversity Teaches 21st Century Youth to Adopt Antiquated Political Processes

Liminal Social Drama is what occurs in a community when there is a Breach of Expectations. Here are portions of the Liminal Social Drama that erupted on Wikiversity when Custodian SB_Johnny departed from established policy to initiate an exercise known as a Parliamentary Bill of Attainder.


I kind of like "collegiality" since it has both an egalitarian sense and an academic sense. It's also not the name of a policy, which might be better as well. --SB_Johnny talk 17:47, 27 January 2009 (UTC)

I defy anyone to find so much as an ounce of collegiality in yesterday's sham (and atrociously scripted) Bill of Attainder.

Thomas Jefferson was demonstrating collegial insight when he led the civilized world in abandoning Bill of Attainder, having recognized that it's a corrosive and corrupt tool of government that inevitably sinks any regime that comes to rely on it. Shortly after the Founders outlawed Bill of Attainder in Article I of the US Constitution, the British followed suit, abandoning both Parliamentary Bill of Attainder and Monarchial Bill of Attainder.

It's disturbing to witness you and other misguided officials reintroducing this antiquated relic from the rubbish heap of political history into the current practices of Wikiversity. Is this the kind of unwise practice you wish to teach to impressionable youth of the 21st Century? Can you imagine what would happen to anyone who tried to adopt and employ that hoary and unsustainable practice in the real world of an authentic 21st Century learning organization?

Moulton 13:49, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

Comments inappropriately deleted from Wikiversity discussion

KillerChihuahua, please feel free to create a learning set of pages expressing your points of view. Deleting other people's points of view is a poor way of creating learning resources. This is Wikiversity, not Wikipedia. WAS 4.250 10:30, 28 January 2009 (UTC)

I heartily endorse the above advice of WAS 4.250. KC's uncollegiate practice of summarily deleting valid scholarship is an unacceptable practice in an authentic learning community. Time and again we have urged her to craft her own alternative theses, and then to defend them with evidence, analysis, and reasoning, per the protocols of scholarly ethics. —Moulton 10:41, 28 January 2009 (UTC)

Due to recent issues regarding Moulton it doesn't seem wise to remove those pages yet, until a decision is made on the Community Review - if the Verizon, M.I.T. and other internet/security providers does become involved they may want to view these pages, I suggest you wait for the time being. Dark Obsidian@en.Meta-Wiki 10:51, 28 January 2009 (UTC)

In fact, all the pages deleted by Jimbo, Darklama, Mike Umbricht, Mike Ingram, et al, should be restored so that impartial professionals may review them, per Dark Obsidian's wise and urgent suggestion. To my mind, the more public eyes on the case, the better for everyone. —Moulton 11:00, 28 January 2009 (UTC)

Of course KC has an interest because she's among the subjects of the investigation. You (JWS) also have an interest as one of the authors. Having an interest doesn't necessarily entail a conflict of interest. She has just as much right to share her views as you do. --SB_Johnny talk 14:52, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

Moulton, WAS 4.250, and JWSchmidt continually prompted KC to submit her version of events and support them with evidence, analysis, and reasoning, per the protocols of Policy on Scholarly Ethics. Instead, she consistently edited, redacted, or deleted the signed contributions of other scholars. In the Scientific Method, it is customary to examine multiple alternative theses, hypotheses, or models and then to undertake to falsify each of them with evidence, analsysis, and scientific reasoning. I hypothesize that the reason KC declined to submit her own independent alternative version was because she knew (or feared) that Moulton or JWSchmidt would trivially falsify it, just as they demolished her specious, vacuous, and trivially falsifiable reasons for the original indef block of Moulton. And I hypothesize that the reason she redacted the analyses of Moulton and JWSchmidt was because she could not properly falsify them by means of scientific methods of peer review. In short, KC appears to be woefully unfamiliar with the protocols of the scientific method when it comes to crafting or examining alternative hypotheses or theories. —Barsoom Tork 16:00, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

Kangaroo Court

This isn't a court, it's a discussion of options to be taken by a community that's rapidly shrinking and seriously needs to move on. It is completely inappropriate for you to accuse the people participating in this discussion of acting in bad faith.

You've already made it clear that you don't like the process. Point taken, so please respect people's right share their views, and to have their views taken seriously. --SB_Johnny talk 21:07, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

It's a sham Parliamentary Bill of Attainder, Johnny. And you should be ashamed of yourself for convening such an outrage to 21st Century education. —Montana Muse 21:47, 29 January 2009 (UTC)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ethical Values and Quality Control in the Digital Era

Bob Steele at Poynter sees a significant erosion of ethical standards. Blogs, Tweets, social networking, citizen-submitted content and multi-media storytelling offer great promise, he writes—but they also carry considerable peril.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blogger Ethics

If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue.

"Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world."

-- from Jay Rosen's blog, Press think.

Wow - this just in

Larry Lessig is leaving Stanford for Harvard to head up an ethics center whose focus is the collapse of trust -- see

(h/t Jay Rosen, NYU)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wikiversity Follies

The resident scholars of Wikiversity have declined to address these issues within their own community.

ArbCom Review of FeloniousMonk

The Wikipedia Administrator, FeloniousMonk, who relied on the unexamined testimony of Don Hopkins and Bela in his scathing indictment of Moulton, has been unanimously adjudged by the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) as guilty of corruption and gross violations of policy, including "meritless accusations against other editors on multiple occasions."

Moulton 21:11, 22 September 2008 (UTC)

Do you feel vindicated? Do you think you can stop fixating so much on this and move on to helping improve things yet? Ottava Rima (talk) 03:07, 23 September 2008 (UTC)
No, I do not feel vindicated. Here are two items of evidence for that:
(09/22/2008 11:14:24 PM) Caprice: So far, only Privatemusings has responded to your ethics exercise.

(11:16:50 PM) Ottava: I told everyone to stop and I halted it because of your actions and continued crusade on your talk page

(11:16:59 PM) Ottava: I told you that you had to devote yourself to the process or I would stop it

(11:17:03 PM) Ottava: and you failed on your end

(09/23/2008 07:01:22 AM) Caprice: Are you saying you told everyone to discontinue civil discourse with Moulton?

(07:01:22 AM) Ottava is not logged in

From: Moulton
To: NewYorkBrad,
James Forrester
Cc: PrivateMusings,
Sam Korn
Date: Tue, Sep 23, 2008 at 7:37 AM
: Please remediate the harm to the reputations of those sorely mistreated by rogue administrators.

In view of this finding by ArbCom...

2.1) FeloniousMonk has repeatedly shown poor judgement since becoming an administrator, both in using his administrative tools ([43]) ([44]); and engaged in a variety of disruptive and unseemly conduct, including threats ([45]); personal attacks, incivility and assumptions of bad faith ([46]), and has made meritless accusations against other editors on several occasions ([47]).

...I request that ArbCom expressly undertake to remediate the damage to the reputation and good name of others who were inappropriately harmed by the pattern of conduct delineated in the above cited Paragraph 2.1.

Please give us back our good name.


The Process of Enlightenment Works In Mysterious Plays.

I will feel vindicated if and when the serious scholars here eschew the unbecoming, unprofessional, unwise, unwarranted, and unsustainable culture of incivility, narcissistic wounding, anankastic conditionals, binding, gagging, and kicking people, and petulantly refusing to adopt and abide by the sensible protocols of scholarly ethics.
Moulton 12:06, 23 September 2008 (UTC)

Community-Wide Peer Review of Exceptional Practices

There is underway a community-wide peer review of exceptional practices that I would like to participate in, both as plaintiff and as a defendant in regard to the collection of practices currently under review.

  • With respect to Case #33, where I am named as a miscreant, I would like to be afforded a fair opportunity to respond to my critics, in the venue where they lodge their criticism, at the time they lodge them, so as to maintain timely continuity of the discourse there, in accordance with the protocols of scholarly ethics.
  • With respect to Case #34 where I am accused of engaging in collaborative studies and collaborative research with another scholar, I would like to be afforded a fair opportunity to respond to my critics, in the venue where they lodge their criticism, at the time they lodge them, so as to maintain timely continuity of the discourse there, in accordance with the protocols of scholarly ethics.
  • With respect to Case #40, I would like to add my name as an aggrieved party and plaintiff, and name Cary Bass, Jimbo Wales, Cormaggio, McCormack, SB_Johnny, Centaur of Attention, Salmon of Doubt, Jim62sch, KillerChihuahua, Sxeptomaniac, and Guillame Paumier as respondents who have, at times (and in varying degrees of impropriety) acted in a lamentably uncongenial, uncollegial, unscholarly, unprofessional, unethical, unbecoming, incivil, and ultimately unsustainable manner so as to alienate, aggravate, disturb, annoy, frustrate, dispirit, vex, and perplex me (and perhaps other scholars engaged in their quiet studies) beyond reasonably tolerable levels of adaptation to a hostile learning environment whilst I am striving to address and solve nearly intractable ethical conundrums and dilemmas.

Moulton 13:35, 18 September 2008 (UTC)

You can add my name to the list above if you are going to seriously add Cormaggio, McCormack, or SB Johnny. I've yelled at you plenty of times over many of your actions and have told you straight up when I thought you were far over the line. Ottava Rima (talk) 13:43, 18 September 2008 (UTC)
As long as you understand that this is not an indictment in which I seek harsh sanctions or punishments (such as spanking or gagging or other forms of S&M bondage), then I would be happy to include you in a scholarly peer review of the issues raised in these three cases involving elements of candor, collaboration, and inclusion. —Moulton 18:58, 18 September 2008 (UTC)
I feel that any complaint that you file against the aforementioned names should also include me. I was directly involved as one of the 3 bureaucrats that supported your block from this site. I also participated in the decision to kickban you out of the #wikiversity-en irc channel. But, it is really up to you if you feel that these constitute a complaint for #40. I just wanted to remind you of these things in the name of a thorough and balanced review. --mikeu talk 20:15, 18 September 2008 (UTC)
Mike, as long as you understand that this is not an indictment in which I seek harsh sanctions or punishments (such as spanking or gagging or kicking or other forms of S&M bondage and discipline), then I would be happy to include you in a scholarly peer review of the issues raised in these three cases involving elements of candor, collaboration, and inclusion in the sober process of conflict resolution.
In particular, I would like to propose a scholarly examination and peer review of the following two scientific hypotheses:
  • H0:Benign AGF (Assume Good Faith) that nothing sinister, nothing unusual, nothing extraordinary has happened here in Wikiversity or in the associated IRC channels.
  • H1:Speculative (and as yet unproven) hypothesis that "an unknown number of (unidentified) admins requested that Jimbo be the one to make the block" on the (reliable) theory that there would then not be an immediate consensus to overturn the block, even if the consensus were that it was inappropriate for Jimbo to have been asked to make the block on their behalf (and improper for him to have acceded to doing so).
H1 is a falsifiable and testable hypothesis, so I have (elsewhere) proposed a simple experiment to test it. Those here who are systems scientists, can figure out the experimental test without much difficulty. Those here who are actors in a constructed reality soap opera will probably have little or no idea what I'm talking about.
So far, the acknowledged actions of the majority of resident scholars here has reified (rather than refuted) H1. It is still possible for H1 to be falsified, but to the best of my knowledge and awareness, that has not yet happened as of this moment in the remarkable history of Wikiversity.
Moulton 12:35, 23 September 2008 (UTC)