Sunday, June 24, 2007

On IRC chanops

Close on the heels of the recent #wikipedia policy shift and access list shakedown, yet another argument over whether Blu Aardvark is (or should be) banned from Wikimedia IRC channels came to light. The full history here predates my participation in Wikimedia projects, I think; the vast majority of my experience with Blu has actually been in blocking a fair number of sockpuppets or imitators, on-wiki, and that's only one chapter in a long story.

A chapter which may be coming to close. Maybe. I'm not holding my breath, to be honest, but if there's a chance of redemption, I don't see why we can't give it a shot and hope for the best.

Currently, several channel operators will kickban Blu on sight. While I'm not sure if this is the wisest course of action, I feel my place in the majority of these cases is to let my voice be heard, and avoid using what access I may have to overturn the established will of the community. Petty squabbling isn't the right way to solve these disagreements.

There is one exception: the new community in #wikipedia-social. This channel was established in the past week or two, and is still getting started. I happen to have a high access level, in this channel, and I feel I should do what I can to help establish the best community possible, in it. In part because the channel is intended to be a distinct and informal forum, in part because the forum isn't serious and is unlikely to contain sensitive discussion, in part to give Blu one foothold where he might be included if he can play well with others (which seems to encourage redemption, in my view), and I must admit in some small part to get the new channel on the map, I've specifically declined to ban Blu from #wikipedia-social until he causes problems in the channel. I would prefer to use chanop tools for preventive, rather than punitive purposes.

If this goes well, maybe over time other bans can be released. If not, then I can at least say I've tried and learned my lesson.

For the most part, people don't seem bothered by this move. Some people seem to be upset over it. Earlier today, someone who has not been a regular face in the channel, and who does not have operator access was opped, in channel (by someone who does have access), and kickbanned Blu. When I asked about this, the acting user disconnected from IRC. A few accusations flew, but in the absence of evidence, I removed the ban in that channel. While I would like to assume good faith (one person may not have been aware of my prior decision), I'm a bit disappointed that someone felt the need to go behind my back by acting anonymously.

I have my suspicions, of course, but voicing them here seems inappropriate.

This entire scuffle could springboard into yet another discussion of the officially unofficial nature of Wikimedia IRC channels -- do on-wiki policies matter? What repercussions do on-wiki actions have, on IRC? What repercussions do IRC actions have, on-wiki? Does authority reside with freenode staff, the Wikimedia Foundation, channel users, channel owners, or even the Wikimedia community as a whole? What are the implications of these questions, and of their answers?

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