Wikimedia: Wales' editor position unchanged

The foundation challenges a report alleging that the Wikipedia founder had been stripped of many of his responsibilities in the wake of community unrest.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
4 min read

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has not given up any of his editorial privileges, despite reports to the contrary, the Wikimedia Foundation said Monday.

Jimmy Wales Wikimedia Fdn.

In a blog post written Monday morning, Wikimedia Foundation communications director Jay Walsh formally addressed a growing controversy that began with reports last week suggesting Wales had lost many of his privileges in the wake of a Wikipedia community uprising.

The community discontent--which seems real to some--stems from moves Wales made to unilaterally pull down a series of what were said to be pornographic images from the online encyclopedia and some of its related sites.

Afterwards, Fox News reported an exclusive story suggesting that Wales "has relinquished his top-level control over the encyclopedia's content, as well as all of its parent company's projects."

Many of the facts in that story have since been disputed. And in the Monday post, Walsh wrote:

Last weekend Jimmy voluntarily relinquished some technical user-account privileges he has historically held, but that in no way affects his official status with Wikimedia, nor his editorial position. It was false to claim that Jimmy ever held final editorial control on our projects--his decision to change the technical details of his user account should not be interpreted as changes to his status in general. Jimmy is actively engaged in discussions with other Wikimedia editors about sexually-explicit materials on Wikimedia Commons: discussions like that are part of his normal role, and are part of the normal work of being an active volunteer. He is a thought leader in the Wikimedia projects, and although the discussions over the past week have been unusually intense, we don't consider them problematic. Discussion is how Wikimedians work through policy development and policy interpretation: active argument and debate are normal for us--they are how we do our work. The Wikimedia Foundation is grateful for Jimmy's involvement, and we're glad he continues to be an important part of the Wikimedia movement.

Neither Wales nor Walsh were available for comment Monday morning.

Prior to his decision to drop the "founder flag," as it was known, Wales had been the only person in the community with the unique status. It was a role in the mainly volunteer community that had some special privileges that neither registered editors nor administrators held. Now, having given up that position, Wales will no longer be able to block users, "protect" pages, or delete pages. But Wales told CNET over the weekend that he will still be the final arbiter of significant disputes and that he will retain the final say on many policy matters.

Still, many in the Wikipedia community seem upset over some aspects of Wales' activity in this saga, or at least over how he has carried out his role in the founder position. A proposal that Wales be stripped of the founder flag received 393 approving comments from editors and 122 that disapproved.

Within those comments, former Wikimedia chair Florence Devouard wrote:

I do agree the founder bit should be removed, for two reasons. First reason is that [Wales] is abusing it, not respecting community rules (which he should). Second reason is to protect him. He certainly is first line in the press, where he can be very badly attacked. He can also be victim of pressure (for example from some of our big donors). He might also be considered the "owner" of Wikipedia from a legal perspective if he adopts unilateral behavior. As such, it is probably more safe for him and for the projects to prevent him from technically having access to such tools which allow him to impose his opinion.

In the end, Walsh's Monday blog post seems aimed at clearing up what he indicated were a number of misunderstandings about the entire kerfuffle. As he wrote, "Jimmy is the founder of Wikipedia and of the Wikimedia Foundation. He plays a key role in our projects, by virtue of his special status as our founder, and due to his continued active engagement in the projects."

But while Wales seems to have given up his founder's position voluntarily, it's not known whether he did so because he simply felt it was best that there be no more confusion stemming from the special status, or because of some of the antipathy toward him from within the community.

One thing that is clear is that there are a lot of people with vested interests in what happens at the top of the Wikimedia organization, and that this isn't the first time there has been public confusion over whether Wales would still be involved or as to what exactly his role is.

Last year, a story surfaced that Wales had been forced out of the foundation altogether, a story that CNET News subsequently reported was baseless.