Erica C. Barnett and Wikipedia done poorly and well

I came across a post on r/WikiInAction about drama around the Wikipedia article on the journalist/blogger Erica C. Barnett and wrote a brief comment responding only to the face of the post, and then wrote a longer comment relating the history of the affair, and now, the throwaway account OP having stirred the pot, want to check some things out, and I also see more, a little demonstration of administrative incompetence. The overall administrative treatment of this affair actually appears proper, as those things go.

07:01:03 23 Oct 2019 Dregor123 posts to r/SeattleWA/ “Erica C. Barnett’s Wikipedia drama” This story was severely warped. Before I give it, some background.


03:04, 4 Sept 2019‎ B k (contribs) created the article, and, after some wikignomes polished it a bit, touched it on 5 Sept, leaving it like this, and the article sat that way until :

13 Sept 2019, Chetsford (contribs), a Wikipedia administrator, substantially edited the article, adding material, some of which appears defamatory (and by Wikipedia policy regarding Biographies of Living Persons sourcing requirements are stronger for such, to establish notability as well as factual claim; how facts are reported can be crucial).

  • 01:10 – 01:18 15 Sept 2019 24.143.121.23 (only edits, geolocates Seattle) removes possibly defamatory material.
  • 01:19, 15 Sept 2019 User account Ericacbarnett (contribs) was created
  • 01:37 – 01:48 15 Sept 2019, Ericacbarnett edited the article.
  • 01:50, 15 September 2019 User account Pshotes (contribs) was created
  • 06:46, 06:48 15 Sept 2019 Chetsford welcomed Barnett and warned about COI policy
  • 06:49 – 7:02 15 Sept 2019, Chetsford removed a link to Barnett’s blog and  restored sourced information improperly removed by a COI editor
  • 16:33 15 Sept 2019 Barnett responds to Chetsford
  • 16:35, 15 September 2019‎ Pshotes (contribs‎) edits the Barnett article: Career: There was a link to an article containing a number of objectively false allegations against Barnett for which the author refused to print corrections. [only edit of this account]

At this point, what has happened is very clear. The IP was Barnett, who then registered an account. Pshotes is likely Barnett, newcomers often do something like this, out of ignorance of policy. However, it is also possible that Pshotes was a friend, that Barnett had told the friend, who was using their phone, the article edit was mobile (unlike Barnett’s edits). In any case, the appearance is of meat puppetry at best and there is almost no harm in blocking an account with only one edit, diving into a controversy. However, that, itself, could be overkill. There was no comment to the IP address, no comment on Pshotes Talk, and no question or warning to Barnett about other accounts, and no discussion on article Talk about the issues, until the next day.

But meanwhile:

  • 18:54 15 Sept 2019 Chetsford filed a Sock Puppet Investigation case, citing Barnett’s named account, the IP, Pshotes, and B k.
  • 21:43 15 Sept 2019 Chetsford filed an AN/I report on the comments of Barnett on her Talk page. He was essentially told to chill.

Filing an SPI report for such obvious (and minor) socking was incompetent. There was no basis to suspect B k, but the others were crazy obvious, though, in fact, the checkuser did call it “Possible/Inconclusive”. It’s unclear exactly what was meant, but another admin blocked Pshotes for meat puppetry, and Pshotes has not appealed the block.

This was all meaningless and was a waste of checkuser time. What was happening here was totally routine for a person who has discovered that she has a Wikipedia article and that some of it is, ah, iffy.

The article stated she made false claims in an article (which is a serious allegation against a journalist, and would the source have a bias?  The source does not establish that definitively.

She is called an alcoholic, present tense. Is she? She definitely had a drinking problem and is quite open about it (commendable!). (This collapse of the past with the present is common in Wikipedia articles, many editors are unskilled about it — or don’t care and do intend to defame.)

(It developed that this language came from Chetsford’s personal understanding of alcoholism — misunderstanding, actually — and he later, on Talk, was willing to abandon that. Chetsford is a bit slow, but not vicious.)

There was discussion on the article talk page on the 16 Sept. B k discloses their relationship with Barnett. Chetsford discloses his massive cluelessness. One point: the external link to her blog. Chetsford claimed that was prohibited by WP:EXT. In fact, that policy expressly allows a link to an “official” site of a person. How could he be so ignorant of such a basic fact? (Honestly, this is extreme ignorance, I could hardly believe that this is an administrator. So I checked. Oh. Yes, very new, 11 August 2019. Okay, I predict he will learn.

In any case, an editor added the link to Wikidata that displays the site.

ter sourcing standards for possibly defamatory material. Instead, he argues for inclusiveness, entirely disregarding BLP considerations, which require more than mere mention in what might be a reliable source. He does not look at specifics, merely justifying his edits on generalities that are not even correct.

The article sat this way for five weeks, then:

05:20 (ending time) 24 Oct 2019 Cptnono (contribs) restored potentially defamatory material without discussion.

Okay, now back to that 23 October comment by Dregor123. The user wrote:

(In which I discover prominent local political blogger Erica C. Barnett has her own “Pierre Delecto” to sanitize her Wikipedia entry…)

“Pierre Delecto” was Mitt Romney’s anonymous social media account. There is no comparison between that and an account that registered and made a single edit, that was blocked the next day and never protested the block. As it happened, the edit was reverting the restoration of material by the Chetsford, and what actually happened then was that almost nothing happened for about five weeks. Very common on Wikipedia.

So this happened a couple weeks ago but, AFAIK, I’m the first one to discover it in the bowels of Wikipedia …

Very possibly the first person to care. Eventually Wikipedia gets to this stuff. But who is Dregor123? The truly active person on Wikipedia away from a negative article was Barnett, not Pshotes. Against that, we have an anonymous throwaway Reddit account. But this concern does show up, next day, on Wikipedia.

A version of local blogger Erica Barnett’s Wikipedia entry in which it mentioned the defamation lawsuit she had been wrapped up in as a result of the article she had written about KIRO-FM’s Ron and Don in The Atlantic (retracted by that publication as a condition of the settlement of the suit) was edited by “Pshotes” to sanitize that away ( [link] ).

This reference to Barnett as a blogger misses that most of the sources treat her as a journalist. Bloggers can be journalists, journalists can be bloggers. A blogger is typically very much like a free-lance journalist, only with his or her own publishing company. Self-published. Self-published journalism is still journalism, but not quite the same for Wikipedia purposes as journalism that is supervised by a responsible organization, an independent publisher. That’s all.

It was simply a removal of a section. The description above reflects some of the problems. From the removed material:

. . . Barnett was named in a 2016 defamation lawsuit against The Atlantic over her reporting on a political issue in Seattle in which she falsely wrote that . . .

Okay, “falsely” is stated in Wikipedia voice as if fact. Is it? What is the source for the fact? It’s a story by Katie Herzog, which is far more nuanced, in which Bernett’s source, a City Council member, apparently gave her false information, which ended up in the story. The Atlantic issued corrections. However, the allegedly defamed radio hosts were not satisfied and filed a suit against a series of parties, including Barnett. The suit was settled, with the City of Seattle covering the plaintiff’s legal fees. The terms of the settlement with the Atlantic were not disclosed. The Atlantic did take the whole article down, and it is quite possible that this is all that they did. My sense: “It’s not worth the legal fees to fight this, and the article did contain those errors.” As for Barnett’s part, she relied on what she would reasonably have assumed was a reliable witness. Deeper fact-checking would have been the Atlantic’s responsibility.

Herzog reads well and appears plausible, but this is also, on the face, a blog and it is unclear how much fact-checking and editorial supervision exists. That story, by the way, my opinion, does not make Barnett look bad.

As far as a biography of Barnett is concerned, this was a minor incident, and the focus of the Herzog article is not Barnett. I don’t see any reason here why good-faith editors could not come to a decision about what to include. The only serious POV-pusher was Cptnono. Barnett and possible partisans appear to have chilled, and there is ongoing discussion of what to include. Chetsford, my opinion, should walk away, though there are signs that he’s beginning to understand BLP policy. Back to what the Redditor wrote:

As a result of the suspicious edit, Wikipedia opened an investigation into this “Pshotes” account ( Wikipedia:Sockpuppet_investigations/Ericacbarnett/Archive ) which led to a ruling that it was probably a Meatpuppet (proxy editor) controlled by the real Erica Barnett. The account was blocked.

“Wikipedia” did not open an investigation, Chetsford did, and it was entirely unnecessary. In addition to Pshotes, B k was also included, without any particular cause other than interest in Barnett, and Chetsford knew by this time that Barnett was actually notable. The matter was clear and this would normally be handled with a simple warning to the Pshotes account and Barnett. There never was any attempt to contact Pshotes, the IP, or Barnett about socking. My opinion is that it was probably a sock of Erikacbarnett, perhaps created for use on a phone, but there was no more editing by that account, a single edit is simply no big deal, and there were very easy ways to handle this kind of situation, which is very common with biographies. The checkuser conclusion was “possible,” not “probably.” The “meatpuppet” idea was by an independent administrator who saw the results and the facts, and Wikipedia runs on probabilities, not proof. The block was proper, and, again properly, talk page access was left open so if it was some kind of mistake, the user could appeal.

:Meanwhile, on her own account’s Talk page ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Ericacbarnett ), the real Erica Barnett was warned by a Wikipedia Administrator against using Wikipedia to make defamatory allegations against a reporter at The Stranger and for also claiming that anything negative printed about her was “fake news.”

At this point, the AN/I report by the “Administrator,” this was Chetsford, the same as filed the sock puppet investigation case, had been resolved with basically “she has done nothing improper.”

This is common with trolls. That someone is accused of impropriety is converted into an implication that they actually did something. He was explicitly not acting as an administrator, because of his involvement with the article, but saying that an administrator warned her sounds more serious, right?

“Pshotes” — Erica C. Barnett’s Pierre Delecto

Hyped drama with no substance. As I have described in a response to the later post by Dregor123, Cptnono went on to revert war with a far more experienced editor, who, to make a long story short, whupped his ass with a perfectly formed 3RR violation report. Cptnono, totally predictably, was blocked for 24 hours. (They could have been blocked for longer than that, but the time after the last block was long enough that they just went with the minimum.)

Somebody has a serious agenda here, and that somebody appears to have two names: Dregor123 and Cptnono. Strengthening this notion is the argument that Cptnono made with the blocking administrator. In spite of having (mostly from years earlier), over 26,000 edits (and experience with being blocked before (5 times), he behaved like a raw and obsessed newcomer. He was right and they were wrong. But he was very much outside of the bounds of policy, and he knew it. He is personally attached. And the same would explain why he, after writing on Reddit — or alternative, seeing that comment on Reddit and being aligned with it — he did the editing he did, and then revert warred like a mindless noob over it. 3RR is a bright-line rule, more than three reverts in 24 hours, block. The user he was tangling with reverted three times, but there is an exception to 3RR and it’s about BLP policy, so that user could have kept on going. If you want to put potentially damaging material in an article, in theory at least, you’d better get consensus first, if opposed. Revert warring to keep ”possible defamation” in the article? No, no, and No.

Yes, if it is adequately sourced (which usually means more than a single somewhat shaky source where there is possible source bias — and I’m not passing final judgment on Herzog, both her and Barnett are very skilled writers), that a subject doesn’t like it is not sufficient to keep it out. But there is more going on than the feelings of Barnett. The community has handled thousands upon thousands of cases like this. It doesn’t always do it well, but so far, it’s not doing badly with this one. There are ways to find consensus that might even satisfy Barnett. But would they satisfy Cptnono? Not with the attitude he displayed. But people can wake up and smell the coffee and realize that there are better ways.

 

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4 thoughts on “Erica C. Barnett and Wikipedia done poorly and well”

  1. Because, since this post was published, the Erica Barnett article was – in fact – deleted, there seems to be more to the story that the author doesn’t understand or chooses not to communicate.

    1. looking back at my post, I’m a bit surprised at how much I speculated without knowledge. There is, in fact, a PS Hotes, who might well be involved (and is thus more likely as the person behind that account than Barnett.) Beyond that, I have no comment on the claim of a corrupt organization and at this point I don’t even know what that organization is. Correction of factual errors is appreciate; evidence (like links) much more so.

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