Jimmy Wales recently posted this to the Air-l list as a follow-up to a long discussion about Wikipedia's recent troubles in several threads.

This by Jimmy:

"He [Seigenthaler] also said he doesn't support more regulations of the Internet, but he said that he fears "Wikipedia is inviting it by its
allowing irresponsible vandals to write anything they want about anybody."

*sigh* Facts about our policies on vandalism are not hard to come by. A statement like Seigenthaler's, a statement that is egregiously false, would not last long at all at Wikipedia.

This by Joseph Reagle:

Not trolling, just want to be clear: doesn't the WP architecture and policies allow "irresponsible vandals to write anything they want about anybody."? It's not condoned, counter to the norms, is eventually corrected — sometimes immediately. I'm not getting the distinction you are drawing.

And this fantastic and well reasoned response from Jimmy:

The distinction that I'm drawing can best be illustrated with my hopefully-someday-famous analogy between the design of software for social interactions and the design of restaurants.

Imagine that we are designing a restaurant. This restuarant will serve steak. Because we are going to be serving steak, we will have steak
knives for the customers. Because the customers will have steak knives, they might stab each other. Therefore, we conclude, we need to put each table into separate metal cages, to prevent the possibility of people stabbing each other.

What would such an approach do to our civil society? What does it do to human kindness, benevolence, and a positive sense of community?

When we reject this design for restaurants, and then when, inevitably, someone does get stabbed in a restaurant (it does happen), do we write long editorials to the papers complaining that "The steakhouse is inviting it by not only allowing irresponsible vandals to stab anyone they please, but by also providing the weapons"?

No, instead we acknowledge that the verb "to allow" does not apply in such a situation. A restaurant is not allowing something just because they haven't taken measures to forcibly prevent it a priori. It is surely against the rules of the restaurant, and of course against the laws of society. Just. Like. Libel. If someone starts doing bad things in a restuarant, they are forcibly kicked out and, if it's particularly bad, the law can be called. Just. Like. Wikipedia.

I do not accept the spin that Wikipedia "allows anyone to write anything" just because we do not metaphysically prevent it by putting
authors in cages.


I think Jimmy hits it right on the head. Governance, in any sense, is about prioritizing. At Wikipedia, and I'd like to think in general, we prioritize the individual right to free speech, even if that speech may turn out to be harmful, over instituting such broad constraints against the possibility of harmful speech that we curtail free expression in general. It's a perfectly normal reaction, if you're someone like John Seigenthaler, to flip those priorities around because it's not just someone that might be harmed, but in fact it was you that actually was. Unfortunately, in these situations people like Jimmy are required to be diplomats and address all kinds of extreme reactions because of the media attention they garner. What Jimmy is saying, though, is that these incidents shouldn't change the basic priorities that Wikipedia lives (and dies) by.