Accusing a business or other person of racism or sexism (or heterosexism, or other biased actions) is a very serious charge, not to be taken lightly. On the one hand, such accusations could severely damage someone's reputation. On the other hand, such things do happen (most often unconsciously — see racism entry for definition), and they are extremely hurtful to the individuals involved.
How to deal with charges of racism, etc., remains an unresolved issue in the wiki community. Some think that all such accusations should be deleted, since they are so harmful and cannot be proven. Others think that they can be retained only if they are made by a person who has established identity. Still others think that if they contain enough detail to seem plausible, they should be retained so that others can come forward to confirm or deny. An accusation of racism, etc., without any explanation is likely of no worth and should probably be immediately deleted; this is probably the only current point on which all agree.
There are other serious accusations ("hand grenades") that may cause harm to a business or an individual:
- professional incompetence
- food poisoning
- unhygienic conditions
- illegal activities
One point of view on the list of hand grenades: These accusations are somewhat different than accusations of racism and sexism and other forms of business. Sure, from the point of view of a business, they are all things that can be harmful to a business and are difficult to substantiate. (In some sense, this is true of every negative comment). So, for that reason someone might want to treat them all together. But from the point of view of a customer (or a student, or whatever) there is something distinctive about being treated unfairly on the basis of one's race (or sex, or...), as opposed to, say, experiencing professional incompetence. With racism, it's personal. It's hurtful. It probably reopens wounds that never entirely get a chance to heal. It's degrading. So, it is for these reasons, accusations of racism should be taken seriously — not that they are always true, but rather that if they are true, they are pretty awful. Also, although we might want people to come forward and identify themselves when they make an accusation like that, we should keep in mind how difficult it is to make an accusation and how much ire gets dumped on the person who made the accusation — no one believes them, people are mad at them because they accused their friend, etc. Again, this isn't true of the other types of accusations. They are not as personal. So then, if we don't require a name but we do require an established pattern of editing, what are we saying? We're saying that you have to have already been an editor to make an accusation of racism? (that's foresight!) Or, that once you've experienced it and want to report it, you have to come back to edit the wiki enough to prove yourself? Instead, what will ultimately prove or disprove an accusation is what other people have to say, confirming or denying by their own experiences. So they should always be allowed to stay if the comment contains enough detail to make the accusation plausible — accusations without detail or that are just slurs should be deleted.
Another point of view on the list of hand grenades: The concerns expressed above are all outweighed by the damage done to the accused, regardless of the type of accusation (whether it is an accusation of racism or incompetence). If the accusation isn't "provable or falsifiable," if it isn't made by someone with identity (or better yet, someone who uses their real name), or if it isn't in the public domain, then it should be deleted.
Establishing or refuting a pattern: Some people think the reason to keep an accusation of racism or sexism (assuming it is sufficiently detailed) is to see if others have experienced the same treatment. If others comment that they have not experienced that treatment, this sheds doubt on the original comment. However, if others confirm the experience, this adds weight to the original comment. Sometimes, retaining a comment gives others the confidence to come forward with their experiences; see the discussion of Barefoot Yoga Studio below.
Don had a good list of "serious accusations", the 'hand grenades' that can be thrown to do damage. Of course, they can also be real accusations that should be kept (but at least Don thinks honest accusations of these types shouldn't be allowed on the wiki either). -jw
- I, for one, think that accusations of racism should be allowed if they are backed up by a persistent or regular editors of the wiki. Just my opinion. And I realize what a gray area this is... —ScottMeehleib
I agree fully with food poisoning being highly questionable without an actual complaint registered with Yolo County, even with identity, but I may well stand alone with that view. -jw
- I've never bothered to file an actual complaint, but we've certainly suffered at least twice in Davis. I don't have the statistical data to back this at the moment, though I may have it somewhere in a book, but light to moderate food poisoning is extremely underreported. Overall, I always consider 'food poisoning' type comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. -ES
The more Identity a person establishes the closer they get in parity with the entity they accuse. To use words to attack a known entity, but do so without the willingness to stand behind one's words is pretty poor form. —JasonAller
I agree with Jason. Identity is very important. I think accusations of racism (or anything from the above list) should be allowed, but regulated and edited carefully. If there is not sufficient evidence to conclude racism, the comment should be removed. I don't think a blanket ban on the above list is good, what if those things actually happen? We need something more middle of the road. —DagonJones
I really dislike the "you have to be a regular around here to contribute" idea. It's not helpful to the wiki, and it certainly doesn't encourage wiki openness. Just because something is ugly doesn't mean it should be instant taboo, and I'd agree these things need to be considered on a case by case basis. I think concerns over their effects are being overestimated, though we have no real way to measure it. Anyway, I mentioned this elsewhere, but a long time ago, someone came forward and alleged inappropriate (or borderline inappropriate) conduct/touching on one of the massage parlor pages. Controversy! A bit later, a few other people came forward and iirc one of them explicitly said something akin to 'I thought it was just me imagining it, but it wasn't until I saw someone else post this that I realized it wasn't." All three or four of them were brand new editors - I think sometimes people forget that it's very easy to regularly use a website, but it takes special circumstances to join one (How many of you guys have checked Yelp versus how many regularly post there?). Backk to the point, I think we should try to refrain from the heartfelt immediate reaction of 'ugly is bad, remove it!' and take them on a case by case basis. -ES
- I don't think one has to be a regular contributor. One edit to establish identity and a second to make a substantial charge would result in that charge being respected. On the other hand we've seen editors with many edits who don't have enough identity to cause a charge to be retained. —JasonAller
- I tend to think that either establishing an identity or providing enough detail to genuinely assess the comment's truthfulness could be enough. —TomGarberson
- I completely agree with Tom here. It's the 'or' (depending on the case by case). It's not about the specific word "regular" but the 'establish identity' concept as a necessity that I'm opposed to, because I think it sets an arbitrary requirement and different people will still disagree on what qualifies or where the minimum is. Ultimately though, I'm sure whether or not they 'established identity' will still come into play when considering those on a case-by case basis, so I guess it's a bit of a moot point. -ES
It's virtually impossible to police accusations of professional incompetence or unhygienic conditions. For professional incompetence, if you pay big money for a professional service but don't get it (e.g. a contractor who does a shoddy job on your home, or a doctor or lawyer who commits what might amount to malpractice), that's something people should know. It's extremely easy for a businessperson to respond here if that's appropriate. As for unhygienic conditions, that's something that's extremely important to many editors when it comes to food. If you see a cockroach running out of the kitchen of a restaurant, should you really not mention it in a review? I recently saw what I thought was probably a hair in my food at a local restaurant. After some consideration, though, I decided to take it out of my review because I really wasn't sure.
Basically, I think that most of this information really is pertinent. The more serious the accusation, the more important the information would be to the community if it were true. I think that uncertainty for very serious accusations like these should be resolved in favor of omitting them, but outright banning them would be a terrible idea.
I do think that for claims of food poisoning or illegal activities, it would be reasonable to insist that people show that they take it seriously. We could require that editors without any established identity demonstrate that they've filed a complaint with the appropriate agency, be it Public Health, the police, the BBB, or a professional association, before we allow a comment to stand. The potential downside to that approach is that it could prompt people to file a bogus complaint. That is unlikely, but not out of the question.
It's just like any conversation out in the real world. If I hear a random stranger on the street saying that a business I know and trust is racist, I'm not going to believe them. If it were someone I know and trust, though, I would take what they had to say very seriously. And the last thing I would want is to silence what that friend had to say simply because it could be damaging to the business.
Where there's simply not enough information to support the conclusion of a serious charge, I think the comment should be removed. Where there is more information, I think outreach to both the business and the commenter is appropriate, asking them both to explain (or explain further in the case of the commenter). That's yet another place where an effective notification system will be extremely useful. But deletion should not be a the default in any but the most obviously bogus situations.—TomGarberson
- As if to provide an example case.
Totally off topic: this issue is fairly significant, and is likely to be seen only by wiki regulars. Would it be worthwhile to stick it into one of the panels appearing on the front page? Wiki News might be most appropriate, although it's pretty far down. Could it be a fit for Davis Issues? Also, I think the discussion on Identity (which I agree should be mostly separate from this one) seems to be increasingly prominent. Once there's some sort of decision, this comment any subsequent thread ought to be deleted to avoid confusing the issue.—TomGarberson
I like the idea of getting more editors involved, but to me, this seems more like a wiki issue and less like a Davis issue. If we put it with the other Davis issues, then it seems like we're saying that Davis has a particular problem with racism and sexism. While I think those problems do exist here, I don't think that it is particularly a problem here (though some do, I guess). —cp
It's less about the location than the exposure. It just seems like somewhere in the top half of the front page might draw in some new faces. —tg
Yup. What we need at this point is a new way of looking at this (and hopefully, not just more voices), because at this point, we're all just repeating ourselves. —cp
I think this probably falls into this category, and is an illustration of the value comments of this sort can offer:
Back in December 2007, the teacher at Barefoot Yoga Studio was accused by an anonymous, first-time poster of touching her inappropriately. In less than 3 months, 3 more women showed up and said that the same thing had happened to them.
- 2007-12-10: Whistle is blown by florafloja - anonymous, first-time editor without an established identity.
- 2007-12-24: Second comment by lunestiasanchez - first-time editor without an established identity.
- 2007-12-28: Third comment by ginnymop - anonymous, first-time editor without an established identity.
- 2008-01-09: After a brief series of deletions and reversions, comments are deleted and Talk page begins. Focus is on identity of the three posters, and how they posted from easily accessible places (two from campus).
- 2008-01-10: ginnymop objects to deletion of her comment.
- 2008-01-11: ginnymop explains that she only came forward and posted her experience when she saw she wasn't the only one.
- 2008-01-11: Comments are restored.
- 2008-01-16: lunestiasanchez explains that she, too came forward because of the initial warning comment by florafloja. She feels bad because if she had come forward sooner, it might have protected florafloja or others. She also feels that it's too subtle to be reported to the police (which is probably true).
- 2008-01-16: florafloja, the initial whistleblower, returns and asserts an individual identity.
- 2008-02-04: Fourth comment by isthatso - anonymous, first-time editor without an established identity.
- 2009-03-03: Fifth comment by JanethN. - first-time editor without an established identity, who later established an identity via several edits and comments.
- 2009-04-23: Sixth comment by calvin2 - anonymous, first-time editor without an established identity. Didn't happen to him, but he saw it happen to someone else, and compares it to his own experiences with physical abuse.
Note that several people also defended Robert, saying that their experiences with him were normal for a Yoga studio with adjustments. That doesn't alter what was experienced by the six people who all felt that a line was crossed. But it provides viewers with both sides of the story. —TomGarberson
I agree about the similarity to the Barefoot Yoga Studio situation, we need to keep these statements to learn about patterns in Davis. In general I believe in inclusionism on the wiki here. —NickSchmalenberger
I sort of went through this page while feeling like going "tl;dr" after my finals and here are my two cents: I feel like baseless accusations (in comments anyway) and such should be left on the Wiki but I also realize the problem that some people do not have the ability to take some things on the internet with a grain of salt. These days, it is way too common for people to cry out racism or homophobia over an actually innocent incident probably because of the attention that such accusations brings. Usually when I look through comments, I look for evidence and examples in their comments. If someone just says they received poor service because the establishment is racist, I would probably move on to the next comment. Of course, I know that many join the bandwagon of calling something racist without much of a push so something probably needs to be done. Maybe these comments should be left in but we should have an include for comments that are baseless (where people think poor service is due to racism) that explains that this comment might be baseless and if the reader would like to add to this. —hankim
I forget where we've talked about flagging edits before, but I like the idea of flagging edits for other readers to see, instead of an invisible mod who will invisibly delete it. Maybe it would help people see that the wiki admin hierarchy doesn't usually matter very much here, there is rarely pulling rank and mostly anybody just does things on the wiki that make sense to them. I'm imagining a row of checkboxes for different categories of edit (positive, negative, relevant, ...) at the top of the diff thing when you go through edit by edit, it could also be applied across several versions if you selected multiple versions with the diff. You could choose to keep your flags of edits private or public and if they were public it could help people communicate easier about the character of edits. Maybe its better though to really describe edits individually than to categorize them, I'm not really sure. —NickSchmalenberger
If I were emperor of the Davis Wiki: if it is provable or falsifiable, it can remain. If it is in the public domain (Buzayan case), it can remain just on that basis alone (it’s a story) even if not yet proven or falsified. If someone is willing to stake their reputation on the accusation, it can remain; this means establishing identity. If you wish to come up with some way of allowing anonymous accusations to remain long enough to be validated by others, please propose it. That is why I left the whole Strelitzia issue alone for a few days after an editor replied asking for clarification. But understand that as long as the accusation stands, it is doing harm. Businesses should be treated with the same respect you would expect yourself and that you would apply to individuals. An anonymous, vague accusation that can’t be proven or falsified really should not be allowed. —DonShor
- Don, I'm curious, what do you think of the Barefoot Yoga Studio comments, above? They aren't provable in any meaningful sense. They aren't in the public domain. Most of the commenters were anonymous and tried to avoid being tied to their comments as individuals. In short, none of it met your standards for remaining. Hell, it was all based on perception; several others have posted there saying that Robert's methods of touching are simply good yoga instruction. Do you think those comments should be removed? —TomGarberson
- Actually, in some ways that episode is a good example. The claims were very specific and, to some extent, verifiable (he touched them, or he didn't; 'inappropriately' is subjective, but at least the basic facts are provable). They were corroborated almost immediately — and, to his credit, Robert replied reasonably quickly, all within about 3 weeks. When they were removed, one of the commenters replied about that action and went so far as to establish her identity. —DS
2010-06-30 11:20:15 Strelitzia Flower Company is not a Racist Company. By maintaining this posting you are allowing an unsubstantiated comment from an annoymous person who never contacted the owner or manager. We have security cameras that could have and would have reviewed any allegations of this kind. I suspect that the customer may have felt that she did not get waited on in a timely manner, but because sales vary widely, there may be times that we are very busy and there may be a wait period, that does not constitute Racism. We allow customers to browse our refrigerator and there is a certain amount of self service regarding our wholesale sales. But to accuse us of being racist over one issue without having contacted management is inappropriate and unsubstantiated. Those who know us would never believe an allegation of this kind. —Strelitzia