Jimmy Wales asks Wikipedian to resign "his positions of trust" over nonexistent degrees

Saturday, March 3, 2007: with update as of March 4, 2007.

  • July 31, 2006 — The New Yorker publishes story about Wikipedia by Schiff.
  • January, 2007 — Essjay hired by Wikia.
  • January 15, 2007 — Essjay posts autobiographical details on his user page at Wikia, giving his name, age, previous employment history from age 19, and positions within various Wikimedia Foundation projects.
  • February 23, 2007 — Wales announces his appointment of Essjay to Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee.
  • February 28, 2007 — Radar Online notes the fact correction appended to the The New Yorker article.
  • March 3, 2007 — Wales issues a statement on his user talk page at Wikipedia.
  • March 4, 2007 — Essjay announces his retirement from Wikipedia on his user talk page at Wikipedia.
This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.
A photo which Essjay uploaded, claiming it was himself.

Controversy and discussion erupted on internet forums on 28 February 2007, when publicity was given to Essjay, a prominent Wikipedia administrator and editor, having claimed false credentials which were published in a magazine. Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia co-founder Jimbo Wales was travelling in India, and at 06:42 on March 3 he issued a statement that further information had come to his attention and he had asked the editor to resign his positions of trust within the community. At 03:17 on March 4 Essjay announced on his user talk page that he had retired and was no longer active on Wikipedia.

The affair became public when the The New Yorker issued a retraction to their article about Wikipedia which they had published at the end of July 2006, stating that biographical details they had printed about an administrator and contributor they had interviewed had been found to be false, even though he had confirmed the accuracy of these details as shown on his user page while remaining anonymous.

The Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Stacy Schiff was referred by the Wikimedia Foundation for an interview for the article to Wikipedia administrator Essjay, a member of Wikipedia's arbitration committee and generally trusted member of the community.

One regular on the site is a user known as Essjay, who holds a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law and has written or contributed to sixteen thousand entries. A tenured professor of religion at a private university...

EssJay had fabricated a persona which he described on his user page on Wikipedia, presenting himself as a tenured professor at a private US university. After the news broke, EssJay claimed that the false details were intended to avoid cyberstalking.

The following is an excerpt of a statement Wales issued on his talk page:

I have been for several days in a remote part of India with little or no Internet access. I only learned this morning that EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes. I understood this to be primarily the matter of a pseudonymous identity (something very mild and completely understandable given the personal dangers possible on the Internet) and not a matter of violation of people's trust. I want to make it perfectly clear that my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on. Even now, I have not been able to check diffs, etc.

I have asked EssJay to resign his positions of trust within the community. In terms of the full parameters of what happens next, I advise (as usual) that we take a calm, loving, and reasonable approach. From the moment this whole thing became known, EssJay has been contrite and apologetic. People who characterize him as being "proud" of it or "bragging" are badly mistaken.

On a personal level, EssJay has apologized to me, and I have accepted his apology on a personal level, and I think this is the right thing to do. If anyone else feels that they need or want a personal apology, please ask him for it. And if you find it to be sincere, then I hope you will accept it too, but each person must make their own judgments. Despite my personal forgiveness, I hope that he will accept my resignation request, because forgiveness or not, these positions are not appropriate for him now.

I still have limited net access... for a couple of hours here I will be online, and then I am offline until I am in Japan tomorrow morning. I believe I will have a fast and stable Internet connection at that time, and I will deal with this further at that time.

Wikipedia is built on (among other things) twin pillars of trust and tolerance. The integrity of the project depends on the core community being passionate about quality and integrity, so that we can trust each other. The harmony of our work depends on human understanding and forgiveness of errors.

Essjay revealed his identity as Ryan Jordan, a 24-year-old with no advanced degrees, who has never taught, when he was hired by Wikia, a company that runs community-based wikis.

Jordan has since posted that he was shocked Schiff would publish such information; "It was, quite honestly, my impression that it was well known that I was not who I claimed to be, and that in the absence of any confirmation, no respectible publication would print it."

Five-hundred edits were made to his talk page between 09:45, March 1, 2007 and 17:04, March 3, 2007, and the barrage of comments was expected to continue for an extended period. EssJay subsequently retired from the English Wikipedia, and requested that his bureaucrat, checkuser, oversight, and sysop privileges be revoked.

Wikipedia allows its users to be anonymous, by creating usernames as pseudonyms. However, it is considered unethical to purposely misrepresent oneself to the media, or to use unjustified claims to qualifications to support arguments with other contributors.


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