Months After Eight-year Wikipedia Ban Quietly Lifted, Micronation “Prince” Banned Again for Self-Promotion

The Arbitration Committee or ArbCom, often described as Wikipedia’s “supreme court”, recently came under fire from the online encyclopedia’s members for lifting the eight-year ban of Guido den Broeder, an editor who had used Wikipedia for self-promotion. Despite his ban originally being the result of a vote by his fellow editors, no prominent notification was made about the lifting of the ban. Only after the editor had spent months promoting his self-proclaimed micronation of Paraduin on the site did the community realize he had returned to editing, upon which he was quickly banned again by a unanimous vote.

Broeder, also known as Roadcreature on Wikipedia, is a chess player from the Netherlands who has been involved in advocacy related to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a condition from which he suffers, and the introduction of a universal basic income. Broeder has previously served in local office for the Green Left party in the Netherlands, according to his LinkedIn profile. In the discussion leading to his initial ban in 2008, Broeder was criticized for repeatedly citing himself or links to groups he was associated with on Wikipedia pages concerning chess, CFS, and basic income. These edits violated Wikipedia’s policies on editing articles where he had a conflict of interest.

This was not the first time Broeder had seen his ban lifted, as ArbCom decided to overturn the community-imposed ban in 2009, but reimposed the ban in just over a week due to his failure to meet their conditions for lifting it. Members of ArbCom at the time expressed doubt he would ever be reinstated. Broeder had also been banned from editing the Dutch-language Wikipedia in 2008. Later in 2014, Broeder would use the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” laws to have discussions about his conduct on the Dutch Wikipedia removed from Google search results as reported in the BBC.

In March of this year, Broeder attempted to appeal his ban on the English-language Wikipedia using a new account, but was told due to his ban he could only appeal to the Committee via e-mail. Six weeks later a message was left on the page of this account stating his ban was lifted on the condition that he not edits articles related to CFS and that he restrict himself to using only one account, a remedy commonly used when an editor has engaged in sockpuppetry. Even though the lifting of such bans is often announced on a noticeboard for ArbCom actions, this was not done in the case of Broeder’s ban, nor was a notice posted at any other prominent discussion area on the site.

Soon after his ban was lifted, Broeder created an article on Paraduin, a declared micronation of which he is founder, sole resident, and “prince” under the name Ogidius. Paraduin claims a parcel of land along the Danube River called Siga that, due to the official definition of the border between Serbia and Croatia, is purported to be “unclaimed territory” or terra nullius and thus free for any to claim as their own. In his article, since deleted due to failing Wikipedia’s standards for notability, Broeder details the dispute over the land between several other self-proclaimed micronations, most notably Liberland, founded by a Czech politician. Broeder’s article, citing the site he created for the claimed micronation, states Paraduin was the first to claim the territory in March of 2015.

Over the course of the two months after his ban was lifted, Broeder asserted the greater legitimacy of his claims to Siga on Liberland’s own Wikipedia page. He also removed large amounts of material from the Liberland article stating the content was “promotional” in nature and poorly-sourced. There is reportedly a past history of confrontation between the two claimed micronations. According to a 2015 post on the site for South Maudlandia, another claimant to Siga, Paraduin removed a flag Liberland had planted on the territory and Broeder acknowledged responsibility for the flag’s removal on Twitter. South Maudlandia warned of the possibility of “war” breaking out in the territory after the incident.

Another of Broeder’s editing interests in this time was an article on Russian child model and actress Kristina Pimenova, reportedly described as the most beautiful girl in the world. The article before Broeder’s ban was lifted had cited Paraduin’s site for a claim about the production of a horror film in Michigan featuring Pimenova, in which Paraduin was purportedly involved. Broeder made numerous edits to the article, including one about the child’s mother responding to criticism of Pimenova’s modeling activities as “oversexualized” that claimed she called pedophilia a Western cultural phenomenon.

Fram, an administrator on Wikipedia, brought Broeder’s edits over the past two months to the attention of other editors on the site. In a discussion that lasted less than 24 hours nine other editors and administrators agreed with Fram’s call for restoring the ban, while criticizing ArbCom for failing to post a prominent notice about the ban being lifted in the first place. Broeder defended his promotional edits by noting he had disclosed his conflict of interest, said disclosure being on his user page. Administrator Black Kite closed the discussion and restored the ban, adding in his own confusion at the fact the ban was lifted in such a low-key manner.

Upon the reinstatement of the ban, Fram then took the matter to the discussion page for ArbCom’s noticeboard to question them about why there wasn’t an announcement posted on the noticeboard. Arbitrators Mkdw and GorillaWarfare were the first to comment, stating that while not participating in the discussion on lifting the appeal they were amenable to more public notifications about the lifting of bans.

Two other arbitrators, this time both having supported lifting the ban, responded with criticism of the community decision to reinstate the ban as being handled too quickly. One, Doug Weller, did acknowledge the legitimacy of concerns about notifying the community about Broeder’s unban. By contrast, Opabinia Regalis, who had personally lifted Broeder’s ban, complained that she was not notified of the discussion to ban Broeder. Drmies, speaking as “one who proposed unbanning” Broeder, made a belated comment at the recent ban discussion to compliment them on their “efficiency” in banning Broeder.

Finding the responses from the Committee inadequate, Fram asked them several questions, including if Broeder indicated what he was interested in editing after his ban was lifted. Fram noted sockpuppetry from 2015 that administrators agreed was by Broeder citing evidence collected on the Dutch Wikipedia. Those sockpuppets were editing primarily on the Liberland article and related pages, including edits that argued Paraduin was the first to claim land Liberland claims.

An administrator in one of the sockpuppetry discussions noted there was a connection between Paraduin and Broeder. While denying being Broeder himself, one of the sockpuppets did claim to be involved in an “online encyclopedia project” hosted by Paraduin, an apparent reference to Broeder’s Wikisage site. Said involvement appears to have begun only after the account was banned from the Dutch Wikipedia as Broeder’s sock where on top of various edits about CFS and other topics of interest to Broeder, the account created an article on the CFS research group of which Broeder is president. Arbitrators stated that Broeder denied any connection to the accounts in his recent appeal, but still imposed a one-account restriction when lifting his ban.

Responding to Fram, arbitrator Newyorkbrad acknowledged Broeder did say what topics he was interested in editing. Pressed on the matter, Brad would not specify what those topics were, but stated that he “at least” did not “understand” them to be topics where Broeder had problems before his ban or after his ban was lifted. Fram concluded from this cagey response that his topics of interest may have in some way included Paraduin and Pimenova, areas where ArbCom should have known Broeder had a conflict of interest. ArbCom have yet to respond to Fram’s conclusion.

Broeder’s mishandled case is yet another embarrassing episode in Wikipedia’s long-lasting difficulties with conflict of interest editing. Earlier in the year, this included the Wikimedia Foundaton and Wikipedia’s ArbCom giving contradictory statements on how to deal with such editing in light of the site’s strict policies on revealing personal information. The WMF argued for allowing more open investigation, while ArbCom stated doing so would encourage harassment. A community discussion that attempted to resolve these competing schools of thought by their most powerful institutions experienced months of delays, before being closed with little change made to existing policy and instead calls for more discussion.

If there is one thing Broeder’s case illustrates, it is that Wikipedia’s institutions are still far from knowing how best to handle this persistent problem.