Wikipedia:Age and adminship
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There have been numerous discussions about adminship and age over time. Some Wikipedians believe that certain users are being inappropriately discriminated against because of their age, while others believe it acceptable to take age into consideration when deciding to support or oppose a user who is under the age of 18. Candidates under the age of 15 have been especially controversial – sometimes, their age is the only reason for an oppose vote, and bureaucrats do not discount these votes. To some, this constitutes ageism – discrimination based on age. Others believe this is a legitimate practice, raising issues of immaturity, trustworthiness, and accountability. In response to this incident, a group of editors formed a "cabal" with the intention of speaking out against ageism on Wikipedia. The cabal was quickly deleted by Acalamari and all related discussions were closed.
Jimmy Wales commented his discussion on the topic saying:
"I have no very strong opinion about it. There are people who behave in petulant, ill-mannered, and immature ways. They should not be admins. Whether there is a strong correlation between bad behavior of that kind, and age, I don't know. I do think that, in general, most of our admins should be college students or graduates. Some gifted and profoundly gifted young people would be equally qualified.--Jimbo Wales (talk)"
Arguments of ageism
Ageism on Wikipedia is seen in many ways by different editors. The main discussion started on a RfA on June 24, 2008. An underage candidate received an opposing vote with the comment, "How can I trust a user who has a bedtime to be an admin?" This comment opened a discussion as to whether or not age should play a role in the RfA process. Some of the older editors decided that an underage user is unlikely to show the maturity required of an admin and cannot be trusted because of the factor of age. Some younger editors countered that age should not play a part, and that if an editor showed maturity, that should be enough to promote them to adminship.
Arguments of trustworthiness and maturity
Considering anyone for adminship, regardless of age, is usually a matter of trustworthiness. The Requests for Adminship process generally presents, in some form, three central questions about the candidate that help to determine whether granting access to the admin tools is a good idea:
- How well do you understand Wikipedia policies and guidelines, and how willing are you to abide by them?
- If given the admin tools, how do you plan to use them?
- Why do you want to be an admin? What's in it for you?
The first question is usually answered by a combination of the candidate's contribution history (and his/her demonstrated involvement in policy discussions, Wikipedia namespace, participation in forums such as AfD, Admin Noticeboards, etc.) and their response to questions posed at the RfA. There are, of course, other questions, and there are many criteria upon which a person is judged. Additionally, people responding to an RfA often have their own individual opinions as to what's important to look for in an editor. But the three questions above have traditionally been the most important, and different editors reviewing an RfA may employ different methods in considering the answers to those questions.
Being an admin places considerable responsibility on the candidate. If given the admin tools, the candidate will have the power to delete pages, block users and otherwise do things that can have a serious impact on the overall project and the community if misused. This is why trustworthiness is such a big deal, and why it's an even bigger deal when considering someone under the age of 18 (the most generally recognized age of adulthood). There are not only legitimate questions about a person's ability to wield the tools in a responsible manner, but there are potential legal implications as well – if someone damages Wikipedia in a significant way, who is held responsible? If a minor violates Wikipedia's acceptable use policy, is there a possibility that more people than just the minor will be affected, including his/her parents or guardians? This is, naturally, a difficult question to answer.
Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that many minors do not yet understand the significance of what adminship really means. Many people want to become admins because they believe that adminship is a position of power, authority and prestige. And while this is partially true, it does not mean admins get to rule over the community or make policy decisions (except to enforce existing policies), nor do they become part of an exclusive club, contrary to popular belief. Adminship has been likened to the position of a janitor, a person holding a mop and a bucket. In business, janitors often have greater access to work spaces than most employees, simply because it's their job to clean the rooms. An admin is much the same way – their job is to help keep Wikipedia clean, with the assistance of more powerful tools that normal users don't have access to.
This is why the questions above are so important. Let's look at it another way: The U.S. government (and the governments of each state) set certain ages at which people are allowed to perform various tasks, and these numbers are based on observed and demonstrated ability and maturity to handle the responsibility of each task. In most states, a minor can get a driver's license at the age of 16, they can vote and enlist in the military at 18, they can drink alcohol at 21, and they can rent vehicles at 25. It's probably a good bet that many people under these age barriers feel they are qualified to do the task, and in some cases they can demonstrate this. But in the world of government, there are no exceptions – too many times has a teenager been given the keys to a car and promptly killed or seriously injured someone with it because they weren't driving it responsibly. It is a question not just of technical skill or rational understanding, but also of maturity and proven responsibility.
On Wikipedia, there are currently no set policies or guidelines for how old someone must be to become an administrator, but most existing admins and bureaucrats will agree that age does play a role. While it would obviously be impossible for a minor to kill or injure someone through Wikipedia, it is possible for him or her to disrupt it and cause damage to the project as a whole. Any admin candidate has to be able to show that they can handle tough situations, including personal attacks and disruptive behavior, with grace and without prejudice, and they must not fall into being disruptive themselves, lest they violate the same policies. It's all too easy to get into an argument with someone and take a statement personally, and an admin has the power to retaliate with a block – an action that is usually considered an abuse of power. So, the question becomes: If you are in a tough situation, how will you respond to it?
Also, it's worth pointing out that a person's response to age-based scrutiny can say a lot about that person's readiness to take on such a position of responsibility. While it's difficult to pin down exactly what kind of response may sway the opinion of a person opposed to a minor's adminship, a person placing an oppose vote based on age may be looking for a sign from the candidate that they possess a level of maturity more like an adult's – that they can handle criticism without getting too worked up over it. A responder who sees this may be more likely to change their mind. Likewise, if an RfA fails and the candidate becomes overly discouraged, threatens to quit Wikipedia, or becomes disruptive in any sort of retaliatory fashion, it only serves as proof that the decision to fail the RfA was the correct one. This is true both of adults and minors.
Finally, the third question, "What's in it for you?", is not usually asked in this form, but it can be an important one. Many people actively want to become admins – some even make it their primary goal on Wikipedia. While it's fine to want to be an admin, being solely focused on becoming one usually means the person doesn't quite get it. Many people believe that when they become an admin, they'll graduate to some new level of contribution to Wikipedia, but in reality, it only adds a few new tools to their already formidable arsenal of editing tools. Many people also feel that becoming an admin is a great personal achievement, something that will earn them great recognition. In most cases, however, an admin doesn't receive any more respect or recognition than any other editor – as an editor, respect is earned through community participation, whether or not one has a mop.
Some of Wikipedia's best admins are the ones to whom being an admin makes no real difference to their editing patterns. If a candidate shows they intend to keep editing whether or not they are granted admin privileges, they will be more likely to succeed in their RfA. In other words, indifference to adminship is often one of the more endearing qualities of an admin. And to that end, it is also worth pointing out that Wikipedia does have several young administrators who behave in a very responsible manner and are a credit to the Wikipedia community as a whole.
- Wikipedia:Admin functions that should be performed only by admins who are adults
- See WT:Requests for adminship/Archive 136#Age and adminship for a recent discussion.
- "I personally do not hold an editor's age against them in RfAs, but I respect the opinions of those who do. It is a valid argument and concern. As a bureaucrat, when evaluating an RfA result, I do not exclude such oppositions." – Kingturtle (talk) 15:33, 25 June 2008 (UTC)