Wikipedia:Don't tear others' heads off
|This essay contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors on Wikipedia:Behavioral policy. Essays are not Wikipedia policies or guidelines. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.|
|This page in a nutshell: Be careful with taking preventative action against newcomers.|
New users come to Wikipedia on a daily basis. Some of them are just here for information, some are here to fix one or two minor issues, and some might become the next administrator. Out of all of these users, though, Wikipedia benefits from having as many users as possible visit and contribute. Thus, not only do we not want to bite newcomers and scare them away, we also want them to tell their friends about how great it is here.
People know about Wikipedia primarily by word of mouth. You don't see advertisements on television, you don't get popups on your favorite social networking sites for Wikipedia, and you certainly don't see Wikipedia spyware drawing you here. Wikipedia has maintained its reputation as a quality encyclopedia, and this has caused people that use it to convince others to use it.
The editors at Wikipedia have a strong influence on this reputation. If all of the content contributors never came along, Wikipedia would never have gotten to where it is today. If all of the reviewers got up and left, Wikipedia would be known for its lack of neutrality and verifiability. If all of the rollbackers went on a vacation for a week, Wikipedia would probably be in the news for being full of vandal nonsense. The list goes on and on. The editors here are the primary catalyst for both Wikipedia's reputation and innovation.
The bad side of things
Newcomers to Wikipedia rarely know (and are not expected to know) all of Wikipedia's policies and guidelines. That's where WP:BITE comes in: The objective is to inform newcomers about policies, not turn them away at a moment's notice. Wikipedia always needs more contributors to continue the content and quality stream that has put it where it is today.
But there's a second level of biting, and sometimes this may not be intentional. Sometimes, in dealing with the constant stream of vandals that Wikipedia attracts, we lose sight of the useful contributors to Wikipedia. They might have made one minor NPOV mistake, or misused an unreliable source, but because their edits match some pattern of a long-term vandal, we might be tempted to block on-sight without a second glance.
Even more subtle may be a new user coming across a highly contentious matter, seeing the comments therein with aggression flying back and forth, and run full-speed out of the door. This is particularly troublesome as there is no visible evidence whatsoever that the newcomer has been scared away from the place.
In any case, all of a sudden, that future administrator is now completely turned off by Wikipedia, feeling that it's only for an elite group of power-hungry addicts. We know that's not true, but unfortunately, they do not.
But it gets worse
Negative experiences tend to be publicized more than positive ones. These negative reviews are exactly what Wikipedia does not need. That user that was just inappropriately blocked could probably get unblocked through the use of appropriate channels, but instead he/she will likely go off to tell his/her friends about what just happened, spreading this negative reaction. Soon enough, those friends will tell other friends, and some might even turn to vandal behavior in retaliation. Instead of preventing some kind of fictitious negative impact on the encyclopedia, we've now not only prevented positive contributions, we've spawned more negative contributions.
Sheath thy sword
Don't bite the newcomers is good general advice, but whatever you do, don't tear their head off either. If the user you're dealing with appears to be a known vandal, step back a second and ask yourself "is it painfully obvious?" Might this user be trying to contribute constructively? Many long-term abuse reports request a "block on-sight," but this is to be taken with a grain of salt. Think for a second whether or not this user might have good intentions. Many queens got their heads chopped off after becoming queen, but never once has anyone become a leader after decapitation. You never know, you might be turning away a hundred featured articles in a single, indiscriminate action, and all that does is hurt Wikipedia's reputation, not just now, but permanently.