Wikipedia:Wikilawyering

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Wikilawyering (and the related legal term pettifogging) is a pejorative term which describes various questionable ways of judging other Wikipedians' actions. It may refer to certain quasi-legal practices, including:

  1. Using formal legal terms in an inappropriate way when discussing Wikipedia policy;
  2. Abiding by the letter of a policy or guideline while violating its spirit or underlying principles;
  3. Asserting that the technical interpretation of the policies and guidelines should override the underlying principles they express;
  4. Misinterpreting policy or relying on technicalities to justify inappropriate actions.

In other words, a "wikilawyer" is an image drawn from a lawyer, and the term may also be used in other cases, e.g., when a person superficially judges other editors and their actions by jumping to conclusions and slapping labels while brandishing Wikipedia policies as a tool for defeating other Wikipedians rather than resolving a conflict or finding a mutually agreeable solution.

Wikipedia policies and procedures should be interpreted with common sense to achieve the purpose of the policy, or help dispute resolution. Typically, wikilawyering raises procedural or evidentiary points in a manner analogous to that used in formal legal proceedings, often using ill-founded legal reasoning. It can serve to evade an issue or obstruct the crafting of a workable solution.

For example, while it is often impossible to definitely establish the actual user behind a set of sockpuppets, it is not a defense that all the sockpuppets which emerge were not named in the request for arbitration.

As another example, the Three-Revert Rule is a measure of protection against edit warring. An editor who intentionally reverts the same article three times every day is not breaching the letter of this rule, but violates the principle of the rule – and can thus be sanctioned for revert warring.

See [1] for an actual example of conflation of judicial proceedings and Wikipedia arbitration procedures (It is probable the poster intended this to be satire in an attempt to make a point about a particular editing dispute).

Advocacy in Wikipedia[edit]

Use of authentic legal skills by legal professionals or other persons trained and skilled in the arts of negotiation and advocacy is welcome in proceedings of the Arbitration Committee and on Wikipedia in a variety of contexts. Please see Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/How to present a case for some suggestions regarding effective advocacy. Precis: common sense trumps process.

A common mistake of misguided advocacy is when a person appoints himself a mediator and proceeds with judging the sides by telling them whether they are right or wrong instead of helping the sides to better state their positions and to find common grounds. It is not uncommon that one side is indeed wrong, and in such a case a mediator begins to appear to take sides thus alienating the wrong side and triggering their defense instincts, further entrenching them against an amicable resolution.

Negative connotations[edit]

Some Wikipedians allege that the charge of wikilawyering is used, particularly by Wikipedians more influential than them, to avoid giving careful attention to their claims. It is also said that newer users tend to believe nuanced complex policy (particularly WP:NPOV) conforms to their point of view, and will repeatedly refer to policy rather than providing rationale for their edits.

The word "Wikilawyering" typically has negative connotations, much like the term "meatpuppet"; those utilizing the term should take care that it can be backed up and isn't frivolous (see WP:NPA and WP:CIVIL).

In cases where it is possible a user is simply mistaken or naive and not deliberately deceiving others, efforts should be made to educate them rather than labeling their actions as "wikilawyering".

Misuse of the term[edit]

Like any pejorative, the term may easily result in fellow Wikipedians taking offense. At the same time, the notions of offense (in a debate) and insult should not be confused. While there is a blurred gray zone between offense and insult, the major distinction is that an offense in a debate is argumentative, while an insult is ... an insult, i.e., an act of demeaning an opponent. An offense is always specific, i.e., addresses a particular argument or reasoning, while an insult is generalizing and dismissive. For example the phrase "You are wikilawyering" is an insult. On the other hand, the message "Therefore I conclude that you are stretching the WP:NOT policy here beyond common sense, i.e., you are wikilawyering", while aggressive, is not an insult, but rather a pointer to an identifiable wikibehavioral pattern.

Because reasoned arguments in a debate necessarily include both elements of fact and references to principles, disputants who lack such an argument sometimes try to undermine arguments they can not otherwise overcome by just tossing out the naked accusation that their opponent is a wiki-lawyer. This is not a good faith tactic and does not foster a collegial consensus-seeking atmosphere. Therefore, any accusation of wikilawyering should include a brief explanation justifying use of the term.

Occasionally, editors who engage in semantic discussions about the language of a policy or guideline, or propose minor changes in the wording of a policy or guideline, will be accused of wikilawyering. In such cases, it may make sense instead to assume good faith and engage in the discussion productively rather than tar those editors with the wikilawyering brush. And simply being a stickler about Wikipedia policies/guidelines and process does not make an editor a wikilawyer; remember that Wikipedia has an Arbitration Committee closely modelled on a court of law, a system of elections of administrators and bureaucrats, Featured Article & Good Article review procedures, and various other formal processes.

See also[edit]

Policies, guidelines and essays[edit]

Articles[edit]