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Point of View (POV) railroading refers to the use of bullying tactics to discredit an editor with an opposing viewpoint or eliminate them from a discussion. Tactics can include frustrating the editor, hostility that discourages others from participating, or creating a false narrative that mis-represents actual events or edits in order to discredit the editor. These tactics are usually used to win an argument or take control of certain article(s) or topics by focusing on the editor rather than the edits.
POV railroading tactics
A false narrative refers to the creation of a "story" about another editor in an attempt to discredit them, damage their reputation within the community, frustrate, or bait them. Unsubstantiated accusations of canvassing or conflict of interest, labeling an editor as a point-of-view pusher, or accusing them of being a sock puppet or meat puppet of a banned user are common false narratives. Editors may also mis-represent actual edits or take diffs out of context to support a skewed version of events that supports their narrative.
Often editors who want to attack or discredit another will do so using an interpretation of Wikipedia's behavioral policies and guidelines in a way that becomes abusive. They may quote policies in misleading ways, so as to render them without context, one-sided, or devoid of relevant disclaimers and exceptions in the policy. In other cases, a "policy bomb"—known as "alphabet soup"—may be used to bombard an editor with accusations of violations so numerous that the targeted editor ends up feeling defenseless. Sometimes a policy may be interpreted in an extreme and unreasonable way in order to support the editor's viewpoint.
False narratives or canvassing can be intended to recruit multiple editors to pile-on in support of a viewpoint or editor, resulting in the other editor feeling intimidated, helpless or under attack. A convincing false narrative can persuade multiple editors that another user is a "bad editor" who needs to be dealt with, when they aren't really. A group of editors with a similar viewpoint may create a clique in which they rely on each other to support a point-of-view.
Some of the most prolific POV railroading that goes undetected is done on a one-to-one basis. It may involve a condescending, patronizing, sarcastic or other insulting tone, inserting hidden text, reverting other editors without discussion or explanation in contentious situations (peremptory deletions), or baiting and goading editors into uncivil comments or behaviours.
Effects of POV railroading
This process may destroy the reputation of such targeted editors on Wikipedia. They may be branded in any number of ways that will discredit them, and may result in treatment that becomes progressively more prejudiced and unfair until an abused editor is either banned, or quits out of frustration. Once the editors representing the opposing POV are blocked or banned, they may also be made into a scapegoat for other problems found in the article(s). If additional editors show up with an opposing point of view, then the POV railroader may accuse the new editors of being sockpuppets or meatpuppets of the sanctioned editor. If that doesn't work, then POV railroading behaviors outlined above may be repeated against the new editors.
Prevention and resolution
- WikiLove: Welcome new editors and assist them in their development and knowledge of Wikipedia's policies and sub-culture. Take a compassionate and patient attitude towards inexperienced editors.
- Equality: Keep in mind that on Wikipedia, all editors have fair and equal rights to edit articles. While some may have more knowledge or familiarity with a topic than others, this does not mean those with less knowledge or experience are at a lower level and are not entitled to their point of view. If we see an editor behaving in a condescending manner, we should offer gentle reminders that we are all equal here.
- Edit warring: If an editor reverts an edit, especially when reverting sourced content, they would do well to put an explanation on the article talk page or the user's talk page.
- Avoid policy "bombs": Cite and elaborate on specific sections or aspects of policy on talk pages rather than dropping an alphabet soup of policy references without citing specifics. Encourage others on talk page to do the same. If an editor makes a mistake or violates a policy, take the time to educate them through discussion rather than criticize or threaten.
- Talk page: If you see that an editor has been isolated on a talk page and is becoming agitated, feel free to enter the discussion and to exert a calming influence. This will often break the battleground dynamic and reduce tension. The behavior of bullies almost always improves when other, more neutral parties are present.
- Careful assessment: If you are an administrator or editor active in dispute resolution and come across a conflict, keep an open mind on every case. Take time to examine the diffs carefully and in depth, and look at the talk page to see the context of those diffs. Is the alleged offender being bullied, goaded or taunted?
- Getting help: If you feel you have been a victim of POV railroading or other forms of bullying on Wikipedia you may want to ask for advice at the Teahouse where helpful and supportive editors are known to congregate. You may also consider either requesting a mentor, or seeking help at one of the various dispute resolution forums.
- Gaming the system (guideline)
- WikiBullying (essay)
- Civil POV pushing (essay)
- How to Ban a POV You Dislike (essay written in a sarcastic tone)
- Wikipedia:Overzealous deletion
- Tendentious editing
- Game theoretic models of Wikipedia behavior