Wikipedia:Wikifinagling

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Wikifinagling (and the related term finagling) is a pejorative term which describes various questionable ways of trying to misuse or circumvent Wikipedia rules or procedures. It may refer to certain quasi-legal practices or others, 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 Wikipedia:Policies and guidelines should override the underlying principles they express;
  4. Misinterpreting policy or relying on technicalities to justify inappropriate actions;
  5. Waiting until a person leaves on WP:wikibreak, or is blocked, to rewrite or delete their work, without consensus;
  6. Making a series of small edits to delete one phrase at a time, to bypass WP:NOTCENSORED, which forbids removing text simply because it seems objectionable to some users;
  7. Writing veiled insults or slurs, to bypass restrictions of WP:CIVIL or WP:No Personal Attacks.

In other words, a "wikifinagler" is a person who deliberately misuses or circumvents rules. Also, the term may be used in other cases, e.g., when a person superficially judges other editors and their actions by jumping at 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 in a commonsensical way to achieve the purpose of the policy, or help with dispute resolution. Typically, wikifinagling raises procedural or evidentiary points in a manner analogous to that used in formal legal proceedings, often using ill-founded legal reasoning. Occasionally, wikifinagling may raise legitimate questions, including fairness, but often it serves 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 an acceptable defense that all the sockpuppets which emerge were not named in the request for arbitration, nor if a sockpuppet name is misspelled.

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 (spirit) 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.).

Some veiled insults could be posted in carefully crafted text, which is not a direct personal attack, but seems suspiciously negative. The typical case would be denying the insult, such as: "Not that I'm saying you're dim-witted but...". A more indirect veiled insult has been worded as, "How would you like to called stupid because if you keep going, some might say that". Also, there are subtle cases to beware: "Your writing skills are a bit lacking, if I may say so." Such veiled insults are a form of wikifinagling, to avoid being obvious violations of WP:NPA. On the other hand, beware someone wikifinagling how any negative phrase is a personal attack on them. For example, just mentioning a negative word is NOT a personal attack, such as posting to a 3rd party, "The film Forrest Gump had that famous line: Stupid is as stupid does". That is NOT a personal attack to other users of Wikipedia, but claiming that it is, might be a case of Wikifinagling, in trying to claim WP:NPA where an attack was not actually made. In general, a personal attack requires the word "you" or "your", and sarcasm is difficult to judge ("You are such a genius"), so there are some gray areas where insults cannot be proven and would slip through.

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 assigns themselves 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 wrong indeed, and in such a case, a mediator starts looking as if taking sides, thus alienating the wrong side and triggering their defense instincts, further entrenching them away from an amicable resolution.

Negative connotations[edit]

Some Wikipedians could allege that the charge of wikifinagling is used, particularly by Wikipedians more influential than them, to marginalize and avoid giving careful attention to their claims. It has also been noted that some new users tend to believe nuanced complex policy (particularly WP:NPOV) conforms to their point of view, and will repeatedly cite some general policies, rather than providing specific rationale for their edits, or rather than seek consensus with the related editors.

The word "Wikifinagling" 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 "wikifinagling".

Misuse of the term[edit]

As any pejorative, the term is easily misused. As any pejorative, it is an offense towards a fellow Wikipedian. 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 wikifinagling" 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 wikifinagling", while aggressive, is not an insult, but rather a pointer to an identifiable wikibehavioral pattern.

In any case, an accusation of "wikifinagling" is never a valid argument per se, unless an explanation is given why particular actions may be described as wikifinagling, and the term "wikifinagling" is used as a mere shortcut to these explanations.

Confronting other users[edit]

Unless a situation is being investigated as a clear case of wikifinagling, it is often better to discuss the case in terms of some particular policy being skirted. For example, if novel ideas are being added in a way to bypass WP:NPOV, then simply discuss the situation as possibly violating the spirit of "No original research" rather accuse a person of wikifinagling. As another example, if some people have left on WP:wikibreak and their writing is being altered to reach a new consensus viewpoint, it might be better to advise that consensus debates should wait until they return from break.

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, might be accused of wikifinagling. 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 wikifinagling brush. And simply being a stickler about Wikipedia policies/guidelines and process does not make an editor a wikifinagler.

Some areas require legalistic discussions[edit]

Although many discussions can be conducted without extreme attention to policy details, there are some areas of Wikipedia which do concern those details. 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.

There is an older term, WP:Wikilawyering (from 2005) which was derived from legal procedures, and might be more limited in ways of bypassing rules.

See also[edit]

Policies, guidelines and essays[edit]

Articles[edit]