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I originally submitted this as part of an ArbComm case (which I don't typically participate in). I believe the concepts are so important, I'm pulling them out to an essay

On civility[edit]

Part of the problem with civility on Wikipedia is the lack of desire to actually define the tolerance level for civility.

I personally have two basic operating principles that I have been stating again and again since I started volunteering at Wikipedia:

  • everyone has something to add to Wikipedia, many just don't know it yet
  • someone else's incivility may explain your own incivility, but it never excuses it

What do we do with an editor who is knowledgeable, creates content, and doesn't typically put up with BS? What if they are aggressively so, and has a short fuse - resorting to incivility quickly. Sure, some people like the "brilliant tyrant" type of personality - but they're usually well-paid to put up with it. Volunteers should never be subjected to it, at all - especially when those volunteers range from noobs to as-old-as-the-project-itself.

If you ran a place of business, and you had an employee berating colleagues with obscenities, how long would you allow it to happen? Sure, maybe they're a good producer, they sell lots, but you've had an employee turnover of 75% over the last 3 years ... how productive is that in the long run for your business? Would you permit face-to-face transactions to occur in your workplace in the same manner they often occur on Wikipedia? The majority of countries have amended their practices to consider that the written word is as powerful as the spoken word (that's why you'll find that if I went up to a female employee and said "hey, nice tits" or e-mailed her saying "hey, nice tits" are both going to be dealt with the same way).

The written word has the same denigrating, chilling and insulting effect as the spoken word. Incivility drives off editors. It leads to a non-collegial environment. It's destructive to those involved, and to those who watch. It sets a bad example for others, therefore breeding further behaviours.

Now, to the other side of the fence: I used to be active in WP:WQA (and yes, still spend a lot of time in WP:ANI. I will clearly state that some people's perspective of what is uncivil behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. Where's the line?

I'm not trying to turn incivility into harassment, however, incivility does share many aspects with harassment principles. I'm going to borrow from McMaster University ... indeed, in many cases, harassment is incivility to the max either by the outright egregious nature of the action, or the continuation of related actions.

Incivility is therefore a vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known would would cause offence.

Blocks for incivility can therefore be tested against very simple concepts:

  • vexatious: "without reasonable cause or legitimate purpose behind it" (and I highlight the explain vs excuse distinction - there is no legitimate purpose for incivility)
  • comment or conduct: a single word, or a series of exchanges
  • reasonably known: "a reasonable person in the circumstances would have known", even if the person themself claims otherwise
  • cause offence: this is probably what needs to be better defined for this purpose, although when combined with the above it becomes painfully obvious.

None of the above is new or novel: the test therefore the validity of a civility block is readily and easily measured against the above. If the civility block meets the test in whole, then the block must be upheld. This is for all intents and purposes wholly objective.

Some argue that long term editors have "rights". However, the argument can be made that long-time editors should know better, and that everyone has rights.

ArbComm probably has to choose if it's the former or the latter. They then need to emphasize the 4-stage test for civility blocks, and apply them equally across the board. Until then, they grey area causes confusion for all editors.

Where there's grey areas there will indecision and poor decisions.