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Why, that's not difficult! Plague is here and we've got to make a stand, that's obvious. Ah, I only wish everything were as simple!
— Camus, La Peste
Wikipedia's very own plague is nationalism. The troll who is here solely to push his ethnic or nationalist point of view poses a colossal threat to Wikipedia's content and standards of user conduct. Religiously motivated editors can often, though not always, be included in the same category. However, those of religious motivation cause fewer problems than the out-and-out nationalist: it is only when religious faith blends with mysticism that problems arise, usually in cases of a national "manifest destiny" where pseudoscience is used as justification.
Why do nationalists come to Wikipedia? What is a nationalist, anyway?
As Muhammad once said, I believe, the nationalist is he who supports his people in an unjust cause. On Wikipedia, this translates to rewriting history, and tampering with facts and verified information. The nationalist will attempt to justify the current activities of his ethnic group or nation, but most particularly he will attempt to expunge those blots that all nations have from Wikipedia's recording of history. With a few exceptions, much of our nationalist editing focuses on historical subjects. The nationalist views himself as on a crusade (enter at this point mysticism and pseudoscience), and being sanctified by God, he is immune to reason.
Wikipedia represents a singularly attractive and open target for nationalists, and it is worth thinking about why. Historical revisionism of a particularly fringecruft-esque type is, as a general rule, the aim of the nationalist (not that he thinks of it in this way: the nationalist views himself as seeking The Truth). It is his opportunity to set the historical record straight (straight from his point of view, that is). He is unlikely to be able to get a book published that will affirm his claims, and certainly not by a major publishing house that will have the ability to spread his views to a wide audience. Sure, he could self-publish, or make his views available elsewhere on the Internet, but such isolated ravings rarely get read. Wikipedia, on the other hand, offers a vast readership, has no formal editorial oversight, and requires no qualifications to begin. Not only that: Wikipedia is a vastly influential website with significant socio-political clout on a global scale, is widely used as a first reference, and among the more foolish is taken as an ultra-reliable source. The attractions for those tempted to push a nationalist point of view are obvious.
Disruptive editing along nationalist lines is marked by several characteristics.
- The inclusion of fringe theories, original research and original synthesis in order to promote the point of view in question. This is the feature of the nationalist: denying fact and academic consensus, he must search elsewhere. The fringe theories of his fellow crank provide a fine resource. See this and then compare that to the current lede.
- Edit warring, incivility, and personal attacks. Sanctified by God, Wikipedia's rules are insignificant by comparison.
- The viewing of other editors exclusively through the prism of nationality and/or ethnic group. Those who oppose the nationalist simply have to be "biased".
- Tendentious editing in all its forms. Examples.
- This includes accusing others of "vandalism" and "censorship". The nationalist truth will out!
- The absolute rejection of all scholarship not coming from authors of the same nationality that our nationalist is whitewashing. See here for a fine example.
- The propounding of pseudoscience (often genetics-related lies, see eugenics). This accompanied by a certain mysticism that triumphantly eliminates logic.
- Misrepresenting reliable sources.
- Removing references to peer-reviewed books by reputable academics in favor of random blogs off the internet.
The failure of the immune system
Wikipedia is singularly ill-adapted to deal with nationalist troublemaking. Overmuch of the mentality of the Arbitration Committee, who will not rule on content, has filtered down to the administrative corps. Living-persons issues apart, most admins are too scared to block for POV pushing, even though neutrality is supposed to be our most important principle. Nor are such blocks readily endorsed, no matter how justified, largely because the majority of those expressing an opinion are not familiar with the subject matter, and either cannot or will not properly check the issues concerned. As a result, admins are unable to deal with pure POV-pushing, and can only address the other symptoms of the nationalist disease. Typically the nationalist troll does, in fact, infringe user conduct rules, but this cannot be universally relied upon. Even if he does, the nationalist cannot be relied upon to violate the user conduct regulations to the extent that he can be removed permanently. It is also worth noting that most nationalist editing focuses on humanities-related subjects, where Wikipedia does not possess the same volume of expert editors that we do when it comes to science-related topics. As a result, the number of those able to refute nationalist crankpottery head-on is smaller.
There are no easy solutions, but I have tried to show that you cannot reason with the nationalist: simple stick-and-carrot will not work, and nor will instruction in the ways and ethos of Wikipedia, no matter how detailed and protracted. Such things are insignificant to the nationalist. Short blocks, particularly for 3RR, are equally futile for the same reason. The nationalist, devoted to his cause, simply doesn't care. With the nationalist, the only good block is the indefinite one.
There remains the indefinite block, the ban, and limitation. Bans (both from topics and from the site) and limitations are almost never enacted except by the arbitration committee, though this may be changing. Arbitration is an incredibly time-consuming process that wastes time, drains energy, reduces contributions to the encyclopedia, and is invariably an ugly scrap. Unsurprisingly, and with justification, many users confronted with nationalist trolling give up rather than go for formal arbitration. This is unlikely to change.
Topic bans are probably the best way of combating nationalist editing, as with single-purpose nationalists this is often equivalent to a siteban: if not, however, the nationalist can find something else to edit, and can hopefully do so productively. Supervised editing and revert limitation only address symptoms, not causes. Article probation is useful with such articles as Falun Gong, and an article revert limitation would probably be helpful for such articles as Islam and Armenia. However, such remedies are not applied nearly frequently enough, and only then after a good deal of drama. Much greater use should be made in this respect of the community sanction noticeboard, and I have also proposed a radical alternative system here. The main criticism of this is that it puts too much power in the hands of administrators, and perhaps it does: but in reply I would quintuple the number of admins. Circa 1000 barely keeps our backlogs clear, and is certainly not adequate to tackle the iniquities of POV-pushing. This also requires clueful admins able to cope with content issues: 5000 +sysop twinklebots will be no good to anyone. However, drastic measures are required to combat the threat from the nationalist horde. If this means a slight expansion of sysop power, so be it.
Formal content arbitration that can issue binding solutions is a must. How such a system would work, at the moment I don't know. However, it is something we must think about. Too often the nationalists win simply by shouting loudest until all opposition is driven away, when reasonable people find that the trolling will simply not cease.
- User:Dbachmann/Wikipedia and nationalism
- User:Dbachmann/Parliamentary nationalism
- User:Antandrus/observations on Wikipedia behavior
- User:Folantin/Userspace Folantin2
- An open debate on how to resolve nationalist conflicts
- My own bubo detection can be found here.
- A collection of useful links is here.
- Wikipedia:General sanctions
- Wikipedia:Editing restrictions
- User:Raul654/Civil POV pushing
- An adaptation of mine, nicely illustrating some of my themes
- If not by God, then he vindicates himself in terms of the "honor" or "higher destiny" of his nation or ethnic group.
- A comparison with commercial POV-pushing is worthwhile, but should not be pushed too far. Spammers can be shown that Wikipedia is not the place for their spam, because no spammer is ultimately inspired by a fanatical love of his company. The same is not true for nationalists, who are beyond the cure of reason.
- CSN has been deprecated: I recommend the administrator's noticeboard as a useful alternative.