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Let's start with gathering some comments and ideas. Once we have that material upon which to base more solid measures, we can move on to draft proposals.

General comments[edit]

From Vassyana[edit]

Some essays possibly worth noting:

From Kafka Liz[edit]

It's hard to know precisely where to begin here, given such a broad canvas. To comment on the burnout issue, though, I think it's easy enough to see how this happens. Every editor and administrator has his or her niche here, be it types of tasks they prefer accomplishing or content areas for which they have an affinity. In more obscure content areas, the circle of interested editors and administrators naturally shrinks. I wrote recently that:

Few administrators can fulfill the role that ChrisO and Future Perfect do, less because other administrators lack the necessary background knowledge (although this plays a part as well), but because most administrators just don't care. I know from experience that my requests for help from admins with these types of disputes rarely elicits a speedy response (initial report [1] and response some 6 hours and 71 intervening edits later [2]), if it meets with a response at all [3]

My point here is that there is always some problem that captures more eyes. Sometimes it's a problem with plagiarism or copyright violations - and I agree this is understandably more weighty in the eyes of the community (as it is with me personally): it is a genuine problem, and more users understand why it's an issue. Other times, though, it seems that edit-warring, sock puppetry and distortion of historical fact come a distant second to the latest rude thing that Notorious Editor X said, or some inane RfA oppose from Notorious Editor Y. Add on the differences of timezones and the constraints of Real Life, and the result is that a very small number of editors have or take the time to combat obscure POV issues. Fewer still have access to the tools that are sometimes necessary to protect the encyclopedia. It's small wonder that many get frustrated and give up. Kafka Liz (talk) 00:32, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

Deacon of Pndapetzim[edit]

Nationalist editors by their very nature have a conflict of interest editing this encyclopedia and are mostly unable to edit the encyclopedia in a neutral way. The ones who stick around usually pay some lip-service to our content policies, but the latter are used tendentiously. When they edit against each other, it's just a big game that to an outsider is laughable. Editors who are shown to be like this should be topic-banned. Everyone has ideologies of course, and everyone is entitled to them, but you shouldn't be entitled to edit an encyclopedia when the ideologies are so strong you have a conflict of interest. Because if you could, you would be relying on the same number of neutral users and users with the opposite ideologies to balance them out, and as so many cases make clear, we can't rely on that. In huge areas of article space, most of the editors attracted are attracted there primarily by ideological factors (e.g. Denial_of_the_Holodomor, Caucasian Albania, Great Famine (Ireland)). Fine, we can welcome a literate and well-educated Albanian or Greek or Polish nationalist to wikipedia, and they can be encouraged to edit F1 articles or the biographies of US politicians or 70s rock stars, but not Albanian or Greek or Polish historical topics when they have shown they can't moderate their CoI. We have these standards for other parts of wikipedia, there's little reason CoI can't be extended to this kind of thing. Adminship is not the only thing on wikipedia that carries responsibility: editing does too. And even if we don't extend it generally, we can still extend it over their most beloved things, like placename spellings, ethnic terminology, and so on, leaving these things to be discussed by neutral editors, who are actually capable of meaningful discussion. This is preferable to the current practice, which is essentially little more sophisticated that putting two groups of nationalists, or one group of nationalists and one group of neutrals, on each side of a pair of scales and handing "victory" to the one nearest the ground. NB: If this process appears to be going anywhere this statement will likely be edited many times

Identified issues[edit]

Climate and editor issues[edit]

From Hiberniantears[edit]

Because of the real world contentiousness that surrounds many of the topics that are also contentious on Wikipedia, many of the editors who are regulars on a given topic or article tend to be on a short fuse. This is not to imply that they are hotheads by nature, but because these article suffer from polarized editors trying to reveal the "truth", an atmosphere of incivility often becomes a default setting.

This default aggressive stance is the result of a variety of factors. While there are many editors on Wikipedia who stress the need for civility, and noticeboards exist where editors and admins concerned about Wikiquette can be alerted to situations which require a calming influence, it is rare that editors practiced in civility are willing to spend any long term period of time alongside editors and admins equally practiced in NPOV editing. While a list could certainly be assembled of admins who are strong in both areas, this list is short in comparison to the number of articles and subjects in need.

Admins who care more about NPOV and less about civility are more likely than Admins who care more about civility to be active in contentious articles. The reason for this may very well be that someone who cares strongly about incivility is going to find contentious topics to be a very distasteful area to work in. Barring a more dedicated effort on the part of the civility police to enter contentious areas, remain active in them, and offer cover for the NPOV editors to quietly work on sifting bad editors from the good, there really isn't anything that will improve the climate as it exists now. Admins are losing the NPOV war when the violate civility restrictions. Rather than bless incivility, we should, as a community, make a very real effort to act as admin teams, rather than as one admin besieged within an article having circles run round them by POV warriors. Hiberniantears (talk) 16:59, 11 June 2009 (UTC)

From Durova[edit]

The Wikipedia community does not respect work in contentious topics. The pejorative term 'drama' gets applied to any participation at all. Editors who value their wikipolitical futures soon learn that assistance with anything controversial is a liability. So disputes that need more administrative attention actually receive less of it. DurovaCharge! 04:47, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

From Jehochman[edit]

If you wade into a difficult dispute, you may be attacked by both sides. The result is often multiple lengthy threads of hyperventilating criticism. Nobody gives out barnstars to administrators who deal with hard problems. In baseball there is a rule not to argue with the umpire. Players get ejected if they do. It is a tradition that umpires occasionally make the wrong call, but everyone is expected to deal with it and keep doing their best. We need more of that attitude in our community.

Lack of administrators willing to deal with hard problems causes burnout of editors working in those troubled areas. 9/11 is a good example. There are a steady stream of recycled banned users coming back as sock puppet accounts. People get very tired of playing whack-a-mole. It is hard work to find uninvolved administrators and bring them up to speed on what is going on.

Common pitfalls[edit]

From Hiberniantears[edit]

The key common pitfall is bothering to try and be an administrator in any topic area dominated by nationalists. Total waste of time given the recent remedies by ArbCom. Hiberniantears (talk) 13:09, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

llywrch comments[edit]

Another deterrent to uninvolved Admins & mediators is the fact that worst of the difficult areas are on topics where the facts are well known to all. Abortion, for example, might generate a lot of heat, but AFAIK has never been the headache the Balkan-related edit wars have been because the medical facts about the procedure are pretty cut-n-dried; with abortion, the dispute is over what the opposing parties believe. In nationalistic disputes, unless you are familiar with the facts one or more editors can buffalo a mediator by making spurious claims which are not evidently falsifiable. For example, was ancient Macedonia truly a Greek kingdom, or a Slavic/Albanian people with a Greek ruling class, or a Slavic/Albanian kingdom whose rulers had adopted Greek culture & spoke Greek? If you know something about that part of Ancient History, then you know that no definite is possible with the evidence we have up to about 5-10 years ago. And you will only know what has been discovered since then -- & if it is relevant to the discussion -- only if you are an expert in the field. But to anyone who grew up in Greece or the Balkans, because of what they were taught in school they sincerely think that only one of these three possibilities is the truth & the rest either obsolete teaching or malicious propaganda. -- llywrch (talk) 19:02, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

Not to sidetrack this, but abortion is a problematic topic. Some elements of the pro-life movement have focused on a "scientific" approach, meaning that rather than argue the moral case against abortion, they have tried to prove that it is objectively harmful (physically or psychologically) to women. For awhile, they claimed that abortion causes breast cancer (no), and subsequently that it caused depression and psychiatric problems (probably not, but much harder to disentangle the procedure itself from the underlying situations that put people at risk for both depression and unwanted pregnancies). Take a look at abortion-breast cancer hypothesis and abortion and mental health. In the latter case, I spent 6 very frustrating months dealing with a seriously tendentious agenda account; I was unable to get administrative help to resolve the situation, which culminated in Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Strider12, a most unpleasant and (to my mind) unnecessary experience.

If there is less disruption on those articles, it may be because there is a fairly strong "middle" of reasonable long-time editors who help stabilize the articles. Abortion is a topic of interest to a wide spectrum of people, so it draws a lot of editors and a reasonable representation of moderate views. On the other hand, naming issues in the Greek-Macedonian conflict are of relatively little general interest in much of the English-speaking world, with the result that the editing population at those articles disproportionately represents people with strongly entrenched, passionate views on the subject. There is an analagous situation at truly fringey articles like AIDS denialism, where historically, at times, a majority of active editors have been deeply committed AIDS denialists - not exactly a recipe for calm discussion and neutrality. MastCell Talk 20:16, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

Mastcell, your analysis may be more accurate. -- llywrch (talk) 06:27, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

From Heimstern[edit]

The current ArbCom situation is in and of itself a pitfall. That ArbCom will only enforce conduct policy effectively causes policies such as civility and edit warring to rank above those of NPOV and verifiability. The approach seems to be "enforce conduct policies; content will inevitably follow". But around here, it doesn't. In the smaller wiki I admin, we admins can pretty much enforce only conduct policies, but there's a few of reasons for this: 1., smaller wiki that's easy to keep policed, 2., relatively few conduct issues (rarely do we block for anything except simple vandalism, 3., next to no serious content disputes (heck, when your wiki is about dumb animal characters, it's hard to consider any content dispute serious). By contrast, here at Wikipedia, we have to deal with POV-pushers who've learnt well how to remain pretty well within our conduct policies and who've figured out how to use said policies, especially the civility policy, as a cudgel against those who try to stand in their way. Something needs to give here. We need a method to stop POV-pushers from being able to content-lawyer ad infinitum through some sort of binding content decision-making process. Heimstern Läufer (talk) 14:17, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

From Vecrumba[edit]

A common problem is accusing editors of being SPAs and nationalists, contending that one's alternate (non-nationalist) ethnic heritage makes them inherently more neutral, also, in judging content on the appearance of words rather than the content of reputable sources being referenced and represented. Discussions should be focused on sources and less on consensus—which required no sources. Controlling content on articles by filing requests for arbitration or enforcement should be banned for all semi-protected articles; all articles on contentious topics should be so semi-protected. Egregious behaviour at such articles can be dealt with regardless.

The issue is quite frankly, that we have made WP all about voting (consensus) and not about content (reputable sources fairly and accurately represented) and are suffering the consequences.  PЄTЄRS VЄСRUМВАtalk  04:52, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

Potential problems to avoid in solutions[edit]

Observations by Durova[edit]

Three related phenomena can stymie Wikipedia's noticeboard system:

  • Clubbing: when a dispute has a sufficiently large threshold of participants, partisans from both sides flood each new noticeboard thread. The complexity of claims and counterclaims, along with the sheer bulk of discussion, effectively drives away most uninvolved Wikipedians.
  • Shielding: unproductive editors whose conduct would otherwise result in a swift topic ban or siteban get protected by other partisans within a large dispute. Shielding is both a cause and an effect of clubbing.
  • Complaint backlog: legitimate problems that would otherwise result in user blocks don't get administered with regularity at chronic disputes. So when a noticeboard thread does go up, one or more parties often raises backlog issues tangentially related to the thread itself.

The complaint backlog generates a positive feedback loop in conjunction with clubbing and shielding, which eventually heads to arbitration. Ideally arbitration would identify and remove the principal aggressors. Two problems have hindered that and made the general situation worse:

  1. For about a year the Arbitration Committee wrote a lot of soft decisions with discretionary sanctions, in the mistaken belief that a sufficient quantity of uninvolved administrators existed who would implement the discretionary sanctions. Usually the clubbing phenomenon continued at arbitration enforcement (along with shielding and the complaint backlog), which ultimately meant that discretionary sanctions were only effective with small disputes.
  2. More recently the Arbitration Committee has embarked upon a more 'robust' course of action, but has implemented stern remedies indiscriminately. Several experienced administrators and seasoned editors have recently been sanctioned upon very slim evidence, which is likely to result in long term disincentive against editors who care about their wiki-reputations doing anything to intervene at chronic disputes.

The principal challenge is to develop new solutions that break the vicious circle of clubbing/shielding/complaint backlog, while creating incentives that reward uninvolved Wikipedians for normalizing tough areas (instead of penalizing them for the attempt). In doing so, it is important to bear in mind that most of Wikipedia's chronic dispute areas will receive a steady influx of new partisans because these disputes have real-world dimensions. DurovaCharge! 21:22, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

Rough ideas and general approaches[edit]

An approach would be to forbid admin abuse complaints from WP:ANI. Complaints of abuse are often frivolous, and lead to a trial-by-mob atmosphere. We could provide a more structured environment for appealing administrators' actions. We've had good results at WP:AE by creating a standard format for enforcement requests. People are now required to provide basic details of their request and substantiating diffs. If an appeals noticeboard were created, it could take that same approach. Jehochman Talk 13:52, 12 June 2009 (UTC)

I dunno. Grant that many of the complaints of admin abuse at ANI are spurious, but sometimes there are genuine problems, and if a new user needs to report one, having them go through an elaborate appeals process is probably going to drive them away. --Akhilleus (talk) 16:15, 12 June 2009 (UTC)
To be honest, 95% of "zOMG admin abuse" threads on AN/I are dismissed as ranting. Sometimes they even result in the block of the filing party, or the identification of additional socks, because the filer's thought process has been exposed to the light of day. I don't see the AN/I threads as a huge problem, and it's probably worth retaining some sort of streamlined process for really urgent issues of "admin abuse", which do occasionally arise. MastCell Talk 18:48, 12 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Along the lines above: a lower threshold for stomping on vexatious litigation. The major drain on administrative involvement is endless wikilawyering. Anyone with a complaint should be able to voice it and get feedback. However, if that feedback roundly suggests that the complaint is groundless, then we shouldn't really tolerate the current standard practice of forum-shopping it, recycling it, belaboring it at length, etc. Anyone who spends a bit of time at WP:AE will quickly appreciate the toll of vexatious litigation, exacerbated by "probations" and discretionary sanctions which result in a federal case being built out of things that should really just die on the vine. MastCell Talk 18:52, 12 June 2009 (UTC)
  • See above thread by Durova on clubbing and shielding. The solo ranters are dealt with swiftly enough. When a club is offended by an administrator, then there is trouble. Jehochman Talk 10:42, 13 June 2009 (UTC)

Just drafted a little userspace essay here for anyone interested. This is my general approach at the beginning of content disputes that I take on. Fair warning: it's a bit frank, so might not show mediation in the bestest of lights (those who know the secret handshake will tell you that mediations are generally damp, dark, and dank in the beginning). Thoughts? Xavexgoem (talk) 15:21, 21 June 2009 (UTC)

Not a bad essay. I wish I had something like that back in the old days when I tried to be a mediator -- & wasn't much good at it. -- llywrch (talk) 19:17, 30 June 2009 (UTC)