Wikipedia:Conspiracy theory accusations
|This page in a nutshell: A user who believes another editor has a COI based on a conspiracy theory may have disqualified themselves from editing to some degree.|
Conspiracy theory accusations against other editors are very serious violations of our "assume good faith" (AGF) guideline and "no personal attacks" (NPA) policy. They are often made by editors who themselves believe in certain conspiracy theories, and when they don't get their fringe theories included as fact, they accuse other editors of being part of the conspiracy. When they make accusations or insinuations that another editor is involved in a conspiracy to prevent the inclusion of these fringe points of view, they poison the well against that editor so seriously as to disqualify the accusing editor from editing some articles and editing in the proximity of the editor so accused. No one who edits Wikipedia with a conspiracy theory mentality can ever be taken seriously because that mindset violates AGF on so many levels. When directed at other editors, such violations of AGF and NPA should be taken very seriously and lead to prompt warnings and sanctions.
Identifying conspiracy accusations
The critical feature in distinguishing conspiracy theory based accusations from simple accusations of sockpuppetry, meatpuppetry, and even cabals is that there must be a claim of a powerful external entity which has a vested interest in the article(s) on Wikipedia and, therefore, must have agents infiltrating the editing process. Accusations are based on this entity's existence, not any specific activity (e.g. multiple single purpose accounts). The conspiracy accusation shares features with other tendentious behaviors and impassioned advocacies, but goes the extra step of attacking the whole collaborative process as "corrupted" when there is an important "Truth" that the "agents" (any editors who disagree) are burying. Seeing these features should raise warning bells, since such an editor perceives enemies on Wikipedia prior to the first edit. If the behavior worsens upon more outside editors' involvement through talk pages, RfCs, dispute resolution, or noticeboards, such escalation should be considered an ominous sign.
Nothing at Wikipedia, including the sacred and supreme NPOV policy, can function properly in an uncollaborative atmosphere. Collaboration and dispute resolution are more important than content contributions in a wiki community. While counterintuitive, this is because editors who are consistently disruptive and uncivil, or who bully or filibuster others into submitting to their will, will continuously alienate other contributors. These in turn will become a wellspring of resentment and negativity, which will worsen the alienation caused by the disruptive contributors. An otherwise productive contributor who cannot collaborate is not a productive contributor.
It is impossible for an editor who does not assume good faith about another editor to enter into a collaborative relationship with that editor, and any editing done by such an editor will be characterized by their assumptions of bad faith, often leading to personal attacks, violations of BLP principles, accusations of conflicts of interest, and sometimes even outing of other editors, thus seriously compromising their own ability to edit in an NPOV and collegial manner. They may often exhibit a megalomaniacal point of view that puts them beyond the realm of reasonable discourse or dispute resolution. They may also use their own original research based on sources that may be unverifiable and/or unreliable.
Poisoning the well
An assumption or accusation that another editor (or the subject of an article) is involved in a real or imagined conspiracy poisons the well so thoroughly — and involves so serious and complex assumptions of bad faith and beliefs in a conflict of interest — as to disqualify the editor holding such beliefs from editing articles related to the subject and/or editing in the proximity of the editor so accused.
It is not enough for the accusing editor to believe in or even prove the existence of "dots" (incontrovertible facts), and then connect those dots into a pattern that is assumed to prove the existence of the conspiracy and the involvement of the editor or subject in that conspiracy. The connection of the dots (reasoning processes involved) must not include any original research. Such connections must be proven so convincingly (using well-proven facts from verifiable and reliable sources, and no assumptions at all) that the reasonable minds of a jury of other editors will believe the accusation beyond a reasonable doubt. Any reasonable doubt should result in sanctions against the accuser, since such serious accusations cannot be ignored and disruption must be prevented. The accused editor must be able to edit freely without feeling they have a shadow cast over their reputation.
There is an important unwritten corollary to Wikipedia:Please do not bite the newcomers: "Please do not tell the newcomers that the other editors bite." Such predictions will color the perception of criticism, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Too often, a new editor makes an edit that is badly flawed, but not without some redeeming feature. Even experienced editors cannot help such a newcomer develop the idea when the discussion is being interrupted by accusations of obstructionism in the name of some vast, diffuse, sinister cartel. Worse, the frustrated newcomer may pick up the banner and propagate the claims.
Often no hope of correction
If the editor holding such conspiracy theory beliefs is so motivated by them as to make any personal attacks, commit violations of BLP principles, or indulge in outing or other forms of harassment, it can lead to a serious disruption of Wikipedia's collegial atmosphere, disturbing the collaborative editing process so seriously that the editor in question should then be blocked or site banned. This is based on the belief that a serious belief in conspiracy theories is often immune to correction, since it involves many cognitive processes, psychological mechanisms, and political beliefs that are often intertwined with the very identity of the person holding them.
These factors often put them beyond the reach of reason and make them impervious to good arguments and third opinions, things which are part of the normal dispute resolution process. Their conspiracy thinking resists all attempts at contradiction. When requested to produce reliable sources, they may respond with what they consider the ultimate proof of their theory:
- "Of course I have no absolute proof. They are so powerful that they can cover their tracks and even remove all proof of their conspiracy, but what's happening is so clear that only a total idiot can't see it!"
This seems perfectly reasonable to them but is completely unacceptable here. We must have reliable sources. They will often compound the problem by resorting to personal attacks and accusations against other editors:
- "It's plain to see that you are paid by the industry to defend their POV by ONLY using industry and mainstream sources. You won't even consider that ALL INDEPENDENT SOURCES contradict their POV. ALL OF THEM! You are just part of their coverup. You have a huge conflict of interest and shouldn't be allowed to edit this article. Besides, I have a PhD in this subject. I'm a real expert. You're unqualified to speak on this subject."
These arguments reveal a lack of understanding of many of our policies and guidelines.
Fortunately their state of mind isn't necessarily lifelong, since people sometimes come into possession of new knowledge, experience life altering personal crises, and other things that cause them to undergo deep changes in their ways of thinking and adherence to certain misleading conspiracy thinking paradigms. They may be redeemable, but that is not Wikipedia's responsibility. Until they change their way of thinking, they must take their attitude elsewhere.
Analogously to accusations of sockpuppetry, editors who accuse another editor of acting on behalf of a conspiracy to whitewash an article should either make a report in the appropriate place (likely arbcom) or back away from the accusation.
If it is proven that the accused editor has a truly serious conflict of interest, it should lead to sanctions affecting that editor's editing privileges. This may be in the form of warnings, topic bans, short blocks, or indef blocks. Regardless of what the case may be, it should result in disciplinary consequences that will affect the editing privileges of one or the other editor. It should not affect both of the editors, since mere allegations should never affect the falsely accused editor's ability to edit at Wikipedia, and the making of false charges is so serious a matter that it must be sanctioned. It's a total win or total lose situation for the accuser, as the burden of proof is on them. Due to the serious and complex nature of conspiracy charges, the possibility of editing sanctions should be discussed with the offender. They should receive a very clear first warning. If the discussion doesn't lead to immediate changes in behavior, enforcement should follow. There should be no repetition of warnings for further violations that do not also lead to stronger penalties. It is suggested that warning templates be created pointing to this essay if it ever becomes a guideline.