This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
Wikipedia:Civility (also called WP:CIVIL) is an official Wikipedia policy requiring that users "always treat each other with consideration and respect." Closely related is the Wikipedia:No personal attacks (WP:NPA) policy. As of early 2009, there has been renewed interest and commitment in the community to reducing the incidence of rude and abusive behavior, making the enforcement of these two policies more consistent. While it is necessary to discuss violations with editors when they occur, and in more significant cases to leave warnings (and for admins to take action where indicated), little guidance has been provided on how to make good notifications and warnings. This essay documents current best practice in leaving those notifications and warnings.
One of the key tenets of administrative action and dispute resolution on Wikipedia is that we seek to de-escalate situations rather than increase drama and anger in an already upset situation. Enforcement of the civility and personal attacks policies should be guided by the principles we are seeking to uphold.
Policy violators are people too
The editors who we have determined have acted without consideration or respect for others are participants in the Wikipedia project. Both from a basic human standpoint and per our policy to assume good faith of participants, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, we should keep in mind that we are warning not a name or a character on the screen, but a human being, with normal human emotions and values. That person came here to Wikipedia presumably (AGF) to help build the encyclopedia, build and spread the collection of free knowledge to all humankind. Even if they have caused a problem, we want to treat them with decency and attempt to explain the situation and give them every chance we can to reform and continue participating.
The community has to be defended
Balancing the needs of the uncivil editor, we have to protect the community.
Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia built by a million or more people working on the same website without interacting with each other. It's built by a community, using collaboration – many editors get together on each topic they are interested in, and articles are built by cooperative efforts. Sometimes those cooperative efforts are mutual community agreement on article content, sometimes those efforts are by finding a dynamic balance between competing viewpoints. But the community collaboration is greater than the sum of the individual contributors.
Rude or uncivil behavior has direct negative effects on the community:
- The quality of discussion and contribution is immediately lessened in the immediate vicinity of rude and abusive comments and behavior. Abuse does not win arguments – it lessens everyone participating in them, makes it less likely that a good balance point will be found. Abusive conduct is the antithesis of community consensus, one of our core values.
- Many people will chose not to participate in contributing to Wikipedia if they perceive it to be a hostile environment, based on seeing or feeling abusive behavior of others. Driving away other good participants and contributors is highly destructive to the community, whose value is increased by the breadth and diversity of its participants.
What civility warnings are not for
Civility or personal attack warnings are not a tool to fight or win arguments or drive a consensus in one or another direction. The validity of an argument on a factual or stylistic or logical basis is completely unrelated to whether the argument was made in a very polite and respectful way, or if it was made in a vile and horribly abusive way. People can be abusive and yet have a valid point, and be perfectly polite and making a mistake in facts or judgement.
Who should be warned
There is one important warning for editors or administrators who start to wade into a civility dispute:
- Don't take sides
It's entirely possible that only one person is making rude, abusive, or personal attack edits. If that is happening, focus on that person's abusive edits, and keep those distinct from the content or policy arguments they are submitting. If you combine comments on the underlying dispute with comments on the specific abusive edits, you increase the chance that the editor will reject the validity of your warning or complaint, and continue abusive behavior.
If more than one person is making rude, abusive, or personal attack edits, don't take sides in the dispute. Warnings should be issued:
- To each editor who is involved.
- A public note should be posted in the discussion thread(s) where the abuse has happened, indicating that the attacks violated the policies we have, that people are now observing to make sure that the attacks end, and ask everyone to calm down and treat each other with respect.
Again – avoid taking sides in the underlying content dispute. Occasionally, a warning mixed with a little acknowledgment of the offending editor's contributions can encourage cooperation.
Who should make civility warnings
As with other Wikipedia policies, enforcement of most policies is done by community action. Most enforcement is done by pointing out issues and talking about them, sometimes by formal warnings of some sort. If further action is required, such as a block of an account for ongoing problematic behavior, Wikipedia's volunteer administrators have to take that step.
Anyone is empowered to get involved. Most enforcement is done by more experienced editors or the administrators, but anyone who sees abusive uncivil conduct or personal attacks may get involved.
Very new editors are cautioned that you may not understand the policies very well yet, and may not understand the community dynamics yet, but that does not mean that you should sit idly by if you see someone being rude. Just be cautious and respectful when you get involved.
Who should not make civility warnings
If you are involved in a heated argument or just do not like an editor who you see being uncivil, it is generally much to your advantage to let someone else handle the situation. If an accused party knows how you feel about them, they are less likely to accept the validity of any warning you make. You are less likely to make a good and fair warning that respects their value while letting them know they have caused a problem. The best response in this situation is to leave it to others to respond. If you do feel you must warn someone you're involved in a dispute with, do it very carefully, and make it clear what behavior or comment you think was inappropriate; separate out the civility problem from the underlying dispute. If you warn someone, it's best not even to mention the underlying dispute: just focus on the uncivil comment or action until that is resolved and defused.
The best answer, however, is for involved parties to report rather than warn. Have an uninvolved person handle the uncivil behavior.
Warning versus reporting
If you have doubts about your ability to leave good warnings, the best course is to report the behavior and let other more experienced editors and administrators respond. There are several useful venues you can use:
- If you have an administrator you work with and trust, you can notify them directly on their talk page
- Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents, also known as WP:ANI, for a severe or ongoing incident
The first warning
Our goals are to try and modify the behavior of the editor. To accomplish that, the best method is to confront their words which were uncivil, without confronting them as a person or the validity (or not) of their content or policy arguments.
As noted above, we need to balance value of this editor as a human being with defending the encyclopedia and community.
Civility issues deserve individualized answers, not templated warnings. Please talk to the person you're notifying or warning in an individual and personal manner. Some verbosity helps here.
Focus both on the Wikipedia community ("...We have these community standards...") and personalize your notification or warning ("...I hope that you understand this, and expect that you can edit in a more cooperative and civil manner from now on...").
Focusing on the community makes it clear that the standards aren't the arbitrary decision of an individual editor or administrator – they're really set by the community. It also helps set the editor you're warning's mindset – The word "we" includes them, and helps try and fit them into the community.
Personalizing – using "I" in your notification or warning – is more likely to be seen as a real human being on the other end of the note. People have a tendency to depersonalize online text-based communications. This is part of what leads to people being rude or uncivil or making personal attacks online. That happens less if the person leaving the notification or warning clearly articulates their sense of self ("I think...").
See them as a person, and vice versa
Respond to them as a person, and try to be clear that you're expecting to be treated like a human being in response. They're upset about something – we can sympathize with a feeling while being critical about a behavior or expression.
Avoid making the editor defensive
Accusations and threats will make the typical editor defensive or retaliatory, focusing away from their abusive actions and on the person making the warning. This is not a desirable outcome.
The word "you" in warnings can often trigger defensive feelings and feelings of accusation. It should be used carefully, and less prominently if possible. It's hard to avoid it completely – when leaving a warning, you as the warner need to tie the actions to the person you are warning – but when you describe the effects of such words, it's better to do so in the abstract rather than the personal and accusatory.
Focus on the words
Try to focus as quickly as possible on the problematic words (content, or edit summary). Include both a link to the words (edit diffs for the specific edit), the page it happened on, and quote the particularly offending words or edit summary.
- "Hi. I came across some edits you made to [[This page]] and [[That page]], such as [http://wikipedia/link/to/diff this edit] commenting to [[User:Exampleuser]] 'You smell like bad bread' and [http://wikipedia/link/to/otherdiff this other edit summary] which called [[User:SomeoneElse]] someone with 'Brains of spaghetti'"
Focus on the effects of those words
Make it clear to the editor that those words were, or could easily have been considered, harmful.
- "Saying that Exampleuser 'Smells like bad bread' is rude and hurtful to them, it's accusing them of having bad hygiene and has nothing to do with the discussion you were having about [[This page]]."
List the policy which applies
Clearly list out which Wikipedia policies were violated, with a descriptive name rather than an acronym or shorthand link.
Using a shorthand link (such as WP:AGF or WP:CIVIL or WP:NPA) is fine for discussions among experienced editors. New editors, however, have no idea what these links stand for. Our goal here is to treat the user concerned in an individual and respectful manner while engaging them with the warning notice. So don't use the shorthand. Write out the article name or add a descriptive explanation for its link, at least the first time you reference it. A follow-up to show what the shorthand means is fine – after you've explained it once first.
- "When you told SomeoneElse that they had 'brains of spaghetti', that was a violation of [[WP:NPA|our policy against making personal attacks on other editors]]."
- "Also, your comment to ExampleUser that they 'smelled like bad bread' broke our rules on [[Wikipedia:Civility|editing and discussing in a constructive and civil manner]]."
- "These policies, also known as [[WP:NPA]] and [[WP:CIVIL]], are important core policies in the Wikipedia community."
Explain the rationale behind the policies
Ask them to retract the comment(s)
One great way to defuse a situation is for editors to acknowledge that they went too far, and to strike out their rude or abusive comments, thereby retracting them.
"One easy resolution for this situation is to go to your edits on [[This page]] ( [http://wikipedia/link/to/diff this edit] ) and retract them by "striking" them out. You can do this by putting the comment within a strike like this: <strike>
within a strikeout</strike>. If you want to politely restate the points you were trying to make, that's fine, but retracting the actual attack would be very helpful."
Some people will have a hard time doing more than simply stopping what they had done, but in a tense situation when someone does understand they made a mistake, a retraction or strikeout helps everyone involved.
Explain the consequences
For new users, clearly and politely explaining where they are now and what the consequences will be if the problem continues is very important. We can only hope they behave as well as we explain our expectations, and only expect as well as we point out what will happen if they do not.
- "This notice is only a minor warning. Years from now, nobody will really care about it if this is all that happened with you now. However, we do take these policies seriously. Editors who continue to edit in a rude or abusive manner will continue to receive stronger warnings over time."
- "We hope that it won't come to that, but ongoing or extreme violations of these policies can be prevented or enforced by Wikipedia administrators who may block accounts from editing for short periods of time. Serious or ongoing incidents can result in permanent blocks on editing."
Expect them to do better
In closing, we need to set expectations for future behavior. We could ask them to abide by the policy, but some people will just say "no" if you ask them nicely, to be contrary. Without being abusive, it's often more successful to set a level of expectations, what the community expects from participants and how you expect this editor to behave in the future.
- "I hope that the explanation above was clear to you. If not, I'd be happy to explain further."
- "The Wikipedia community expects that everyone who is participating will respect each other and cooperate in a collaborative manner. I hope that you understand how important civil discussion is for the community to thrive. I expect that you will try and discuss things in a more constructive manner in the future."
Ultimately, asking for and expecting the best from people is the best way to get them to cooperate.
Close with a personalized end note of some sort that continues to show them personal respect.
- "Thank you. ~~~~"
Personalize the script!
This document has provided most of the text that you would need to leave a generic civility warning. This has not been templated or put together in one place for convenience, on purpose.
Editors and administrators who are leaving civility warnings are cautioned to not just cut and paste this document at someone... that completely evades the objective to treat the person we're warning as an individual.
Is it ok to use some of the quoted text above? Sure. But it's not the exact right text for every individual person we might have to warn. It's an example, not a template.
Much better is to take this text and document as a framework and some tools, and for you to personalize the warnings you leave for people.
This really doesn't take that long. Reviewing an editor's edits in enough depth to really understand if they are causing a problem will take longer than writing a completely custom warning for them.
Spending the effort to make each notice or warning as personalized as possible is part of the point.
Further warnings in later incidents
If there are recurring problems much later, with a user who had calmed down after an earlier first warning, then a similar but slightly different approach should be taken to the first warnings message.
The user already has some context, from the earlier warning, but they may not have kept it at the front of their mind. The purpose of a further warning in a later incident then is to try to firmly bring the civility policy back into their thoughts and try and make sure they don't forget it again.
Again – the objective is to modify their behavior, and in a positive manner.
Further warnings in the same incident
If the abuse continues within the same incident, the further warnings should be left to emphasize the point and make the escalation path clear.
For other types of abuse incident, a four-step warning process has been established. A friendly warning, two levels of escalating warning, then a final warning. We'll talk about the final warning more in the next section.
For the further, escalating warnings, we do want to keep in mind our fundamental goals – assume good faith, treat the editor we're warning as a human being, and try to defuse the situation rather than escalate it. But we also must protect the encyclopedia and community.
Ongoing refusal to cooperate with policy does require that we be firmer with the escalating warnings. Also, if we don't make it more clear to people, they may not understand the significance or believe that they could really be blocked from editing.
- Stay polite, under all circumstances
- As with the initial warning or notification, be specific – links to diffs, quote the offending comment or edit summary, and explain what's wrong with it.
- Be firm.
- Encourage the editor to stop participating in the particular discussion that's causing them to react uncivilly.
- Make it clear that this is an escalating warning, and that further abuse will lead to a final warning and if necessary a block.
If a civility or personal attacks situation has continued to escalate past multiple warnings, it's time for a final warning.
Final warnings still have to keep our goals in mind – AGF, be polite, try to defuse rather than escalate, and protect the encyclopedia.
But we also have to firmly draw the line in the sand. Whatever the cause, this behavior has reached the line in the sand. Further abuse will result in an editor being blocked to protect the encyclopedia and its community.
As the next step is a block, it's highly recommended that final warnings be left by administrators, who can administer a block if there is further abuse. If a non-administrator has been trying to respond to a situation previously, unless you are deeply experienced with Wikipedia policy, it's recommended at this stage that you report (see above: The Administrators' noticeboard for incidents, an administrator you trust).
Final warnings should be:
- ...Unambiguous about what edits after the most recent edit continued to violate policy.
- ...Firm that the community policy is important and needs to be respected by every participant.
- ...Clear that any further abuses will result in the account being blocked from editing.
- ...Clear that the editor being warned really should stop participating in the discussion which is provoking the behavior, at least until they calm down.
- ...Personal, and individualized, not template messages.
Help, my warnings don't include all of these ideas!
Some editors and administrators may be intimidated by the size of this essay and its recommendations. Don't panic.
This essay collects the underlying ideas and best parts of a wide number of civility and personal attacks warnings left by its author, and other administrators and editors. Reviewing the authors' own contributions, none of them come close to fully complying with the recommendations of this essay.
We do not expect every warning to be perfect. What we do expect is that you think about this, and do your best to do as good a job as you can.
This essay represents a best practice. If we can think of the best way to handle the situation, it should be in here. Often a less rigorous response will be good enough in a particular situation. However, the better you can do and more consistently that you can do it, the better off the encyclopedia and its community will be.
The Wikipedia community selects administrators whose judgement we trust. This essay document exists to support and expand that trust and judgement, not replace it.
- Assume good faith.
- Respect every editor.
- Protect the encyclopedia.
- Be clear.
- Be firm.
- Ask for the best from people we have to warn.