Wikipedia:Dissent is not disloyalty

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Photograph of a sticker on a public installation that states "DISSENT DEVELOPS DEMOCRACY" in all-caps with a peace symbol above it
Although Wikipedia is not a democracy, dissent nonetheless contributes to its development as a project.

Editors who express dissent about Wikipedia and its policies and guidelines may be accused of being disloyal or of not working to improve the encyclopedia. In discussions on or about Wikipedia, avoid trivializing others' opinions by attributing the difference of opinion to others' character flaws, immorality, trolling, or other wanton bad faith. Instead, try to recognize the fundamental philosophical differences underlying the disagreement, accept the validity of opinions other than your own, and discuss the issue rather than the participants.

When dealing with dissent, the following advice may help:

  • Avoid ad hominem arguments. That generally means no personal attacks, which are usually considered to be a form of incivility.
  • In general, it is best to assume good faith.
  • Remember, Wikipedia is not a battleground; discuss the issue, not the person.
  • Remember, if an editor discusses a view, that does not necessarily mean they subscribe to such a view. Similarly, if an editor links to something, that does not necessarily mean that views expressed in that link reflect the opinions of the editors who linked to it.
  • Avoid implying guilt by association. Editors are responsible for their own actions, not the actions of others.
  • Avoid creating straw men.

Role of dissent[edit]

Dissent plays an important role in democracies as it enables citizens to contest laws and actions of the government. Wikipedia is not a democracy, however, even though it incorporates some elements which are also present in democratic governments, such as forums for review of decisions, administrators and bureaucrats, and rules. Moreover, like democracies, Wikipedia allows editors to express dissent regarding the content on the encyclopedia or the rules governing the project.

There are limitations to this, though. For example, soapboxing is not allowed, nor are personal attacks, nor is disruptive editing. Some forms of dissent on Wikipedia, such as respectfully proposing changes on talk pages, can be done without leading to any negative consequences for the editor. Other forms of dissent, such as engaging in personal attacks or disrupting the encyclopedia-building process, may lead to editors being blocked or even banned. This shows one of the many differences between a democracy and how Wikipedia is governed.

Another difference is that in many democracies, citizens are given a wide latitude to criticize specific government leaders, even to the point of using pejoratives in protests or the editorial pages of newspapers. On Wikipedia, however, insulting another editor in this manner—including those in administrative, arbitrative, and bureaucratic positions—is strictly forbidden and can lead to blocks or bans.

In Wikipedia, the text of articles can be changed by the consensus of editors, even longstanding content that has been given Featured article status. Indeed, even the policies and guidelines can be changed by the consensus of editors, though substantial changes to policies and guidelines tend to require a much larger level of consensus across the entire Wikipedia community. It is acceptable to advocate for changes to policies and guidelines by doing so in the appropriate talk pages. That said, expressing dissent regarding a particular policy or guideline by deliberately disrupting the encyclopedia-building process is not acceptable. For example, if an editor disagrees with the Wikipedia's notability guidelines for sports, it is acceptable for that editor to argue their position on the talk page of the sports notability guideline. However, the editor should not go around deleting content because it does not conform to their views on sports notability.

Constructive dissent[edit]

If a Wikipedian expresses dissent regarding policies or guidelines in an inappropriate way, such as through disruption or personal attacks, they may be blocked or given other sanctions. As is stated in the policy on Wikipedia not being a soapbox or means of promotion, editors' expression of their opinions in the Wikipedia namespace must be "non-disruptive". This does not prohibit proposals to change policies and guidelines, however, nor would one lose editing privileges for doing so. The key elements to expressing dissent in a constructive way are as follows:

  1. Right approach: Dissent on Wikipedia concerning policies and guidelines should be grounded in a sincere goal to improve the encyclopedia and its editing process, and all criticism should be constructive criticism which proposes concrete and actionable improvements. If your goal is not to improve Wikipedia, but rather to attack it, then a better forum for expressing your views would be a personal blog or another non-Wikipedia forum, such as a letter to a newspaper editor or any of the various websites critical of Wikipedia.
  2. Right place: Use the right place to express dissent. If you disagree with Wikipedia's policy on no original research, expressing this view on hundreds of article talk pages is not appropriate and could be viewed as disruptive behavior. The correct place to express your concerns with this policy would be the talk page of the policy itself.
  3. Right tone: Using inflammatory language and rhetoric is usually counterproductive. Express your views using polite and calm wording. Using "softer" wording such as "may" can work better than words like "should" or "must". Hedging your words can improve the tone; it also ensures clearer emphasis when due, since the absence of hedging language tends to suggest urgency, severity, or even aggression. Avoid absolute language, as well, such as "never" or "always"; qualifiers can help indicate uncertainty and better describe your position. Similarly, avoid numerous exclamation marks, extensive underlining, and all-caps text, all of which are typically taken as excessive displays of emotion and can even be confusing. Other editors are more likely to agree to a more nuanced proposal, especially when presented without hyperbole.
  4. Right proposal: Calling for the removal of a policy—which by definition has massive, project-wide consensus and would have massive, project-wide effects—is neither feasible nor strategic. Generally, editors are far more open to hearing proposals for more incremental modifications to a policy, or some type of very limited exception to the policy, than to radical changes. Policies and guidelines, just like community norms, may shift or deprecate over time, but rarely are they abruptly abandoned.
  5. Right speed: Avoid appeals to urgency and demands for "immediate action". While such rhetoric may work well at a political rally or a protest, on Wikipedia the wheels of change turn very slowly since the encyclopedia has a huge number of editors' views to take into account. As a result, even a minor modification to a policy or guideline may take a long time and lots of discussions on the talk page to achieve enough consensus to implement it.
  6. Right interaction: Build a dialogue with other editors; do not simply keep repeating the same statement. Although summaries or clarifications of previous points may be due, repeating the same argument without acknowledging the responses and criticisms to it can be seen as problematic behavior. Doing so gives other editors the impression that you aren't listening or, worse, that you are intentionally trying to be disrupt the discussion. Moreover, mere repetition is generally not persuasive, since otherwise it would have probably been convincing the first time. When other editors suggest rewording your proposal, try to accommodate their views. If you keep making accommodations with other editors, then eventually a proposal with some degree of consensus may emerge.

So long as these elements characterize your criticisms, your dissent can help improve the encyclopedia. Although Wikipedia is not a democracy, Wikipedia is not perfect, either. Just as constructive edits can help bring Wikipedia closer to achieving its purpose, so too can constructive dissent.