Wikipedia:Don't be the Fun Police

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Malvolio: Don't be this guy!

Wikipedia ultimately exists for our readers. The prime responsibility of the editing community is to make our content useful and interesting for those readers, not to fuss over things that readers never see and do not care about. To some extent, editing is a serious business, one that calls for a certain amount of professionalism.

But being an editor is also being a part of a community. And unless your username ends in something like "WMF", editing Wikipedia is your hobby. It's not your job. One of the main features of a hobby is that you do it for your own enjoyment. If it's not enjoyable, it's not a hobby any more. You will stop doing it, if not immediately, then just as soon as the habit of doing it wears off. And it will inevitably wear off if you're no longer enjoying the effort it takes to do it. Wikipedia loses an editor each day that happens.

Unfortunately, some editors become self-appointed Fun Police. They spend little time creating or improving content, and instead devote themselves to tidying up things that are invisible to readers, trying to impose order where it's not needed, disdaining anything that they don't think is funny, and enforcing rules for rules' sake. They may mean well, but they are actually engaging in a kind of disruptive conduct.

Ways Wikipedians have fun[edit]

Dourness is repulsive both to the healthy and the sick.


One of the most obvious ways is editing articles. Editors love to provide sources, tag dubious claims, tweak wording, and fix grammatical mistakes. Arguments that drag their attention away from that make editing less fun for these people.

Another way many Wikipedians have fun is by building consensus on controversial topics. Some editors enjoy tracking down obscure references to determine whether they're reliable or not, finding compromises between two ideological sides debating the tone of the article, explaining to new editors what kind of sourcing they need in order to make controversial changes, and digging through sources to determine which facts we can and cannot state with assurance. These editors relish lively talk page discussions.

Some editors like to tinker with things. Bots and templates and modules, oh my! Categories for mainspace articles are a popular focus, as they appeal to our basic psychological need to organize and sort. Square peg? Square hole!

And then, there are the Little Things™. These are the things that unite us in lots of small, inconsequential ways. They're the things that remind us that we're human, and working alongside other humans. (Of course, we are not here only to do these things.) The talk page chit-chat. The joke pages in user or wiki space. Fancy signatures. Zany userboxes. Weird, funny, clever, or proud user categories. Barnstars and awards for genuinely appreciated good work, as well as ones that are just silly. Things that you almost have to be looking for to notice – and that readers of our articles will never see and never care about. And yet, without these positive reinforcements, we would have less creation and maintenance of the articles that are Wikipedia's reason for existence.


The Shakespearean character Malvolio was the embodiment of petty and officious priggishness.

Malvolio was a character in one of Shakespeare's comedies, Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Malvolio's role in the play was as the butt of jokes. As a result, Malvolio hated fun.

Drinking? Sober up, you sot. Carousing? We'll not have any of that, thank you very much! Giggling in public? My God, have you no shame? Playing games? Cease this nonsense at once!

He was puritanical, self-righteous, judgemental, arrogant, condescending, and confrontational, even as he secretly hoped for the love of a beautiful woman. He was the death of the party. And above all, Malvolio had his own ideas about what was proper and right, and he stuck to his guns with determination and conviction, putting others in their place whenever he felt it necessary.

Seriously, does anyone actually want to be this guy?

The Fun Police[edit]

One should beware of those who cannot or will not laugh when others are merry, for if not mentally defective they are spiteful, selfish or abnormally conceited ... Great men of all nations and of all times have possessed a keen appreciation of the ridiculous, as wisdom and wit are closely allied.

Leander Hamilton McCormick (1920)

Some editors fall into the pattern of acting much as Malvolio did, sometimes with the best of intentions. But it's important to realize that acting this way is not helpful, and may actually work against Wikipedia's best interests.

How dare you make an April Fools' Day joke!

There is often a distinctive pattern to how these Fun Police operate:

  • Locate editors having fun, or doing things that appear not to be "orderly".
  • Locate an obscure P&G that can have the effect of countermanding the having of fun in this way.
    If they find such a P&G:
    • Cite it as they accuse the editor having fun of violating the rules, and threaten them with sanctions.
  • If they don't find it:
    • Privately discuss the creation of such a rule in an obscure location.
    • Create an RfC with a deceptive question that paints the proposal in a good light.
    • Use misleading predictions about the future to support this proposal.
      If their RfC succeeds:
      • Pester the fun-having editors with this new rule until they either (a) comply or (b) lash out.
    • If their RfC fails (most often the case):
      • Pester the fun-having editors with talk page messages until they, in effect, comply with the intent of the failed proposal, or lash out.
        If the fun-having editor complies:
        • Seek out more editors having fun to continue the fight.
      • If the fun-having editor lashes out:
        • Share a diff of the lashing out with a sympathetic admin. Bait the fun-having editor until they lash out again, if the sympathetic admin does not immediately block them.
    • Start the search for a new target.
    • Congratulate each other and award each other barnstars for "improving" the project.

Being like Malvolio is going to make a lot of editors dislike you, although some editors, who have their fun the same way you have yours, will like you for it. They will see a stalwart defense of The Right Way To Do Things. You may very well believe in all sincerity that you are upholding the work of the project as a serious and business-like enterprise. You may very well believe in all sincerity that it is important to maintain orderliness and consistency. But you're actually doing things the wrong way. You see, if your fun comes from taking satisfaction in ruining other people's fun, then you're likely to be the problem.

All this for having added an "inappropriate" user category? Really?

And the thing is, it doesn't take much to avoid this problem. All you have to do is not scold people for telling jokes. Not edit their userpages to remove boxes or categories you don't think belong there. Not campaign to put an end to custom signatures. Let it go if they edit warred over your removal of that user category you just deleted from their user page, because you were edit warring too. It doesn't matter if their signature is just barely outside of the limits recommended by guidelines. And if they are doing something in article space that may seem inconsequential to them, but that interferes with something technical, explain your objections by explaining how that edit negatively affects page function, rather than by scolding them for violating some rule. Whatever automatically-generated list they showed up on, none of it was a problem until you made it one. And if our readers aren't going to care about it, then it's really not what the project is about.

It's a losing proposition in the long term.

Out there, amidst the barren wastelands of userspace are strewn countless abandoned pages of long-departed editors who just couldn't fathom why Wikipedia took itself so seriously. Many of them just wanted to update some celebrity's birthday, or make a few friends while they craft a bio of their favorite 18th century mathematician, or play around with CSS in between rounds of reverting vandalism. We'll never know how many editors the Fun Police have chased off this site, because those editors are gone. Most of the time, they didn't leave a departing note, explaining why they quit editing, because all they could imagine was a Malvolio reverting it with an edit summary like "see WP:NOTSOCIAL".


Although Wikipedia editors should be allowed to have fun, this is not a carte blanche to do anything, no matter how disruptive, in the name of fun. In particular, it is important to practice responsible humor that does not disrupt the encyclopedic functions of Wikipedia, and to abide by the community's consensus-determined rules for April Fools' Day.

In conclusion[edit]

Are you:

  • creating or improving content?
  • working to achieve consensus?
  • building camaraderie in the editing community?

Good! Thank you!

But if you are:

  • faulting other users because they made a harmless joke that you don't think is funny;
  • making up rules for rules' sake;
  • enforcing order simply for order's sake;
  • seeking conformity over something that our readers will never even be aware of;

Maybe you need to reassess what you are doing here – or find another hobby!

Wikipedia needs editors, or it fails. And by showing your concern over doing things the right way, as you see it, you're letting us know that you care about Wikipedia. So if appealing to your compassion for other editors isn't gonna do it, then listen to your fondness for this project. Don't chase off other editors.

See also[edit]