Wikipedia:Don't call a spade a spade

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On Wikipedia, we inevitably deal with a few difficult people. Some editors are only here to cause trouble, either by making destructive edits, by pushing an agenda, or by stirring up controversy. Others may believe so strongly that they are right that they are unable to edit collaboratively. We sometimes block or ban such users as part of the work of building and maintaining the encyclopedia. It can be tempting when dealing with such individuals to "call a spade a spade". However, doing so is not a necessary part of dealing effectively with them, and it can be a very bad idea.

We come from a multitude of backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life, and communication on the internet is not always easy. Adding to this barrier is the fact that we are each willing to assume good faith up to a certain point – beyond that point the other editor is clearly pushing a point of view, or vandalizing, or trolling, or somehow not contributing in good faith. Whatever they're doing, it's surely against a rule, and they need to be blocked for it, or at least warned!

At this point, many of us will be tempted to declare that our opponent clearly "is a POV pusher", "is a vandal", "is a drama queen", "has a conflict of interest", "is a troll", "is uncivil" or "is a personal attacker". This public accusation is sometimes referred to as "calling a spade a spade", but such name-calling or labeling can be uncivil and can even cross the line into a personal attack.

There are some very good reasons not to do this. In short, editors are unlikely to listen to anything further that you say once the dispute escalates that far, and if you later turn out to be wrong, it'll be embarrassing.

As a general rule of thumb, label the edits, not the editor. Saying that a user has made unconstructive edits is simply stating the obvious truth, while saying that these edits make the user an unconstructive user is applying labels. One should consider another way of identifying the problematic editing, as saying that the user is an unconstructive editor assumes that the user intentionally made unconstructive edits, when they could have just been unfamiliar with Wikipedia's policies and guidelines, and defines an editor by only a small group of edits that they made. Remember: Editors define but are not defined by their edits!

Focus on edits, not editors[edit]

It doesn't matter whether or not it's a spade, the question is, what's it doing on a page about etiquette?

Suppose you're dealing with someone who is trying to force a bad edit into or out of an article (or heaven forbid, a policy). Their "bad edit" is "bad" for some reason, other than the identity of the person making the edit. Stop a moment – is a personal attack going to make them listen to you? No. But maybe explaining the reason that the edit is bad on merits will.

But suppose they continue, for days or weeks, and will not listen to reason? Perhaps they're genuinely acting in bad faith. This will be clear to outsiders viewing the situation. A third opinion request, or a request for comment, will help bring in fresh eyes to review. If the dispute relates to a policy or guideline, then Wikipedia:Village pump (policy) or a short, polite section on the administrator's noticeboard is a good place to seek opinions. In many content disputes there will be one or more associated WikiProjects where you can neutrally solicit input as well.

Don't edit war. When there are only two people, or two opposing groups of about the same size, it never helps, and just makes both sides look bad. Hold back a bit, talk on the talk page, and, if possible, perhaps try out new, bold attempts at compromise. If all else fails, and the edit is genuinely bad, but the other editor insists it's good, sit back, and wait to see if other editors revert him instead – having a lot of editors object to a suggestion that only one user is promoting is a better sign of consensus against that editor's edit than two editors edit warring for their version (though remember: Don't canvass). Talk on the talk page in the meantime, explaining why the version that you oppose is wrong, and cite sources or policy as appropriate.

Once consensus is clearly against an edit, and more eyes are on things, then most reasonable editors will accept the change – and if not, and they keep warring for it, then you have plenty of evidence to go to dispute resolution with, and can now prove the spade is, indeed, a spade.

And if consensus went against you? Accept it and move on. Wikipedia is a collaborative effort, and editorial disputes are inevitable. You will not always get the exact version you prefer.

Muddying the water[edit]

The McLeod is not a spade

Note that it is a bad idea to publicly label the opponent a troll, or a vandal, or a POV warrior, or a history revisionist, or a censor, or a member of a cabal, or a "jerk", or a drama queen, or a fool. You may think that the user is at least two or three of those things, but it's to your advantage never to bring it up. Once you've made an ad hominem assertion of any kind, it opens the gate to an endless stream of them, you've given up your position on the moral high ground, and the dispute has escalated to a new level. If the other editor gets personal, politely point out that they're getting personal, but don't respond in kind. Continue to re-focus the discussion on edits, and not on individuals.

Be warned, however: this restraint requires patience and fortitude on your part. If the conflict continues with the same user or group of users for weeks or months, you may become frustrated. If it's getting you down, contact an administrator, begin dispute resolution (if you haven't already), and don't be afraid to politely and concisely explain the problem, backing your claims with the evidence from your lengthy interaction. Civility does not imply concession – you can seek help without resorting to insults or ad hominems.

The most powerful arguments are those that are made for purely project-related reasons, with no reference to any other agenda, whether it be moral, ethical, political or emotional. Discuss the content, not the contributor; comment on the edit, not the editor.

If a dispute cannot be resolved without resorting to the dispute resolution process, it will be necessary to present evidence in the form of diffs to make a case. Be aware that in the case of long-term patterns of unconstructive conduct (as opposed to superficial and obvious breaches), compiling such evidence can be laborious. If you are not willing or able to put forth such effort it may be best to seek help from other editors.

In particularly tedious cases, where evidence is subtle and hard to come by, an editor may be tempted to direct his frustration at the offending editor. Yet, by virtue of the evidence being so sketchy, these are precisely the kinds of cases where avoidance is most important. You don't want to taint your already fragile case with attacks, and you certainly don't want to provide him with an uncivil diff which he can use to elicit sympathy from uninvolved editors. In difficult situations like this, there simply is no good alternative to patience and persistence.

Dealing with "civil POV pushers"[edit]

The phrase "civil POV pusher" is often used to label an editor who persistently violates Wikipedia editorial policies and guidelines but does so in a superficially civil, non-confrontational way. There has been much discussion about how to deal with such editors.

However, civility has nothing to do with POV pushing. A true POV pusher is violating policy regardless of whether he does so civilly or uncivilly. The only difference is that the uncivil POV pusher can be more easily recognized and dealt with.

So the response to a civil POV pusher should be the same as the response to any POV pusher: politely document the unsourced, unverifiable claims, and point the offending editor to the appropriate policy pages. If he continues, seek outside opinions, or pursue other forms of dispute resolution. By focusing on the sources (or lack thereof), you get your point across without seeming to attack the civil POV pusher himself.

If the edits in question are truly unverifiable, there is a possibility that this may resolve the issue without controversy.

But what if good sources are provided, and therefore verifiability policy alone is insufficient to prove your case? In this case, it must be considered whether this is simply an editorial disagreement rather than POV pushing. Matters of editorial judgment, as opposed to questions about the existence of a source, are often inherently subjective. Thus, if you consider an opposing editor to be a POV pusher because he disagrees with you on a matter of editorial judgment, then you would just as fairly consider yourself a POV pusher for disagreeing with him.

In cases such as this, where there is no reasonably objective standard for inclusion, consensus building is key. This means editors must work together, and not hurl accusations of POV pushing across the aisle. It also means that you might not fully get your way with respect to the editorial decisions being considered. This may be considered objectionable to some, but these difficult subjective decisions should be shared among many editors from different backgrounds, to minimize the predominance of a few editors' POV.

Duck-Rabbit illusion

The duck test[edit]

Calling a spade a spade is sometimes referred to as "the duck test" after the aphorism If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck....

However, ducks are funny in that they rarely believe they are ducks. A humane way to communicate with an anatid that you believe to be a duck would be to calmly inform it of its duck-like behavior. Shouting "IT'S A DUCK" is likely to excite the duck, and it may quack at you, and when you're in a shouting match with a duck, no one really wins.

See also[edit]