Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2020-04-26/Interview

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Health and RfAs: An interview with Guy Macon: A Wikipedia editor reflects on his recent RfA and the health issues that became part of it.

Last month, editor Guy Macon underwent what some called a pointlessly brutal and stressful RfA. Two days into the process, he suffered a life-threatening cardiac arrest, resulting in the inability to answer questions or respond to oppose votes. The good news is he survived, but unfortunately he failed the RfA. Here are his reflections on the entire episode.

What made you run for RfA in the first place?

I have long been of the opinion that anyone who wants to be a Wikipedia administrator must be crazy. It's a thankless job. However, I am also aware from some real-world volunteer work I do that you often see someone putting in a huge amount of time and effort and then burning out. Looking at Wikipedia, I saw a few areas – WP:AIAV in particular – where the same two or three admins are shouldering all the work, so when several admins urged me to run I reluctantly agreed.

Can you describe for our readers exactly what happened during the process?

I had answered a couple of questions right after the RfA was posted, and logged on to Wikipedia the next day to see if I had any more to answer. I was still doing what I always do first – checking engineering-related pages for vandalism and spam – when my heart suddenly stopped beating and I fell over unconscious. No pain, just a brief "I can't get any air" and then nothing. I came to briefly in the ambulance just in time to experience having my heart shocked, and woke up four days later in a hospital bed with a machine breathing for me. The good news is that I have been steadily recovering and am at home – but with a vest that monitors my heartbeat and will shock me if it stops again.

Do you think your cardiac arrest was a direct result of the RfA, or were there other long-term issues?

Completely unrelated. I was feeling zero stress over the RfA, I had yet to see any oppose !votes, and the doctors say that the problem was electrical – cardiac arrest caused by ventricular fibrillation. It had nothing to do with the usual reasons behind heart attacks (a different condition). In my case I have never used tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, I exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. There is a chance that the cause was a virus that attacked the heart muscle years ago (it would take an autopsy to confirm this) but the odds are that it was random.

Did you expect your RfA to go the way it did?

Pretty much. I was expecting a lot of oppose !votes because I have been so active in the areas of pseudoscience and attempting to reform the WMF, both of which resulted in a lot of people being pissed off at me for writing things like WP:CANCER and WP:YWAB or for opposing the use of The Daily Mail as a source. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at having my words twisted. When I wrote "I try to stay cool" and "there are also some cases where I was completely in the wrong and others where I was technically in the right but handled it really poorly" I was not claiming that I always keep my cool, but rather acknowledging that I have on multiple occasions not kept my cool and offering to apologize for those times when I didn't. It dismays me to see my words twisted into me supposedly saying that keeping my cool is something I have always succeeded at rather than something we all should be striving towards.

Do you think that RfA is a broken process, and if so, did yours strengthen (or weaken) that view?

Few people disagree that RfA is a broken process, but there is no agreement as to how to fix it, and the main problem is that what gets the !votes has little to do with what makes one a good administrator. Nothing about my RfA changed my opinion on that.

Going forward, do you intend to adjust your editing habits because of this RfA and perhaps run again in the future?

Without getting into detail, the oppose votes were a mixture. Some were total bullshit, faulting me for doing the right thing or posting an effective argument for or against a proposition. Others were spot on and correctly identified areas where I need to improve. Those later oppose !votes are the ones I treasure, and I believe that I have taken them to heart and made changes in my approach.

Will I run again? Maybe, but not any time soon. We still have too few admins working some jobs and we are still likely to see some of them burn out and quit.

Do you think that you might have succeeded if it weren't for the cardiac arrest (and thus having the ability to answer questions)?

Most likely not. RfA candidates rarely help their case by responding to individual criticisms and oppose !voters rarely look at new evidence and change their !votes. Just to make sure that everyone got an answer, I went back after it was over and answered all unanswered questions on the RfA talk page.

What words of advice would you give to any editors considering an RfA?

If you want to easily pass an RfA, avoid doing anything that shows that you have the slightest interest in or skill at the sort of things Wikipedia administrators do. Just create a lot of good content with good citations, and if you see someone putting something in an article claiming that, say, drinking bleach cures coronavirus, silently walk away and let them have their way, hoping that someone else will deal with it. Sorry to say this, but that's clearly what the !voters want.

Your RfA has been described as stressful, pointlessly brutal, etc. etc. As the nominee, would you agree?

It really didn't stress me at all. I read a bunch of RfAs before I ran, and mine had the exact same problems that so many others had. The result was pretty much as I expected.

Why did you go back and answer the questions after the RfA had closed?

Over the years I have seen many situations where somebody asked a reasonable question and got no answer. Sometimes someone asks a question, gets a reply asking for clarification, and then never edits again. That's annoying. I didn't want to leave anyone hanging just because I was in the hospital and unable to edit Wikipedia. Plus, if I ever run for RfA again some of the same questions will no doubt resurface, so I might as well get them out of the way now.

Are there any last words you would like to share with our readers?

Don't take Wikipedia for granted. You may think that it will always be there, but that's what they said about a bunch of organizations and websites that later fell apart and are now either gone or a shadow of what they once were. We need to be diligent and wise to keep what we have built.