Wikipedia talk:Town sheriff/Archive 2

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Archive 1 Archive 2 Archive 3

Broader questions

Isn't there a fundamental contradiction in empowering a "commander-in-chief" for the purposes of policing the "consensus process"? Consensus decision making is the means elected to writing the encycopedia, and not the overall objective of the project itself. And in my mind, the dispute resolution process in place now does a better job of incorporating "consensus decision making" in dealing with disruptive behaviors than this proposal does. While I agree DR is unwieldly, frustrating and uneven--but isn't this true of consensus building in the writing of articles as well? Why is consensus inadequate in this one context-editor behavior? Should we appoint sheriffs for NPOV, original research, fringe, and sourcing disputes too? The most contentious disputes I've witnessed in WP took place in policy, RFC/U and AN pages. Do we need sheriffs for those too? And user talk pages? Why not cut to the chase and simply appoint "Town Sheriffs" to write the articles themselves?

All admins currently have most of these "powers" already, one significant exception being granted any sort of "dominion" for their decisions in particular articles. We currently have DR up the ying-yang. WP:3, Wikipedia:NPOVN, WP:WQA, WP:RFCC, WP:AN, WP:RFAR--why aren't they enough? Assuming for the sake of argument that the "town sheriff" will be a real human being, that is, a person who is no more and no less gifted with neutrality, intelligence, and good intentions in DR, what do we expect the office Town Sheriff will accomplish that ordinary adminship through DR doesn't? Professor marginalia (talk) 17:50, 4 February 2011 (UTC)

Prof Marginalia: First let me point out that I'm trying to strike a personal balance here. I'm relying on a whole lot of research and academic training in the construction of this, but I don't really want to come off as an authority, so I am intentionally underplaying things that I could (literally) write volumes about. I'm only saying that because I'm having a hard time striking that balance correctly, and so I apologize if I'm coming across as confusing in the following response.
The thing I recognize that generally is not immediately evident to most people is that deliberations (in the formal sense of discussions aimed at achieving collective goals) always operate on two distinct levels:
  • the ostensive level: things that are actually being discussed and considered by the group.
  • the structural level: actions and things involved with determining intra-group dynamics and interpersonal relations.
When wikipedia people talk about consensus they are almost always thinking solely about the first point - consensus as the process of discussing the material - and generally don't recognize that consensus is first and foremost a structural ideal. Equality among editors, civil interaction, use of reason, reference to real-world sources: these are conceptions about the structure of the discussion that apply independently of any particular content that might be discussed on a particular page. If you've ever participated in real-world mediation you can see this in action: professional mediators use a variety of tools designed to construct an artificial discussion structure so that people can escape whatever entrenched social dynamics are preventing proper communication. For example, any time you hear a mediator say something innocuous like "So, John, you've heard what Matilda has to say: what's your response to that?", the mediator is implicitly (for the short list) (i) putting John and Matilda on the same social level, (ii) enforcing turn taking, so that everyone gets heard, and (iii) legitimizing both John and Matilda's opinions, and their right to express an opinion in that context. Freeing up the conversation structurally like that is a necessary first step in real-world mediation; it's what allows further substantive discussion to happen.
Wikipedia has almost no structural controls. In fact, wikipedia follows an 'ignore until punishment-time' strategy. We basically allow editors to do and say anything they want until they "go overboard", and then start applying cumulative warnings and sanctions; worse, the "gone overboard" criteria varies dramatically according to subjective sociological factors (time-on-project, popularity, impressions of factual correctness, etc.). This creates a conversational structure that (despite its superficial appearance of broad freedom) is actually anti-liberal and anti-egalitarian: it encourages demagoguery, cliquishness, Machiavellian intrigues, and other rhetorical gambits as editors unconsciously try to create a conversational structure that gives them advantages in the ostensive deliberation. You see this in real-world mediation as well: If it's corporate mediation, for instance, managers will often expect to be seated at the head of the table (an empowered position), and will get miffed if they are asked to sit at the side of the table opposite workers; even then, managers will often try to adjust the agenda for the mediation to focus on their concerns and avoid worker's concerns.
This whole thing is designed to create a particular and favorable structure for conversations without actually affecting the ostensive deliberation itself. Real-world deliberative bodies almost invariably use some variation of Robert's Rules of Order to accomplish the same task, but RRO isn't suited for the kind of free-ranging discussion that happen on wikipedia - that would require an authoritatively-structured system that would not work (or be appropriate) on project. instead, wikipedia needs a retroactive remedy - let people say what they want, but quickly rein them in when they start to go off in bad structural directions, and do it before it has the chance to amplify.
There's no more contradiction in 'enforcing consensus processes' than there is in a liberal society choosing to establish laws for itself. Anarchic democracy is a beautiful system if you have a community of people with the wisdom and detachment of buddhist monks. However, I don't think anyone would accuse wikipedia of that, and for a less enlightened community, structure is a decided blessing.
The reason why a separate 'sheriff' class is useful is four-fold:
  • legitimacy. Sysops have all the power they need, yes, but it's too easy to delegitimize their actions. The few times I've seen sysops try to intervene on pages in ways consistent with what I've been talking about here, they have been roundly assaulted and abused for overstepping their bounds (or worse crimes against wikipedia). By setting up a separate class, we can imbue the class with the necessary powers, and place necessary restrictions on the use of those powers, and remove all legitimacy objections at the start.
  • limitations. sysops have a lot of concerns aside from the flow of discussion, including more serious sanctions and policy considerations. when sysops enter page conflicts they are usually inclined to start evaluating things more broadly than a sheriff would be allowed, and that (again) starts to impact on their legitimacy. Sheriff's have one general task: they do it well or they get removed. no conflicts.
  • accountability. again, sheriffs have one clear, general task. if they perform it badly they lose their sheriff status and no one has to worry about them again. Contrast that with sysops, and the painful process of evaluating and desysopping even the worst admin, and you'll see the accountability advantage.
  • division of labor. last, and possibly most important, shuffling off these kinds of non-project-threatening behavioral issues onto a class of sheriffs frees up sysops tremendously. They can apply their efforts to other, more important tasks; they can enter into discussions about more serious sanctions against editors without being burdened by a history of minor conflicts. In fact, I fully expect that many sysops will become sheriffs as well, because then they can choose between acting as a sheriff (which wold give them community legitimacy to protect them from certain kinds of recriminations) or acting as a sysop (which gives them a greater range of powers), so long as they were careful to keep the two separate.
Long post, sorry, but I wanted to get things across as clearly as possible.
P.s.per NPOV, fringe, rs, etc.: sheriffs would not engage in content discussions - they are structure-only. A sheriff might be appointed to a dispute over (say) some issue of NPOV, but he would have nothing to say or do about the content issue, he would just keep he conversation within the bounds of behavioral guidelines. --Ludwigs2 20:39, 4 February 2011 (UTC)
This in-depth explanation is useful, thanks. I'm pessimistic that this sheriff would be spared the "painful recriminations" like those admins are subjected to, but leaving that aside...
Some of the most brutal "consensus building" I've seen on the project has taken place outside the confines of the articles themselves--in RFC/U and AN pages, the date linking dispute, FA reviews, policy and guidelines proposals, AFDs, and spread over an array of articles within a given topic area. Given the fact that in highly controversial topics, coming to a consensus over what's encyclopedically valid content within the article relies so heavily on evaluating claims against sources (and far less so, in my mind, inviting one-and-all to spout their own opinions, which are already overabundant as a rule)--how can the sheriff facilitate this necessary task without judging content? I ask this because in my experience editing controversial topics, it almost always comes down to this. Wouldn't the content neutral Town Sheriff idea be more realistic in smoothing consensus building when the legitimacy of sourced content isn't at issue?
Models in place now that are often imposed once the "community's patience has been exhausted" include arbitration imposed article probation and discretionary sanctions, which tend to eliminate most "legitimacy" conflicts over admin blocks, etc. And true, or not true? This is often, but not always, successful in eliminating disruptions in the article(s)--even while certain editors may continue to push the boundaries, escalate through other means, and subject themselves to tighter restrictions. Editors who receive these "discretionary sanctions" frequently moan and groan more than ever, and campaign about how corrupt, arbitrary or unfair the process is, attempting to de-legitimize the authority of the arbitration committee and administrators. How would this be any different under the authority of a Town Sheriff? Wouldn't the discipline they try to impose be even easier to undermine? Professor marginalia (talk) 18:51, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
First, no, they shouldn't have any trouble maintaining their legitimacy if we make the rules tight enough. Then it would be a cut-and-dried case of whether or not they've broken the rules. A normal administrator has a lot of leeway, and thus more ways they can be attacked. As to whether the sheriff would need to rule on content: there is, contrary to Ludwigs' desire, a very tight body of rules regarding content. If strictly followed, those rules practically dictate content. The Sheriff can comment on procedure and policy. What you're asking here is what happens when a couple of editors are going against consensus, based on their arguments and policy. What does the Sheriff do if they're right and yet going against consensus? That's a good question, and I don't think we've answered it yet. The following is a possible way, but is it too much like determining content? I would love for you to review the argument on the Jerusalem talk page, because I think it's a perfect example: fully RS sources are ambiguous on the matter of whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. POV pushers are trying to keep the statement that "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel" in the article lead. It's a totally obvious case of POV pushing and breaking the policy. What would I do if I were a Sheriff there? First, I think I'd be able to say that there are RS sources on both sides. Everyone there agrees on that. I could do a vote/hand count to determine if that's consensus. Given that consensus, I could assume that if WP takes a stand on the matter, it's against the part of NPOV that says we describe the controversy. I could then request a refutation of the proposition that stating in the lead that "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel" is not taking sides on the matter, that it is, in fact, merely "describing the controversy." Having asked that leading question, I could determine whether the editors who are practicing IDIDNTHEARTHAT on the matter are being disruptive. I could then warn/sanction them, and make a determination that in fact we need to change the article to the new proposed lead or something like it. But still... what if you have 10 POV-push editors who want it one way, and 1 who is right but going against consensus? Do we just enforce CIV and let the editor who is actually upholding the rules be driven from the article? We have, perhaps, the same problem as usual, in that we can't enforce NPOV and consensus doesn't always support NPOV. Ludwigs? BECritical__Talk 19:30, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
Also, Arbitration enforcement has the same problems as usual for administrators, in that it's easy to attack someone who is relying on their own judgment too much. BECritical__Talk 19:32, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
I largely agree with you that policies practically "dictate content" to a large extent, at least according to how I interpret those policies. But in my experience, disputes in articles are almost always entangled with disputes over whether or not rules have been broken. The broadly agreed "cut-and-dried" situations rarely lead to extended disruptions in articles because the existing systems work well managing them. But "cut-and-dried" situations often go unrecognized because (too many times) editors chime in who haven't read the sources or acquainted themselves with the topic enough to know which sources are good and which ones are crap. (That's a problem with RFCs in my opinion-it tends to stimulate "just some guy's opinion" from flyby's giving no attention to sourced opinion on the issue.)
To be effective, admins, arbs and the Town Sheriff all have to constrain themselves to rules but there is no alternative, they also must be empowered to "use their own judgment". Professor marginalia (talk) 20:20, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
(e/c) The fundamental difference between sheriffing and arbitration (and really the key to this concept) is the way that power and authority is localized in a single individual whose behavior is limited by established rules and fully accountable. Editors dissatisfied with the sheriff's behavior should be directed to start a discussion about changing the rules; the sheriff's behavior should only come into question where the sheriff breaks or stretches the rules. that's what saves the sheriff from undue recriminations (he's just doing the job, as written and authorized).
Now compare the two: in the arbitration model, there have been weeks of ugliness at the article page, and further weeks of ugliness at noticeboards, ANI, or other administrative venues before it even gets to arbitration. and then there are further weeks of ugliness as various people lay out their cases about how evil and horrible other editors have been. The arbitration result is usually restricted to sanctions on people: topic bans, admonishments, instructions to sysops that they can block certain editors for certain behaviors, etc. By contrast, a sheriff, steps into the talk page dispute directly and puts a stop to the nastier elements of the wrangling right there: he doesn't really have the power to sanction people themselves except in minor ways, but stops them from getting away with the kind of ugliness that would eventually lead to an arbitration case. In both approaches we get the same basic result - editors being more cautious about how they present themselves on the page - except the sheriff gives the results months earlier, in a way that doesn't actually excluding anyone from the conversation, and without all of the intermediary screaming, moaning, and ugliness.
With respect to the 'necessary task' of evaluating content... this system relies on the dual-level observation I made above. The sheriff's job is essentially to enforce the liberal, egalitarian consensus structure that most Wikipedians would expect already exists (fair, reasonable discussion about content without nastiness, chicanery, or melodrama). Once the overt nastiness, chicanery, and melodrama are removed by the sheriff, the discussion in talk will be relatively calm and reasonable and it will become much easier for participants on the page to evaluate content discussion points on their merits. This may let the problem resolve itself, but more likely the varying sides will express their viewpoints in the most reasonable terms they can, and the conversation will get stuck there. This is actually a good state to be in, because it will clearly delineate the content differences without all of the superfluous interpersonal problems. At that point, the sheriff might do a number of things: make a suggestion for a compromise, suggest wording for a 3O or an RfC, suggest that mediation might be helpful, suggest that a particular policy or guideline is the solution to the problem and point the participants to a noticeboard... The sheriff doesn't have to judge content himself; he just has to remove all of the obstacles to reason and common sense that will naturally and inevitably crop up.
(Just for an example, I've recently been involved in a discussion where one editor mostly relies on the the argument that a particular sourced viewpoint is being suppressed by advocate editors - he uses that line every time someone questions the reliability of his sources. A sheriff would simple redact that claim as uncivil wherever it occurred (without further judgment), implicitly forcing that editor to make an argument based on the merits of his sources rather than on the behavior of other editors. it would have saved the talk page a couple of thousand lines of cross-chatter and focused the issue right where it really needs to be.) --Ludwigs2 20:29, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
(after edit conflict comment. to prof M) yes, about using their own judgment. One of the most important qualities of authority is that the authority is trusted to act knowledgeably, responsibly, and independently within the boundaries of its mandate. The sheriff should be allowed to interpret the rules in terms of their spirit and intent and not be bound by their literal phrasing. There will obviously be an ongoing process of sheriffs taking action and the community retrospectively considering those actions and tweaking the rules to limit or expand the sheriff's power, but w should trust both that they will do their job well and that it will become evident and clear when they don't. --Ludwigs2 20:42, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
I reiterate what I said here about the need for a police force. The ensuing discussion illustrates the need. Yopienso (talk) 17:38, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
There already is a police force. They're called administrators. They're authorized to enforce some WP policies, which they do haphazardly (does anyone question this?) and according to some people sometimes biasedly. Peter jackson (talk) 10:59, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Nah, we have people with large machine guns, mops, and signs on their asses which say "kick me." BECritical__Talk 16:32, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Which is also a job description for "sheriff".   Will Beback  talk  22:17, 10 February 2011 (UTC)

Instatement process

I think it should be the same as for full Sysops, though it should be easier to get in considering that you get desysopped if you abuse your powers. Regular sysops can't be desysopped (really) so it's a big deal, but this is different. But if you just let people volunteer with only the vetting of "good standing," well, I can think of a number of editors who would get in and have no business being a sheriff or moderating skills. BECritical__Talk 04:51, 5 February 2011 (UTC)

I was actually thinking something milder - rather than requiring full community approval, the editor has to pass certain basic requirements, after which there's a waiting period of a week or so for others to register objections. basically it would be a "approved unless good cause to reject is shown" rather than "support needed to approve". I'd rather it didn't turn into a popularity contest, which would tend to stack the sheriff's box with editors who can gather lots of supporters. but more tomorrow - it's late here. --Ludwigs2 06:57, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
Hmmm, well from what I gather, you've been in a lot of conflict areas. If you think that the editors who participate in what you call "gangs" would make good Sheriffs or would not be approved, then I would say you probably know what you are talking about. So like you say it's in the details. BECritical__Talk 07:01, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
My own preference is not to judge people. There are editors on-project I really, really despise, but I have to admit that (in their own twisted, dysfunctional way) they have the best interests of the project at heart. I would be comfortable with them being sheriffs for two reasons: (i) I expect that once they got the gist of it, they would see the value of it and try to execute it well, and (ii) if they tried to abuse it, I'd take them to ANI and get them desheriffed (and would thoroughly enjoy the process). It wouldn't be like trying to get them banned or blocked or sanctioned (where half a ton of their friends can come and whine about what good editors they are). if they break the rules, then all of the 'good editor' protestations are irrelevant: they're still bad sheriffs. they get desheriffed and can go back to being "good editors". --Ludwigs2 19:36, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
Lol, as long as the whinging doesn't work. BECritical__Talk 16:33, 10 February 2011 (UTC)

Difference from general probation

The ArbCom and, more rarely, the community occasionally imposes article probation which usually empowers any uninvolved admin to impose blocks and bans after warnings. If I understand correctly, this proposal would go further by allowing talk page redactions? It sounds a bit like a cross between "supervising admin", mediator, and content czar. Have there been specific problems with topics on probation that this would solve?   Will Beback  talk  22:45, 6 February 2011 (UTC)

Administrators using ArbCom probation are still easy to attack. Sheriffs would be less easy to attack because of their limited mandate. They wouldn't have any control over content. They would perform partly as mediators. They would take some of the pressure off ArbCom, because they could intervene with some forcefulness before it was necessary to go to ArbCom. They would still be useful on pages under ArbCom sanction. For example, take a look at the Jerusalem page. That's under ArbCom's thumb. It needs a Sheriff to go in there and do a cross between mediation and protecting other editors from abuse of the ArbCom system, and regulation of disruptive accounts. A Sheriff would have a certain kind of power, which would allow focused intervention while protecting the Sheriff in ways which Admins are not protected. At the same time, the Sheriff's powers are not as broad. BECritical__Talk 23:37, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
Adding: part of the problem of arbcom sanctions is the "any uninvolved admin" thing. This creates a number of problems:
  • Any admin who takes action can be attacked on whether they are really uninvolved.
  • Numerous purportedly uninvolved admins may have different ideas about what action to take, which can create disputes over any action taken
  • There's no clear accountability. It's unclear in advance who might be taking an action on the page, and once an action is taken there's no clear metric of whether it was or wasn't appropriate, and the acting admin as any number of means of avoiding accountability.
We had this problem just recently with Olive, Will. NuclearWarfare imposed a sanction - I could question NW's neutrality on the issue (and hence his status as uninvolved), I certainly questioned whether the act was appropriate and justified, but NW never bothered to respond to my assertions - you and Jim took all the burden of defending his actions, and then some third admin closed the case peremptorily, which of course means that NW's action never actually came into question or under discussion. All of which is fairly skanky, and none of which would affect a sheriff as construed here. --Ludwigs2 23:58, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
OK, it's helpful to have actual cases to look at.
No one questioned NW's bias before he applied the remedy, so in this scenario he could have been appointed/elected/designated sheriff for this probation. So what happens if someone questions the neutrality of a sheriff after they've applied a remedy? It becomes an ANI debate? In that case it's not unlikely that commentators will line up depending on their views of the topic and the involved editors, thereby creating a lot of drama and contention. I don't see how appointing a single person will reduce the purported bias issues versus the largely consensus-driven AE process.   Will Beback  talk  08:24, 7 February 2011 (UTC)
There are a couple of significant differences:
  1. Sheriffs can only block for 24 hours, nothing longer. The purpose of a sheriff is to make problematic behavior difficult and unrewarding giving editors an incentive to behave well; it is not designed to remove editors from discussion on a long-term basis, which seems to be the primary goal of arbitration.
  2. Sheriffs would be accountable for their actions, and couldn't get away with refusing to explain why they took a particular act. If they tried to get away with with the kind of extensive rule-bending that sysops regularly engage in, it would be both painfully obvious and immediately sanctionable.
So, here's what happened on the TM page under the arb model: There was a long term squabble that ended up in arbitration. The only person admonished in that case was DocJames, and no one was sanctioned beyond some general restrictions placed on all actors. A year of so later NW imposes a 3 month topic ban on Olive that (so far as I can tell) was based on specious reasoning, using the "any uninvolved admin to impose sanctions at their discretion" clause. At the appeal, NW refused to explain his reasoning, and instead left everything in the hands of other admins who (first) tried to justify the action and (second) closed the appeal on what appear to be procedural grounds, without further discussion.
In fact, if you look at the bigger picture, the ultimate result of the arbitration process was to remove all of the editors from one side of the discussion long-term (through the actions of a number of different admins), leaving article editing solidly and solely controlled by the other side. Even assuming good faith all the way around, this is an undesirable result: (i) it's likely to lead to a POV article, (ii) it's likely to build bad feelings and alienate editors (even good editors), and (iii) regardless of the actual truth of the matter (which I don't know), it looks entirely like the system was manipulated by a faction to destroy a particular point of view. Frankly, I can't imagine what could have been done to make it look more like brutal, strong-arm politics, short of lining all the TM people up against a wall and shooting them.
A sheriff on the same page would have forced the conversation to remain civil and focused on content. the excuse NW used for the 3 month topic ban (you know, that moment where Olive got baited by a pair of obvious meat-puppets) would have resulted in a round of 24 hour blocks and a reminder to discuss things in talk. Nothing a sheriff could do could possibly look as unfair and biased as the result that actually followed from the arb ruling, because the sheriff would have to do everything himself and couldn't hide a systematic bias by distributing it across multiple people. There's no guarantee that it would succeed, obviously, but then the only thing arbitration succeed in doing was blowing off one side of the discussion (which is a bit like resolving a marital dispute by strangling your spouse).
The arbitration system is designed to amplify bad behavior to the point where editors can be removed from discussions; this sheriff system is designed to nix bad behavior so that editors will have to engage in good behavior to get what they want. do you see the difference? --Ludwigs2 09:58, 7 February 2011 (UTC)
The arbitration system is designed to amplify bad behavior to the point where editors can be removed from discussions; - that seems like a rather cynical approach to the current arbitration scheme. If it's true then it should be addressed directly with proposals for ArbCom reform.
The case in question is under general probation because of a history of problems that led to an ArbCom case. One-day time-outs may be weak ammunition against (hypothetical) longterm SPA POV pushing accounts. There may be other topics, which haven't already been to the ArbCom, where this kind of remedy would be more effective.
You are misinformed about the TM case and the number of editors there who have been topic banned. WP:ARBTM. Only two editors are currently topic banned, there are plenty of unbanned editors involved in the topic. Maybe it'd be better to use as an example a case with which you're more familiar.
Admins are supposed to be accountable, and good ones are. Admins who have refused to account for their actions have been de-sysoped. I don't see how this proposal forces sheriffs to be any more accountable than admins or any other editor.
I'm also concerned that sheriffs appoint themselves to a topic and then can only be removed by a consensus of the community. If there were unlimited sheriffs for a topic that wouldn't be a problem, but it looks like the job would go to whichever sheriff gets his name in first. The sole sheriff shiredom creates a powerful incentive for someone with a hidden bias to take control of a topic. A low threshold for being appointed sheriff could allow sock sheriffs to get appointed. That combination could be disastrous in high conflict topics like the EEML.
Overall, I think the proposal is an understandable reaction to problems with dispute resolution process, but it would create major headaches of its own, including numerous community determinations and a method of gaming the system through the appointment of non-neutral sheriffs.
Is there a way of taking some of these ideas and using them within the existing structures? For example, a mini-probation that would allow admins to give 24-hour blocks for bad talk page behavior.   Will Beback  talk  10:28, 7 February 2011 (UTC)
Hmmm... There are a number of points where you've erred here, WIll; enough so that I have to give you bullet-point corrections. Sorry about that, but the extent of the misunderstandings requires a bit of bluntness:
  1. No offense, but you appear not to have actually read the proposal as written, because you are complaining about things that either aren't possible or are specifically excluded:
    • Sheriffs do not appoint themselves to a topic. At best they ask permission at AN to work on a page, but more generally some discussion at AN asks them to take it on
    • Sheriffs are not removed by consensus decision, sheriffs are removed when they violate a strictly limiting set of rules for their behavior. There won't be a whole lot debatable about whether they've violated the rules, because the rules are fairly clear.
    • Sheriffs have not tools that allow them to 'take control of a topic'. I have no idea where you got that idea, since there's been extensive discussion against it here in talk.
    • Sock sheriffs? Sheriffs have to have "a sufficient number of edits to demonstrate they are dedicated to the project", which I was thinking had to be in the 10000 edit range. If someone wants to build up a sock with 10000 reasonable edits just to get sheriff power that won't actually help them control page content... let 'em.
  2. Yes, admins are supposed to be accountable. Yes, good admins are. Not all admins choose to be, and when they choose not to be they almost invariably get away with it.
  3. I'm not trying to be informed about the TM case: I'm telling you precisely how it looks. You all may be pure as the driven snow and God's gift to wikipedia for all I know (or care - I'm happy to assume you're doing what you think is right), but you and DocJames and NW look like you've taken pains to remove the most prominent editors who oppose you by gaming the system to your advantage. Appearances matter.
  4. I'm not being cynical about arbitration; I'm explaining to you the predefined limits on arbitration. Arbitration does not rule on content, and it does not itself monitor articles or talk pages. It merely imposes restrictions on editors with respect to various actions, and empowers sysops to impose greater restrictions at need. It's a system that does nothing except set up ground rules for article participation, but leaves the implementation of those rules (and any subsequent restrictions on participation) to random sysops.
  5. Finally, the proposal is not a reaction to anything, and it's certainly not a reaction to you. I began this page months ago, and it is a carefully considered and thoughtful approach to solving a common problem on-project. You can disagree with the approach, but I would suggest to you (nicely) that you avoid ad hominem arguments, such as implying that I'm 'reacting' to things. Psychologizing of this sort is against talk page guidelines, and is unlikely (at least with me) to net any predictable result.
    • seriously, dude... If you want to use ad hominem arguments, ok; but try to do it using something in which I don't have years of academic training and experience.
Now, I'm happy to sit here and explain things to you in an ongoing fashion if you want to continue arguing along these lines, but it would make both of our lives easier if you read the proposal (and this talk page) first and made reasonable and sensible critiques of the idea, rather than hyping up a bunch of imaginary horrors and trying to destroy the concept in the bud. There will be plenty of time for the "Oh Horror, This Must Be Stopped!" misperceptions once the proposal gets presented to the community, and I would rather deal with those kinds of concerns once and only once during the actual presentation of the idea rather than having to explain them repeatedly here, there and everywhere. If you don't have anything constructive to add, then your objection is noted and we will deal with that at the appropriate place and time. If you have an alternate idea, then I suggest you write it up elsewhere so you can be prepared to present it at pump (policy) when this gets there. If you have constructive critiques of this idea, I'm more than interested in hearing them, but (again) please do familiarize yourself with the actual project first. --Ludwigs2 18:19, 7 February 2011 (UTC)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────"In that case it's not unlikely that commentators will line up depending on their views of the topic and the involved editors, thereby creating a lot of drama and contention. I don't see how appointing a single person will reduce the purported bias issues versus the largely consensus-driven AE process. Will Beback" The rules for a Sheriff will be so strict that you will be able to tell exactly when he has or has not broken the rules. So gang deplorement will not effect him. This system also makes the Sheriff more of an expert on what is actually going on at an article. Under the current system, the admin can't be an expert, else he's involved. That's for good reason, since his powers are so broad, but an originally uninvolved Sheriff will have the protection to develop a bit of expertise. At the same time, he'll have to explain his actions. Beback, you can't do better with ArbCom and the current system, because you can't get past the arbitrary nature of admin actions. The Sheriff has, or should have, another tool, which is to build up and enforce a series of consensus changed to the article, only to be changed for good and new arguments. This is how a Sheriff would combat long-term SPAs. And yet the Sheriff will be able to point exactly to the discussion in which that consensus is reached. He is not acting to determine content himself. "Admins are supposed to be accountable, and good ones are" ROTFL!!!!!!! No offense, Beback. I think the Sheriff would be much more accountable than current admins, and also would be expected t be much better informed after a while. "it looks like the job would go to whichever sheriff gets his name in first" Good point. People on a page should have a Sheriff that they all trust. And they will be able to complain about a Sheriff's actions and get results if he's broken the clearcut rules. It's true that the community could be fooled into thinking a Sheriff was neutral when he wasn't, but that's impossible for the people on the page and the Sheriff's mandate doesn't give him enough power to show much bias without getting caught. And no, your idea about letting the current admin corps do it wouldn't work because the current corps isn't accountable enough on one end, and too easy to attack on the other. BECritical__Talk 17:04, 7 February 2011 (UTC)

Perhaps I don't understand exactly how a sheriff comes to a topic. It sounds like the community has a discussion on AN, and someone(?) closes it with a determination that a sheriff is warranted. That discussion could take anywhere from a day to a week, and presumably could include all of the involved parties. As soon as the "Sheriff wanted" sign goes up the first one to volunteer for the job is automatically accepted. If there are complaints about his activity then a new AN thread is started and all of the involved editors can argue their cases. After day or a week of discussion someone(?) closes the discussion and either does nothing or declares a vacancy, after which a new sheriff volunteers. Any editor could also start a thread at AN over whether to end the shiredom at an article, with the discussion running from a day to a week before getting closed by someone (?).
I'm also not sure I fully understand the "RFS" process: Request for Sheriff-ship. It'll be exactly like RFA? A one week vote following an acrimonious discussion of how many featured articles the editor has written and whether they know the dash rule, closed by a bureaucrat using a 70%-80% threshold. Is that right? Is the view that the standard would be higher or lower than for an admin? Would Admins be eligible, or would they automatically qualify? Would sheriffs be given limited admin tools, to block accounts? If so, this job would seem like a "junior admin". That might be useful in increasing the dwindling ranks of the admin corps.
There are few if any jobs on Wikipedia that are filled by single editors. Even mediators work often together. Is there a compelling reason for only having one sheriff at a time on an article?
General probation often applies to an entire topic, "broadly defined". Because the Sheriff's role would be so strong yet narrowly defined, it seems like it'd be necessary to clearly define which articles are included rather than leaving it open-ended like with general probation. If it's later decided that more articles need sheriffing, would the sheriff on a related topic get the job automatically or would it be a fresh opening?   Will Beback  talk  22:38, 7 February 2011 (UTC)
Ok, basic answers to these questions (keeping in mind that this is all subject to revision and approval by the community):
Your first assessment is basically correct: the community comes to the conclusion (through some valid procedure, and with or without the approval of the editors involved in the dispute) that a page is problematic, and that a sheriff should be installed on the page. Someone from the sheriff's page agrees to take it on, and there is a brief (few days to a week) discussion of whether to accept the volunteer. at this point the only reason for rejecting a sheriff would be that the sheriff has a history of disputes on that article or topic, and even that would need to be fairly notable - sheriffs are so restricted that POV-pushing by the sheriff will almost certainly break sheriff's rules and get him removed. If there is agreement, the sheriff is installed; if not, a new volunteer is sought.
Once a sheriff is installed, s/he stays on the page until removed, which can only happen if it becomes clear that s/he is breaking the limits of the office or applying his efforts unfairly (or, obviously, if it's decided a sheriff is no longer needed). Editors are encouraged to complain about the sheriff (that keeps the sheriff honest), but editors will be required to show clearly that a sheriff went outside the rules that govern sheriffs, or that a sheriff has a distinct pattern of unequal treatment in his/her sheriffing. If they can make a convincing case, the sheriff is toast, otherwise the complaint will be dismissed. Either way, the sheriff continues working without interruption until s/he is removed.
The point of this is that it's middling easy to install a sheriff, very easy to remove a bad sheriff, and hard as hell to remove a good sheriff. That's on purpose: it both allows a sheriff to exercise his authority fully and coerces a sheriff into exercising his authority equally, neutrally, and cautiously.
The RfS procedure (in my view) would be as follows: someone making a request must have a decent edit count (I'm thinking 5000-10000 edits minimum), must explicitly commit to the principles of sheriffing (sort of like taking an oath of office), and there should be a week for people to raise objections and concerns. Things like a history of sock-puppetry, significant vandalism, ArbCom sanctions or admonishments would all raise red flags about potential sheriffs, but other than that the approval process should be fairly pro-forma. Sheriffs are controlled by the restrictions on their abilities (just like real cops), and vetting them as people is not all that relevant outside of extreme cases. Admins would be eligible, but would need to keep their admin and sheriff jobs separate (where working as a sheriff, no use of broader admin powers; where working as an admin, no sheriffing).
Sheriffs could block accounts but for no more than 24 hours. this block is primarily a speed bump thrown in the path of editors who are (at a given moment) way off the deep end. some people here have been suggesting that sheriffs could also lock an article for the same 24 hr period, but I'm of two minds about that. Those would be the only 'admin-type' tools that a sheriff would have, and they would be used in ways that admins currently are not allowed to use them. Further, sheriffs could block admins just like normal editors if the admin's behavior is bad enough and falls within the sheriffs purview. so no, sheriffs are not junior admins.
The compelling reason for having a lone sheriff is accountability. Two sheriffs working together would have no great gains in fairness or efficiency, and would risk conflicts of opinion (sheriffs arguing with each other over the proper course of action would destroy the authority of both of them on the page), and risk unintentional errors (sheriff A does something without fully considering what sheriff B just did, the combined result of their actions is more harmful than helpful, and no one knows whether to blame A or B for the screw-up). One sheriff, one authority, one locus for blame: This translates to one sheriff who is very carefully watching his own a$$ as he works on the page. Sheriffs should be very conscious that all responsibility lands on their shoulders, because that is what will keep them honest.
Your last point is substantially correct. a sheriff would be installed on a specific page where there's a problem. If it seems like the problem is spreading to other pages, then the sheriff or someone in the community can request that the sheriff's mandate be expanded to other pages (so long as they are narrowly defined). I don't think there would be an automatic decision about it: if the sheriff wants to tackle multiple pages, can handle the load, and the general consensus is that all the pages should be monitored by the same sheriff, that would be fine; if for any reason it seems like a good idea to install a new sheriff, that would be fine as well. I would assume that sheriffs working independently on related pages would communicate and cooperate with each other to any necessary extent, but since nothing a sheriff does escalates and the job is restricted to a limited range of activities, there shouldn't be all that much need for cooperation (aside, perhaps, from comparing notes about effective and ineffective approaches to particular editors).
did I cover everything? --Ludwigs2 01:02, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
Whew - you covered more than everything!
The appointment process isn't clear in the proposal. I hadn't realize that the self-nomination of a sheriff for a topic has to be ratified by a consensus (51% 66% 85% ?) of AN contributors. That means there's a discussion on making an editor into a sheriff, a discussion about the need for a sheriff on an article, followed by a discussion over which volunteer sheriff to appoint (either looking at one candidate after another until one is successful, or choosing the most popular among several simultaneous candidates). Then the community discusses the frequent complaints and if any of those discussions is successful then more discussion ensure regarding the replacement and the possible de-sheriffing of the fired sheriff. That seems like a lot of discussions at AN for each covered article.
As you describe it the RFS is identical to the RFA. Am I missing an important difference?
If sheriffs are given a special selection of one or more tools then it'd require a developer to code the new rights.
It sounds like the idea is that Sheriffs should use their block tool freely and enforce civility rules aggressively, but if they overstep the bounds they can be fired and de-sheriffed easily. In practice that could tend to make sheriffs cautious rather than aggressive.
It seems like some of this proposal is based on perceived failures of the Admins and ArbComs - perhaps those problems should be addressed directly rather than creating a new bureaucracy, one which may end up having the same failures.   Will Beback  talk  02:45, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
It would take a developer about 10 seconds to code the new rights, that's easy with mediawiki... probably just as easy for WP as with a single server, but I wouldn't know. We're still discussing how one becomes a Sheriff. I doubt the discussions would be burdensome. As to addressing any "perceived" failures of the other structures, have at it... you'll be the hero I would like to be, if I could think of a way to do it. I think just maybe that this is a way of fixing them. They may need the support of this further structure. For example, they need the local knowledge the Sheriff would develop. I've seen admins get driven off, and their specialized knowledge thus lost, but it would be hard to drive a Sheriff off if he obeyed his rules. And Sheriffs should be cautious, but are given sufficient tools that they can still be effective without getting in trouble. BECritical__Talk 03:18, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
Focusing just on the the RfS procedure, how would it be different from the much-maligned RfA process?   Will Beback  talk  03:42, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

çThat's what we're trying to work out. Something streamlined but tight enough to catch those who would tend to abuse the role. Any suggestions? BECritical__Talk 03:51, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

Honestly, I'm not worried about any 'perceived failures'. for the most part I think admins do an admirable job, though there are places where they goof up or get tangled in their own nonsense (<...ahem...>). My real interest in this (if you must know) is in developing and rationalizing the community structure. Frankly, wikipedia has reached and passed the size where it can continue to function as a semi-organized, loosely-structured, rule-of-thumb-oriented association of peers. If the project wants to mature, it has to lay down a solid, consistent set of standards about behavior, and some means of enforcing them (the way any community anywhere eventually must do). The sheriff system does both, in one neat philosophically-beautiful package.
The RfS procedure would be different then AfD because it's not an approval process. Editors who meet the basic edit count requirement can count on being approved unless someone can give a clear and reasonable reason to reject them. no 70% thing, no silly 'me too's... I'm sure that some people will take the opportunity to vent their frustrations about various editors, but unless those frustrations come with a clear set of diffs showing some severe breach of wikipedia policy it shouldn't make a difference. frankly, I personally would even discard the discussion period and just leave it that anyone who's edited long enough and wants to sheriff should be allowed to, but people seem to feel more comfortable with some kind of discussion procedure attached.
The appointment process isn't a vote, it's a consensus discussion. The way I see it, volunteers will only be rejected if there's some clear history - they'd had fights on the page before, they've had fights with one or more of the current participants, they've previously expressed strong views about the topic... It shouldn't be an "I don't like that person" sort of thing. And don't worry about multiple discussions, for two reasons:
  1. There's not that much to discuss:
    • once you've become a sheriff, you're a sheriff until you quit or lose your badge (that discussion only happens once)
    • choosing a sheriff only happens once (unless the sheriff screws up) and that shouldn't be a complex conversation - just a question of whether the sheriff has an obvious conflict
    • Most complaints about sheriffs require no discussion whatsoever. for example, say an editor posts the comment "That was a really stupid thing to say", and a sheriff redacts it as uncivil. Well, that comment clearly adds nothing to any content discussion, and is clearly uncivil, so it is clearly within the purview of the sheriff to redact it: hence no automatic problem for the sheriff. So how far will that editor get with sysops trying to argue that a comment like that needs to be restored? Anyone who tries to make an extended argument that s/he has a right to call other editors' posts 'stupid' is probably just digging his or her own grave. In most cases (in my estimation) you'll have a two or three day period where editors try to make silly arguments like that before they start to recognize that the discussion rules have changed on the page, and after that they'll stop doing the problematic behavior and stop complaining about the sheriff.
  2. Compared to the normal process of a page that's in trouble - extended bitch-fests on the talk page, multiple noticeboard battles, multiple extended ANI kerfluffles - the handful of discussions related to sheriffing would be a drop in the bucket. As I've said elsewhere, I fully expect a sheriff to cut the volume of text produced on a troubled page by a factor of 100, because most of the posts on pages like that are heated comments that have no business being there. will it be totally without hitches? no. will it be anything close to the rage-fests you saw on pages like Climate Change and R&I? hardly.
Last point: I don't think sheriffs want to use their powers aggressively; I kind of picture sheriffs being circumspect about things - minimal action needed to achieve desired result (which is civility and peace on the page). You can do an awful lot without blocking anyone so long as people are aware that you can block them. Honestly, the only real reason sheriffs need the power to block is that (inevitably) someone is going to challenge the sheriff's authority and engage in problematic behavior despite being warned. Those editors will get blocked once, maybe twice - as often as needed for them to realize that the blocks will stick - and then they will re-evaluate their behavior on the page. That's the goal, to trigger that re-evaluation of behavior. As I said, sheriffs are there to change the page dynamic, not to sanction people, and the power to block is just a lever to make that change happen. --Ludwigs2 06:12, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
If editors were angels there'd be no need for bureaucracy. We don't know what motivates sheriffs. Some may want to use their tools aggressively. That's pretty much the mandate. When constructing a new bureaucracy it's important to think about the worst that could happen. Many of the positive traits ascribed to sheriffs could also be ascribed to admins. Likewise, whatever negative attributes of admins we can think of may appear among sheriffs as well.   Will Beback  talk  22:16, 10 February 2011 (UTC)

"Independent actions of this sort"

  • Sheriffs should be very circumspect about independent actions of this sort,[vague] since they do not have the full legitimacy of being appointed to a page.

This text was added a few days ago.[1] It's not clear what the phrase "independent actions of this sort" refers to. I put the "vague" tag on it the other day. Any idea what this means?   Will Beback  talk  23:45, 9 February 2011 (UTC)

yes, and 'vague' describes it nicely - lol. It was related to sheriff's self-appointing themselves to pages (rather than being appointed to them) and I included it as a caution to be aware that there were legitimacy concerns. it's not essential in any case, so eel free to remove or revise it as you desire. --Ludwigs2 02:22, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
But sheriffs don't self-appoint without confirmation, right? So this is pointless, right?   Will Beback  talk  02:24, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Right, but that wasn't the original idea. BECritical__Talk 03:11, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
If the text refers to some older version of the proposal that's been removed then it should probably be deleted.   Will Beback  talk  08:44, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Done. BECritical__Talk 01:39, 11 February 2011 (UTC)


Any other potential names instead of "Sheriff?" SV for one had a problem with that name. BECritical__Talk 23:15, 5 February 2011 (UTC)

Judge (it will appeal to comic nerds).Slatersteven (talk) 14:05, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
Deputy, with the implication that the community has deputized the person to act on its behalf? BECritical__Talk 16:59, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
SOB? Face-smile.svg
Look, I think we should just drop the name issue for now (because I doubt we're going to solve it), and discuss it when we present the idea to the greater community. there are a number of good options: sheriff or deputy, moderator, officer of agent (in the technical sense of someone empowered to do something), tongue in cheek ones like 'den mother'. let's get the idea across and worry about how it looks later. --Ludwigs2 18:45, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
Ok, but they've already got "moderators." BECritical__Talk 19:41, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
How about Authorized Social Structure Healer for an Orderly Legitimate Encyclopedia? BECritical__Talk 19:52, 6 February 2011 (UTC)
Just a quibble, but I don't think there's actually such a thing as a town sheriff. They're county officials. Peter jackson (talk) 11:25, 7 February 2011 (UTC)
'Town sheriff' is a convention used in westerns. I think in the old west sheriffs were appointed by the county but assigned to work in particular towns - they didn't really monitor the range-land between towns (that was more the realm of US marshals), but kept order in and about the towns themselves. In the modern US, of course, Sheriffs are mostly relegated to things like prisoner transport and jail staffing, but they still patrol towns that are not incorporated or have no local police force of their own.
But quibble accepted: I wasn't really aiming for historical accuracy. Face-smile.svg --Ludwigs2 01:17, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
"Topic sheriff" seems more appropriate than "town sheriff", unless they will only work on town articles. ;) "Moderator" is not taken, and seems closer to the actual role.   Will Beback  talk  02:50, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
Yeah, moderator probably has a much better chance. BECritical__Talk 03:08, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I'm not so sure the name issue ought to be deferred. As much as I truly love the current name and the analogy it raises, I'm very concerned that the notion of an authority figure such as a sheriff or other law enforcement officer raises the specter of additional wiki-bureaucracy in a way that we're just adding the anti-bureaucrats to the coalition likely to oppose this idea as a form of junior or probationary adminship (which it is not). I wonder if that could not be diffused, at least a little, by renaming the concept to "Peacekeeper" which would also emphasize the positive purpose of the project rather than the power/authority concept. (And Peacekeepers could use a little sky-blue helmet like this one as their symbol, instead of a mop. Smile.png) Regards, TRANSPORTERMAN (TALK) 17:22, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

ok, so, here's a list of current potentials (in no particular order):
  • Town Sheriff (or just plain sheriff)
  • Peacekeeper
  • Moderator
  • Deputy
  • Officer/agent
Did I miss any serious ones? If so, feel free to add them to the above list
I think the problem we are having over the determination of the name is that we are all second-guessing the attitude and reactivity of the community to to authoritarian/bureaucratic type names. I suggest we make a short list of options, then present the idea as the 'Sheriff' idea but give the short list as alternates with an explanation that we couldn't decide on the best name ourselves. --Ludwigs2 17:55, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
I'm for that. BECritical__Talk 16:37, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Shall we move it to "moderator", "peacekeeper", or "playground monitor"? "Sheriff" has a lot of baggage and connotations that distract from the aims of this proposal.   Will Beback  talk  09:41, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
I agree that "Sheriff" is not calculated to get as much support as other things might, yet I like it best and we could do as Ludwigs says and present it as something that can be changed and list the possibilities. BECritical__Talk 16:41, 11 February 2011 (UTC)

Deputy sheriff

  • Sheriffs may deputize others to act on the page when the Sheriff cannot be present, but deputies should not act independently of the sheriff's intentions.

I assume if the deputy were not an admin they would be limited to refactoring, redacting, and reverting, but that if they were an admin they could also impose blocks and page protections. If the sheriff were gone for days or weeks I assume that they'd be replaced eventually, but in the meantime the deputy would be in charge. I assume that the deputy could be fired at any time by the sheriff, and that some sort of notice would be made of the appointment. In case the deputy is also offline occasionally I suppose it might be necessary to appoint multiple deputies. I asked above why it's necessary to have a sole sheriff, and the reply was to allow for complete accountability. But the idea of an unvetted person acting with the authority of a sheriff seems to violate that principle.   Will Beback  talk  23:06, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

First, deputies should be drawn from other sheriffs, not just from the general population. second, deputies aren't intended to be 'backup sheriffs'; the only reason I included that clause so that sheriffs could draw in some help for specific tasks if they get over-burdened. Now that I think about it, we can probably dispense with the whole deputy thing entirely - I can't imaging the need for one on a single article, and if a sheriff is covering multiple articles and it proves too much some of the articles can be passed off to new sheriffs.
Though you do raise an point: we should specify what happens if a sheriff drops of project for some reason and isn't watching the page. probably nothing needs to be done if the page is relatively stable, but if there's a flare up in the dispute we might need some process for removing the sheriff in absentia and appointing a new one. --Ludwigs2 23:42, 8 February 2011 (UTC)
Unless there's other input on deputies, I'll remove that text.
I agree that sheriffs who go absent should be replaced if there are ongoing issues. It could be the same process by which biased sheriffs are removed.   Will Beback  talk  23:16, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
Done.[2][3]   Will Beback  talk  09:13, 11 February 2011 (UTC)

How's it going to work

Situation: Sheriff assigned to a page.

5 editors: agree on a statement.

Single editor: says the opposite.

Sheriff: asks if either side can source their opinion.

5 editors: cannot source to RS.

Single editor: can source to RS.

(big dispute about reliabilityof sources, but it all boils down to above, or some intermediate version of above)

Sheriff: says that the 5 editors cannot source to RS, and so should drop the matter... Alternately, says that the lone editor is being disruptive and going against consensus, so should drop the matter.

5 editors (lone editor) take Sheriff to noticeboard for determination of content.

You could come up with any version of that, including less extreme versions where there is only on editor on each side, but where is the line between determining disruption and determining content? Are we saying that as long as there is a group of POV pushers who outnumber the people trying to uphold policy, that the Sheriff will enforce the larger group? BECritical__Talk 18:08, 9 February 2011 (UTC)

this isn't really a sheriff situation - so long as everyone is being nice and civil, what's a sheriff to do? the only thing a sheriff could do in this case would be to let it ride for a while and then say "Guys, this conversation is tapped out and going around in circles. now you need to seek some outside help." Then the sheriff might (if he's sharp) make a clear and simple statement of the position of each side, and ask people if they want to put the issue to RfC or try mediation. At this point the sheriff would at most be a problem solver, clarifying things or giving people directions to various ways of moving the problem forward. Again, the sheriff's not there to adjudicate, he's just there to make sure the discussion progresses fairly, calmly and civilly. --Ludwigs2 22:05, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
Becritical does bring up a good point, which is that the majority isn't necessarily right. For example, consensus is important but it does not override NPOV. Many contentious topics have groups of partisans who seek to skew an article in a direction that is not fully NPOV, and they may be opposed by a much smaller contingent who are either trying to make it NPOV compliant (or perhaps to skew it in another direction). It sounds like the intent of this proposal is to stop talk page discussions from being used as rancorous battlegrounds and to make editors work towards consensus. But we should remember that the consensus, if one emerges, may not even be compatible with Wikipedia standards. This proposal should stay focused on the improving the talk page discussions, not on the outcome of those discussions.   Will Beback  talk  23:12, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
When it comes to content discussions, the sheriff probably shouldn't give an opinion, because once they do, he/she will be "involved." The sheriff should, however, give warnings and blocks to participating editors who violate policies: edit-warring, removing reliable sources without consensus, belittling or disparaging other editors in the talk page discussions, editorializing on the article talk page in favor of a POV, etc. Cla68 (talk) 23:50, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
So if I'm a POV pusher, my logical route will be to politely stonewall or practice IDIDNTHEARTHAT, in much the same way it's done now. The Sheriff, therefore, does not do anything for the most difficult disruption articles may encounter, but only sifts out the overtly disruptive. Well, I wish we could come up with a way where a Sheriff could do something about harder problems. BECritical__Talk 23:54, 9 February 2011 (UTC)
And, you can't do anything about removal of sources without being involved in content: how do you know they shouldn't be removed? BECritical__Talk 00:05, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Frankly, I'm not sure that this proposal is worth the time and energy if it's really just about CIV. If the Sheriff can't go get, say, a consensus on whether a source is reliable and then quell disruption from editors who continue to argue that it is, or label as disruptive IDIDNTHEARTHAT behavior, then we are not doing Wikipedia much good. I believe there are ways that one could deal with content without violating the basic principles. You do that by enforcing consensus. Beback said that consensus may not be right and that's true, but I believe that part of the Sheriff's mandate should be to determine wider community consensus (for instance on sources), and apply it to the article- not directly, but by dealing with the disruption of editors beating a dead horse, or a horse that the general consensus has determined should be dead. This doesn't have to be forever, maybe only a few days while other issues are worked on. Otherwise, you just don't eliminate the really troublesome disruption. "the intent of this proposal is to stop talk page discussions from being used as rancorous battlegrounds and to make editors work towards consensus." Yes, that's the goal, but the working toward consensus part will only work overall if the Sheriff can enforce consensus on a temporary basis. Without the consensus part the Sheriff can make everyone be polite and stop edit warring, but can't do anything about real consensus building, because all anyone has to do is sweetly say they disagree. BECritical__Talk 00:12, 10 February 2011 (UTC)

From the intro, the two goals of a sheriff are:

  • To ensure that content discussions can progress meaningfully, peacefully and quickly, either to a consensus conclusion or to a recognition that mediation or arbitration is required.
  • To guide editors away from bad discussion practices towards a better, more civil communication style, by encouraging the latter and inhibiting the former. [emphasis added]

This says nothing about quelling editing wars and handling article content disruption. Maybe we should work on what the goals of a sheriff should be, then decide on which tools and authority are needed to achieve those goals. Regarding Becritical's last point, if supervised talk page discussions can't handle the problem then maybe mediation or arbitration are required.   Will Beback  talk  00:23, 10 February 2011 (UTC)


Doesn't it?

discussions can progress

meaningfully, peacefully

and quickly

None of which they will be able to do (necessarily), if all the Sheriff does is enforce CIV. Yes, perhaps mediation or arbitration are required in the cases I'm concerned about. Still, simply noticing what the real consensus of other editors is and enforcing that does not seem to me to be actually getting involved in content. It's just making sure the process that's already in place for inserting or retaining article content is actually followed. It has nothing to do with determining what that content should be.

If there are basic issues about which consensus cannot be reached, then we'd still go to DR. But if there is consensus and polite disruption, then I think the Sheriff should be able to remedy that for a small period of time to promote the goals of having discussion progress. Otherwise you have situations where gang editing is rewarded, and a local "consensus" is followed while ignoring outside opinion. BECritical__Talk 00:47, 10 February 2011 (UTC)

That view clearly goes beyond the narrow mandate expressed in the "goals" copied above. Could you propose one or more goals which would describe the aim that you're talking about?   Will Beback  talk  01:15, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Ok, as I figured would happen eventually, people are starting to lose their grip on the core concept. that's natural: it's a new idea and it's common for people coming to terms with a new idea to gradually reinterpret it in terms they are more familiar with (which means they lose the new idea). so let me lay out the core concept again and see if we can get it back into focus.
First, consensus is a core principle of wikipedia, and it doesn't mean majority rule or mere agreement. Consensus incorporates sourcing, neutrality, reason, and common sense, because what editors are trying to reach consensus about is how to best reflect the current understanding of the topic in the greater world. The problem with consensus discussions, however, is that editors often confuse "how the topic is understood in the greater world" with "how they themselves understand the topic"; consensus discussions need a certain detached perspective that many editors/people have difficulty with. What happens then (particularly on contentious topics), is that editors start talking past each other, start personalizing things, tempers start rising, and people begin behaving in progressively more hard-nosed ways.
There's a difference between someone who has strong views on a topic but is willing to take that detached perspective and someone who has strong views but isn't willing to take that detached perspective. In calm discussions that difference is clear, but in intemperate discussions it's almost impossible to distinguish between a POV-pusher and a reasonable-but-annoyed editor, because they act the same. The first major job of the sheriff, then, is to cool the page down enough so that these differences become clear again.
Once the page is cooled down, it will become quickly evident that we have one of four scenarios:
  • A polemicized debate, where all sides are rigidly adhering to some idiosyncratic ideological points (with or without sourcing). This is a likely candidate for mediation or arbitration. Polemicized debates of this sort feed themselves by conflating the person and the idea (e.g. anyone who say X must be an advocate for Y and thus stupid and useless to listen to). The sheriff can help by separating the ideological points from all of the personalizations, discarding the latter and laying out the former out as a starting point for DR.
  • A hold-out situation, where one or two individuals are holding up one side of a discussion against a group of other editors. This is a slightly different dynamic: the group usually treats the hold-outs as above (conflating the people with the idea in defamatory ways), but the hold-outs are usually fairly righteous and indignant, thinking that they have something useful to say and getting annoyed at not being listened to. Once the sheriff cools this down, it will become quickly obvious whether the hold-outs have something to add to the article: It might call for a compromise of some sort, or for someone to explain to the hold-out why their view can't be included under policy, or (again) might point towards DR, but in this case simply getting the larger group to listen to the hold-outs goes a tremendous way towards resolving the dispute.
  • A cock-fight, where two editors are at each other's throats for reasons that are as much personal and ego-based as content-related. Forced to talk with each other reasonably, most people will rapidly work out a truce.
  • A misunderstanding, where the actual thing being fought over is trivial and easily resolved, but so magnified by interpersonal friction that no one can see clearly enough to get to the resolution. Once the sheriff has calmed things down, the problem magically disappears.
In all these cases, what a sheriff does is cool things down, cut all the personalized comments (which ill always call for personalized rebuttals), reduce the volume of text produced (so that it's easier for everyone to follow the logic of conversations), and generally simplify the conversation to its bare, impersonal essentials. Once the talk page gets down to the bare, impersonal essentials, it will be much easier to see whether or not there are valid issues to be addressed, whether a compromise is possible, or whether the sides are so solidified that outside opinions are needed.
Further, the reason why we need a sheriff to do this is that - particularly on the internet - the natural course is for disputes to escalate, rather than abate. human nature: once someone starts to think that someone is opposing them their ego gets involved and they will generally start opposing right back, with unpleasant results. In one sense, a sheriff is trying to detach people's egos from defending their position and reattach their egos to communicating civilly and productively: Once people start to sense that the only way they will get gratification on the page is by talking with the other side, they will commit themselves to it (because - vandals aside - the only reason to edit wikipedia is because you want the gratification of contributing effectively). This is the shift in page dynamic that I keep talking about: when the sheriff has made it impossible to get gratification by irritating or beating up on other editors, by dominating the article or the talk page through brute force, by complaining about everyone and everything, by venting in long tirades, or by any of the other unsavory ways one can gratify oneself on-project, the only form of gratification left is collaborative encyclopedia building. it's sad that we sometimes have to eliminate the unpleasant forms of gratification by force to ensure that people opt for the pro-social form of gratification, but...
does that clear things up a mite? --Ludwigs2 02:20, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Walls of text don't help. If the goals of the sheriffcy go beyond improving talk page discussions then the goals should be rewritten to reflect the actual goals. Can you propose some text that will cover your view of the article page goals of sheriffcy?   Will Beback  talk  02:27, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
I think the word is "shrievalty". Peter jackson (talk) 11:14, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
The English language is a constant source of amazement.   Will Beback  talk  12:08, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
That particular wall of text seemed quite helpful to me. I've never seen this truly tried before, and therefore I think it's quite worthwhile to give it a chance. If the dynamic he speaks of can be accomplished, where either problems which are insoluble at that level are made clearer, or a way is created for progress, then it's well worthwhile creating a Sheriff. So I concede, let's pursue this without giving any powers that even seem to touch on content. It might work. I think it will work except in the extreme cases. BECritical__Talk 03:00, 10 February 2011 (UTC)
Sorry for the wall of text, but as I said, it's a new idea that needs some explaining and discussion, and that can't always be done in soundbites. But to try to address your concern, maybe we could add these linee after the bullet points in the intro:

The goal is to forestall or remove distractions, rhetoric, political manipulations, needless complications, tendentious actions, or anything which can embroil the talk page in confusion or heated emotions. The sheriff insists that the discussion remain simple, clear, and impersonal, so that the content dispute can come to the fore and the consensus process can work to best effect.

I'm not totally in love with that language, mind you, but it's a start. --Ludwigs2 02:18, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
Thanks. Would that replace the existing two goals or be added to them?   Will Beback  talk  04:28, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
"...after the bullet points in the intro." --Ludwigs2 05:54, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
You mean it's a third bullet point?   Will Beback  talk  06:25, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
More Wild West: sheriffs and bullets? Peter jackson (talk) 11:58, 11 February 2011 (UTC)
@ Will, I hadn't envisioned it that way. give me a few minutes and I'll add it in the way I see it.
@ peter: Face-smile.svg --Ludwigs2 15:49, 11 February 2011 (UTC)