Offensive behavior

Noto Emoji Pie 1f4c4.svg (English) This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

Offensive behavior is a somewhat nebulous term, much like "helpful behavior," "friendly behavior," etc. What one person finds beneficial, another person may find obnoxious or harmful. E.g., even the adding of factual, well-sourced information to an article can be viewed as harmful by those who believe the editor is causing the article to become biased by undue weight being placed on a subtopic.

Offensive actionsEdit

Sometimes users will get offended by behavior of an editor and cite that reaction as an aggravating factor that should justify harsher punishment. The reaction of offense being taken is deemed to be evidence that the behavior was objectively harmful. This encourages users to express offense at behavior that they wish to discourage, and therefore could promote wikidrama rather than help stop it. Hence the xkcd Law of Drama.

Offensive viewpointsEdit

Users may find one viewpoint agreeable and the opposite viewpoint offensive. For example, the English Wikipedia's child protection policy states that users who express "the view that inappropriate relationships are not harmful to children" will be indefinitely blocked. Merely expressing such views does not, in and of itself, threaten children. However, impassioned arguments about such views, especially in forums devoted to the transaction of other sorts of wiki-business (e.g. deletion debates), could be a significant distraction.

However, it is unclear why one viewpoint should be permitted to be expressed, but not the opposite viewpoint. If the subject is off-topic for a given forum, then neither side should be allowed to put forth its view. If a subject is on-topic, then both sides should get a chance to put forth the facts and logic supporting their position. To make a statement that "reasonable people agree x; therefore the opposite view, y, should not be allowed to be expressed" is self-defeating, from the standpoint of idea quality control.

How can one determine what the reasonable people believe if not all viewpoints are allowed a fair hearing? Since people are liable to err, what is considered the "reasonable" view tends to shift over time, as old ideas become suspect in light of new evidence. Truth-seeking is an evolutionary process; it is counterproductive to establish an official version of the truth and then lock the doors against revision by banning the discussions that would be a necessary precursor to such revision.

People justified laws against blasphemy by arguing that disrespectful statements about certain gods or religions inflame people to anger, and therefore could lead to disturbances to the peace. But every challenge to the established order is a blasphemy to those who view change as a threat. It would be better if people would simply not take such offense. It's also noteworthy that these anti-offensiveness policies almost always are biased in favor of the views of the powers that be; e.g. because atheists were not in power when the blasphemy laws were written, no corresponding law was enacted against offensive speech calling atheists unrighteous[1] fools[2] who deserved to go to Hell for eternity.[3]

To allow censorship of views deemed offensive encourages people to express offense at views with which they disagree, so as to prevent those views from being aired. It encourages appeals to emotion rather than more reasonable forms of discussion. It achieves the exact opposite of the stated goal of the censorship.

Furthermore, arguments that some viewpoints must be censored in order to protect the reputation of the encyclopedia are similarly misguided. People who oppose censorship are likely to view the project in a worse light for engaging in censorship. Editors banned for expressing unpopular opinions are unlikely to serve as goodwill ambassadors for the project; they are, rather, likely to criticize it.

Censoring one viewpoint, but not the other, leads to a biased encyclopedia. Even if the views toward which it is biased are currently popular, this does not mean that in the future the encyclopedia will not be criticized for succumbing to argumentum ad populum. To not allow minority viewpoints any mention at all can, in some cases, produce undue weight on the side of the majority position.

See alsoEdit


  1. Romans 3:10
  2. Psalm 14:1
  3. John 3:18, John 3:36, John 14:16, Romans 6:23, Revelation 20:15