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Reward and punishment

Noto Emoji Pie 1f4c4.svg 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.

Reward and punishment greatly factor into wiki policy and philosophy. People take certain actions under the assumption that it will influence a person's behavior in a certain way. However, in many cases, evidence is lacking as to the effectiveness of the rewards and punishments.

Examples are the principle of no shrines to vandals; the rule that pages created in violation of a block or ban can be deleted on sight; and WikiLove. It is assumed that people edit because they want some sort of attention, good or bad, or that they have an agenda to promote that they will give up on if people undo their work. It is not clear, however, exactly what motivates users to behave in the ways they behave, and some of the efforts to control or influence that behavior could be useless or even counterproductive.

In some cases, people are quite willing to sacrifice other organizational goals for the sake of rewarding or punishing users. Resources that could have gone to other code development projects were devoted to mw:Extension:Wikilove. Useful content is deleted in order to deter the banned editor who posted it.[1][2] Pages, templates and categories that might have been helpful in documenting a vandal's activities and making it easier to determine appropriate sanctions and compare observed user behavior to his behavior for sockpuppet identification purposes is deleted because it might be constitute a shrine to a vandal.

The question of what motivates editors is difficult to answer for many of the same reasons that the paradox of voting is such a conundrum. Wiki editors have been described as "completely masochistic in nature".[3] Why would someone invest so much time on a site that will likely mistreat him (e.g. by accusing him of conflicts of interest for editing articles concerning topics with which he has some personal involvement in meatspace) if he reveal their true identity, but will otherwise give him no credit (other than pseudonymously, and buried in a page history at which almost no one looks)? Some, perhaps, enjoy the experience as an MMORPG. Others have some cause they are trying to promote, with varying degrees of subtlety. Others, e.g. certain wikignomes who have no particular area of special interest, but help out all over the project, may take pride more than anything in contributing to a useful encylopedia.

For a variety of reasons, people sometimes announce that they are leaving and never coming back. Probably in most of these cases, the event that tipped them over the edge was not the only reason. There were probably other factors that made those editors not a good fit for Wikipedia. But there are some people who are hard to deter from editing. Some editors, having been banned, with all their edits reverted and all their articles deleted, have repeatedly come back, despite the punishment and disrespect they receive each time. Perhaps it is due to a miscalculation; a belief that it will be different the next time. It is hard to say, but in any event, it is clear than in those cases the punishment fails to deter.


  1. Kww. "G5". G5 remains the only serious technique we have for discouraging socks. . . [C]ombing through the contributions and attempting to sort the good from the bad only encourages the banned user to keep trying to add his content. In the long run, absolute ruthlessness works best. 
  2. Kusma. "G5 comments". Have you ever dealt with banned users? It is extremely frustrating, but really, the only way to show them they are not allowed to edit is to remove and revert all of their good edits. 
  3. "Frequently Whined Questions". Wikitruth.