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The disciplinary systems of most Wikiprojects aspire to be antidisruptive, not punitive. What does this mean?
"Aspire" means that it does not always work this way. The American Pledge of Allegiance makes a big deal out of "freedom and justice for all," so we say the United States of America aspires to serve the causes of freedom and justice, but a look at a history book will show that this has often not been true in practice. However, by aspiring toward an ideal, an organization and its members usually get closer to it than if they did not even try. As in many things, a balance must be struck between acknowledging the way a system really works and aspiring to the way that system should work.
- The most important thing is to identify the disruptive action for the community.
- It matters whether or not the sanctioned user performed the disruptive action.
- Moral value is not relevant.
- 1 Acknowledge that all sanctions are punitive
- 2 Always identify the disruptive action
- 3 Treat erroneous sanctions like any other error—correct them without fanfare
- 4 Do not ascribe moral value to Wiki misconduct
- 5 Never violate policy
- 6 Always give the real reason
- 7 Want less drama? Deescalate
Acknowledge that all sanctions are punitiveEdit
To an extent "antidisruptive, not punitive" is impossible. All sanctions are punitive and there is no way to remove the punitive element. Sanctions should be antidisruptive in addition to being punitive, but they cannot be antidisruptive instead of punitive. Telling a sanctioned user "You are not allowed to resent the sanction because it is not a punishment" is likely to make the person feel more wronged and more angry, and it may escalate an already charged situation. Do not correct users who refer to sanctions as punishments; that is what they are.
Always identify the disruptive actionEdit
In an antidisruptive disciplinary system, the single most important thing is to identify the action that caused the disruption. Be direct and specific. Do not say "You violated WN:POINT." Say "This edit violates WN:POINT in this way" or "This post of yours counts as WP:BATTLEGROUNDING because you do this." List the reason even if you think the sanctioned user is too stupid to understand you. At least one person reading your post will understand. Because our disciplinary systems are public, you are also speaking to the entire community, and you are telling them "Don't do this because it counts as misconduct" going forward.
After all, this isn't meant to be personal. If making an edit that reads "Widgets are red" is misconduct when Editor A does it, then it is misconduct when Editors B through Z do it as well.
If you have a nagging suspicion that a given action wouldn't be misconduct if a different person performed it, then do not sanction Editor A until you figure out why not, and disclose your reason publicly. It's best to be a fair system, but it's better to be a self-aware unfair system than a self-deluding unfair system.
- "I sanctioned Bill and not Bob because Bob does ten times as much work on this project as you do" isn't fun for Bill, but it may encourage the community to do more work.
- "I sanctioned Bill and not Bob because Bob's position is supported by sources and Bill's isn't" isn't fun for Bill, but it tells the community that sources are valued more than people's cherished beliefs.
- "I sanctioned Bill and not Bob because Bob has a lot more friends than Bill does" isn't fun for Bill and it isn't fully consistent with the idea that we should all care more about what sources say than people's cherished beliefs, but it tells people who have no chance of achieving their goals to stay quiet until they're fully prepared and what kind of preparation they need to do.
Why is this such a problem?Edit
Sometimes, we don't always want to admit that we think an action is bad. Wikiprojects aspire to be egalitarian, so if someone disrupted a page by not deferring to someone who outranks them socially, saying so requires us to acknowledge that we haven't lived up to our egalitarian ideals. Wikiprojects are supposed to be about sourcing, so if someone disrupted a page by repeatedly pointing out that the content didn't match the sourcing, saying so requires us to acknowledge that we haven't lived up to our verifiability-loving ideals.
Resist this temptation. Face it head on, "The way WikiThis is supposed to work is for everyone to count equally, but the way it actually works is that Editor Bob is allowed to call you names but you're not allowed to defend yourself in kind. Yes, we're giving Bob special treatment." It's ugly but "Um, Editor Bob didn't call you names! You only imagined it!" while pretending not to see Bob's posts is uglier. "The way WikiThat is supposed to work is for sources to matter more than opinions, but sometimes it does come down to a popularity contest" is ugly, but "Sources? I don't see any sources!" while pretending not to see Bill's posts is uglier.
If this kind of contradiction is too difficult for you, then consider all the wonderful ways you can help your project other than participating in the disciplinary system.
Treat erroneous sanctions like any other error—correct them without fanfareEdit
In an antidisruptive system, the second most important thing is whether the sanctioned user performed the disruptive action. This can involve some gray area, but if a sanctioned user can provide reasonable proof that they did not do the thing for which they were sanctioned, then accept it gracefully and either lift, reduce or reexamine the sanction. Perhaps they did do something disruptive but not the exact thing for which they were sanctioned.
If you are the admin who issued the sanction, apologize. It was your job to confirm the facts before issuing the sanction. Whether you imposed an unjustified sanction or gave the sanctioned user inaccurate information, it was still your mistake and your fault. You are a human being and only a volunteer, and mistakes happen, especially on a project this big. Say you made a mistake and you are sorry. Then move on.
If you are correcting a sanction made by another admin, do not insist the other admin apologize. If possible, draw no attention to the other admin. It is about the sanction, not the admin who placed it. The other admin is a human being and only a volunteer, and mistakes happen, especially on a project this big.
If you feel disrespected or as if your authority is undermined when someone corrects you on a factual matter, perhaps the disciplinary system is not for you.
Do not ascribe moral value to Wiki misconductEdit
An antidisruptive system is not about fostering ethics or teaching the punished person a lesson. Whether or not the sanctioned editor appears sorry for their actions is not relevant to whether the sanction should be kept or lifted. All that is necessary is to identify the disruptive action (sanctioning authority's job) and a promise not to repeat said action (sanctioned user's job).
Most of us learned about disciplinary systems as schoolchildren. Yes, the teachers wanted enough silence so they could carry on with lessons, but they also wanted to teach the children to be good people. It wasn't solely "Don't do that because it's noisy." It was also "Don't do that because that's bad." That reflex can be counterproductive here.
Ideally, a user sanctioned for an immoral act, like harassment or lying, would say they're sorry, but it is not necessary. For a morally neutral act, like edit warring or making longwinded posts, it is even less necessary.
This is because many of the things considered disruptive of the normal course of business on Wikiprojects are the normal course of business on other parts of the Internet. An editor who says, "Next time I feel like [performing disruptive action], I will go to [other site where that action is normal]" is a good candidate for the lifting of that sanction. Yes, they've shown that they feel no remorse, but they've clearly recognized that the Wikiproject is not the place for that action and they have a plan for scratching any itch that may arise. We're here to build encyclopedias and dictionaries and publish the news, not promote the One True Internet Etiquette.
Avoid the schoolteacher mindsetEdit
Most of us learned about disciplinary systems as schoolchildren, so it is tempting for admins to think of themselves as teachers who must get the little boys and little girls to behave. In all-adult situations, however, that is a counterproductive mindset. People can tell when they are being infantilized, and this usually makes them angry. Also, teachers can demand to be deferred to without question because they are adults, and adults almost always know better than children. We remember that one time a classmate caught a teacher making a mistake because it only happened one or two times.
On Wikiprojects, content creators usually know more about their specialized area than the admins working the disciplinary system do.
Avoid using words that teachers use with little children. For example, say "posts" instead of "behavior." Do not complain that someone has an "authority problem." You do not have as much authority over other users that teachers have over their students or that employers have over their employees.
Think of yourself more like the bouncer at a bar. Consider the motto "Do what you like but don't do it here."
Never violate policyEdit
If the sanctioned user can point to a specific policy that says they are allowed to perform the action in question, do not "use your judgement" to punish them anyway. First, tell the user to stop for the time being. Then go to the policy page and propose amending it. Use the user's actions as an example. Invite the user to participate in the discussion.
If the user has misinterpreted policy or if policy has drifted away from a literal interpretation of the rules, say so. For example, on the English Wikipedia, sanctions.user seems to say that no sanction given at AE may last more than one year. However, admins have interpreted this to mean that all AE sanctions automatically become normal sanctions after one year, and they have done so since at least 2015. Showing the user that something is longstanding practice and that the admins did not break the rules on the spot to make a new punishment can dispel anger and prevent drama.
Always give the real reasonEdit
There may be some extreme cases in which a user must be sanctioned despite doing absolutely nothing wrong. For example, if someone is the target of disruptive harassment or impersonation, removing the victim may have a net benefit for the project. In such a case, the admin should apologize to the sanctioned user and acknowledge publicly that the sanction is being laid despite the fact that the sanction-ee did not violate any rules.
Since this scenario is grossly unfair, it may be tempting to tell the community or ourselves that the sanction-ee really did do something wrong and then exaggerate it or round it up. Resist this urge.
Want less drama? DeescalateEdit
Disciplinary proceedings tend to be highly charged and any of the participants can get emotional. Here are some ways to dispel negative emotions and smooth out the process.
- SLOW THINGS DOWN. People who feel attacked often respond on reflex. Instead, give everyone time to read the complaint thoroughly. Promise the accused that no sanction will be laid until after they have had a chance to compose a careful reply.
- Acknowledge those parts of the accusation may not be merited. ("You are accused of adding material without sources, but I can see you provided one source. Let's drop that accusation for now and focus on the rest of the complaint instead.")
- Avoid traditionally insulting accusations. There are many cultures in which calling someone a liar is very serious, and the person is honor-bound to refute it.
- Acknowledge times when the system is not fair.
- Avoid anything that suggests magic or mind-reading. Do not issue a sanction that would require you to know what someone was thinking when they made a post. Use observable actions only. When you draw an inference, acknowledge that it is only a guess. Never require anyone else to read your mind or guess.
- Remember that your own thoughts are clear and obvious to you but may not be so to other people.
- Do not demand that anyone pretend. Do not expect sanctioned users to pretend that they feel they deserved the sanction. Do not demand that sanctioned users pretend they think they are wrong about content if they are still convinced they are right. Their thoughts are not disruptive. Do not demand that someone who is topic banned pretend that they do not know anything about the topic. Their knowledge is not disruptive Demand only specific actions.