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|(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.|
While Project Wiki does have a Universal Code of Conduct, individual communities tailor their own policies and guidelines to their own needs. For example, the English Wikipedia has the longstanding guideline WP:AssumeGoodFaith and the English Wikinews has the very different guideline, WN:NEVERASSUME. Wikinewsies believe that it creates a better mindset for writing the news.
However, for individual Wikis to function, it is even more important that rules that differ from most Wikis are written down in clear and unambiguous language.
The purpose of a written rule is...
- To let users know ahead of time which actions are permitted and which are not.
- To let users who broke a rule known after the fact that the rule was real.
- To prevent admins and other trusted members of the community from abusing their authority.
- To prevent admins and other trusted members of the community from being perceived as having abused their authority.
Ahead of timeEdit
Many of the things that disrupt the normal course of business on a Wikipedia or other Wikiprojects are the normal course of business on other parts of the Internet. For example, there are websites where throwing insults (against WP:CIVIL) and having long conversations (can be against WP:BATTLEGROUNDING) are considered a normal part of a spirited conversation. There are websites dedicated to doing these exact things. New contributors can be guided to read WP:CIVIL or WX:CONDUCT and will see in advance that everyone is expected to refrain from acting in this way on-Wiki.
After the factEdit
If you want someone to believe that they did something wrong, you have to show them proof.
When a user is accused of being disruptive, it often feels like an attack. One knee-jerk reaction is to at least suspect that the accuser is lying. "It's against the rules to [example]? No way! You and your friends just don't like that I disagree with you and are trying to shut me up." Directing the accused user to the relevant guideline or policy proves that the rule was already there before the user broke it and that no one is making up fake rules just to mess with them. It helps the accused user accept that it was nothing personal.
If a rule is important but isn't written down, use a precedent. For example, on the English Wikipedia, sanctions.user seems to say that no AE sanction may last more than one year. In practice, however, the blocks simply become normal blocks after one year and become subject to normal unblock conditions. This has been normal practice since at least 2015. A user who is indeffed at AE may draw the completely reasonable conclusion that the admins violated policy to give him or her a bigger punishment. Again, showing the user that a rule has been in use for years and was absolutely not made up on the spot just for them can reassure them that they are not being persecuted.
Many of us were raised on movies and other media where the cowboy or well-meaning police officer knows that the rotten criminal needs to be punished but can't do his job because all those silly rules are in the way. This makes for excellent fiction but in real life, most people think they're right even when they're not. If we allow admins to say "Well, there isn't a rule against criticizing an admin action, but I'm going to go with my gut and punish this user but not that one. That comment just feels more disruptive to me" it creates the temptation for admins to punish posts based on content and not conduct. It creates the perception that admins give passes to their friends and punish people they've decided not to like.
Worse, if an admin says, "Well, this is how we do things here, but there's no written rule about it ...well, we had a consensus discussion about it but it would take me three hours to find the link ...uh, and there might have been a precedent two years ago but I don't remember when..." then it looks like the admin is lying even if they're not. Written rules protect admins' reputations by making it easy for them to prove that they are only carrying out the community's decisions and not acting out personal preferences.
Why it's an issueEdit
We don't always like to admit how things really work. If the rule really is "Bill gets to call you names but you're not allowed to do it back" or "Yes the admin is allowed to block you even though you and they are in a content dispute" it really is best to be up-front about it. Everyone on Project Wiki is donating their time and labor. They're not promised payment, but there is a tacit understanding that the community will use those donations the way they say they're going to use them. We have an ethical obligation to tell people what kind of project this is so they can make educated decisions about how much energy to give to it.