Saturday, July 14, 2007

The evil of vandal patrol

One of my major pet peeves with Wikipedia's admins is their insistence that "blanking talk page messages" is a blockable offense. I'm not entirely sure how this got to be such a wikicrime, and it's quite silly that it is, but nonetheless there are admins who continue to enforce this rule even though Wikipedia's own policy explicitly repudiates it. One of my own sockpuppets was even threatened with a block for removing a "welcome" template.

The most recent outrage along these lines involves administrator OwenX, who blocked an anonymous user for blanking his talk page to remove a very old routine notice and a completed conversation. The first editor to warn him for the perfectly reasonable act of keeping his talk page clean was Rebel2, who irrelevantly warned the anonymous editor for "deleting other people's messages". Next to play the revert game was Gilliam (who appears to be a vandalism patroller), and then OwenX, who reverted several times before first offering a highly threatening template (totally ignoring that the threat to block is completely unsupported by policy) and then finally blocking the anonymous editor. OwenX also protected the anonymous editor's talk page, presumably to prevent him from complaining about being blocked and to prevent him from removing the old, irrelevant messages.

The only reason this editor was blocked was because these editors are enforcing a rule (presumably taught to them by their fellow vandal patrolling mentors) that lacks consensus support and serves no purpose. This block is "bullshit", and was removed as such. In the subsequent discussion, Owen refers to a template talk page as support for such blocks—surely not an appropriate place for a "centralized discussion". His parting shot ("When you're ready to talk in a civilized manner, I'll be happy to discuss.") is especially juvenile.

This episode reflects the siege mentality that consumes most vandalism patrollers. Other contributing factors in this failure to treat a contributor with respect include a widespread belief that anonymous editors are worth less than registered editors, the failure of vandalism patrollers to be aware of policy (specifically in this case in relation to blanking talk page messages), and the excessive reliance on templated communication by vandalism patrollers and others on Wikipedia. The real problem, though, is the misplaced urgency. Vandalism patrollers have simply got to slow down and stop letting their fancy software make all their decisions for them. If vandalism patrollers aren't going to actually exercise discretion, there's no reason not to replace all of them by bots.


  1. I've had a similar (though less extreme) experience personally. I wasn't logged in at the time and I forgot to leave an edit summary, but I removed a paragraph that said something like "(This is not based on any verified source, but just the author's educated guess)" at the end. My change was reverted as vandalism, and when I requested an apology (and that's all I wanted) for the mistake the admin who had reverted me refused to admit error by saying that rc patrollers can't be expected to actually read what they're reverting.

    I still don't know what to say about that position.

  2. The really odd thing is that this rule seems to apply only to newbies -- check out Jeff Merkey's talk page to see what I mean.

  3. "administrator community"?

    I am positively shocked! I thought that administrators were just the same as everybody else.


  4. People will never listen. It was if I was "trained" to block people who did this back in the day... remember when the "wr" templates came out? Really, though, if it's, say, an IP doing this persistently, then protect the page. If an established editor is doing it, leave it. Admins, however, never take anything lightly anymore, especially situations like these. Big surprise.

  5. There are some factual inaccuracies, as well as some glaring omissions in the original post.

    1. The month-old DYK notice on the anon's talk page had nothing to do with this incident; in fact, that was the only message the anon chose to keep there. This anon has the habit of erasing any comment on the talk page which he finds objectionable, usually within minutes of it being posted to him. Nothing in the policy against that, but his persistence in doing so despite reverts by the other two editors got my attention. When Rebel2 politely asked him to avoid removing comments from the talk page, the anon--as expected--removed that comment right away; it was the blatant incivility of this act that triggered me to react, posting the warning. The block itself was for lack of civility and for disruption, not for vandalism; mea culpa for using the wrong template.

    2. Even after being blocked, the anon continued blanking messages from the talk page; only then did I protect the page. The suggestion that I did that to prevent him from complaining about the block is ridiculous. If that had been the intention, I would have selected the "Prevent from sending email" option when I blocked him. Frankly, since I was the one who originally came up with the now-popular unblock-request mechanism, I find the suggestion that I would silence anyone especially insulting.

    3. The block was for a total of three hours. We've probably spent far more time than that discussing it. In practice, however, that editor wasn't blocked at all, since he was able to immediately create a registered account and leave a comment on my talk page. Why this editor chooses to do his editing anonymously is anyone's guess, but--again, it's his right to do so. Unblocking him was of symbolic value only; there was just over an hour left until the block was et to expire, and the editor also had use of his new registered account anyway.

    4. Your quote of my comment to Makemi is accurate. Your readers may, however, be interested in seeing the rude, condescending comment that brought on that reply.

    5. Anonymous editors are not "second class citizens", but editors--registered or not--who remove text without bothering to put even a cursory explanation in the Edit Summary consume far too much resources from the RC patrolling community in trying to figure out or second guess their intentions. When valid comments are removed from Talk pages on sight and without responding, the intention is clear: this editor is not interested in what anyone has to say. Words like 'consensus' and 'civility' mean nothing to them; they work alone. Whether or not the contribution of such editors is beneficial to a wiki is debatable.


  6. This "rule" applies only to the peons; if you're part of the ruling clique, you're free to delete anybody's comments you want (just label the commenter as a "troll" in your edit summary), and if anybody tries to revert you, they're the ones committing a bannable offense.

  7. Heck, who cares what the policies actually say any more? After all, we Know (through our butt, not our eyes) what Wikipedia policy is, and we Know that Wikipedia policy says civility is what we say it is. After all, doesn't WP:WL tell us to abide by the spirit of the policy, not the letter? And we Know what the spirit of policy is, even without reading it! Let no facts stand in the way of the truth!

    And the depressing thing is that this brand of thinking seems to be quite common indeed.

  8. See my en:wp talk page for another sample. I think I'll need to be loading up with moron-shot^W^W^W^W^Wseeking to provide some gentle guidance to some of these people to enhance their abilities as admins.

  9. Add OwenX to the list of reasons Wikipedia needs either defined terms for admins, or admin recall that's as easy as promoting to admin.

    However, it's an easily verifiable fact that anonymous contributors are worth less than people who bother to create accounts.

  10. Isn't RfA the antipode of easy?