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.