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Responding to recent destabilisation ("bullying")

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I don't think it's a secret to any regular here that recent weeks have been some of the most turbulent Avatar Wiki has experienced. What began as a personal vendetta (there is no fairer way to describe it) has escalated into a war of words between a disaffected few and an outraged majority. The spectres of "bullying", "hierarchy" and "admin oppression" have all been utilised in an attempt to discredit many admins and rollback users, people who are given the thankless task of moderating the wiki. So in this blog post, I have two aims. The first is to defend those users who volunteer much hard work to make this site what it is. I intend to respond to the loud words of a few that have so far been largely unanswered in extensive detail. The second is to suggest a new direction away from these destructive conflicts and to exhort us all to refocus on collaboration.

Answering recent accusations

A week ago, a blog post was published asserting that "alot [sic] of more experienced users pick on the less experienced users." Furthermore, "Alot of Admins [sic] on here bully other users on here, in thier [sic] quest to A)Gain more power or B)Defend other admins." Aside from being unsupported, this and other recent assertions confuse a lot of behaviour that has been standard for years with deliberate intimidation. Where conflict has escalated, such accusations also fail to consider context, which is all-important in understanding the true implication of an exchange.

One apparent behaviour which has been attributed to contributors is the tendency to revert some (and importantly, not all) edits made by other users, interpreted as a way of asserting superiority and the will of "experienced" users by picking on others. This is simply untrue. Less than two days ago, I said:

I think one of the most important things to accept on a wiki is that some of your edits will be reverted. A wiki is a collaboration of many people, and Avatar Wiki is a collaboration on a relatively large scale. It's inevitable that users will disagree on the content, and it is also likely that community regulars have settled into a certain pattern and a certain way of setting out the content. So the way to avoid getting worked up about the fact that edits are "deleted" is quite simple: just talk to the person who removed your edit – you can find out who did on the page history. We're all reasonable people here, and if you make a good point, we do change our minds.

We, as users, must assume that everyone else is at least trying to help the wiki become better. The system breaks down if users become protective and defensive of their edits, because that mindset assumes everyone else reverting their edits is out to get them. Pointing the finger at those who apparently have the audacity to revert edits attributes a wrong where there has been none. What really has happened is that a wiki has continued on its regular course.

Another accusation has been verbal intimidation for the purposes of "power" and "defend[ing]" those who allegedly have it. Here, the important point of clarification is that assertiveness in enforcing policy is not the same as being rude or being a "bully". In the world away from the Internet, if you caused disturbance of the peace and you were brought before the court, calling the magistrate a "bully" because of the stern language he or she employed would be laughable. (The magistrate, however, would not be amused.) Here, administrators are expressly instructed to uphold policy that the entirety of the community has agreed on – we do not make the rules; we make sure they're followed (hence the ability to block and delete). If making sure they're followed involves language that is less polite than the standard you might use to address a king or queen, so be it. A magistrate does not intone, "Please sir, might you be predisposed to some hours of community service? That would be most delightful." It's simply disingenuous to be in breach of our rules and try to absolve responsibility by throwing in the "bully" grenade.

The misinterpretation of language from the enforcement of policy that I've just explained has resulted in long arguments and subsequent bitterness. Recently, the basis for a proposed review of our behavioural guidelines was based on a long series of quotations that were cited as "personal attacks". There is no doubt that strong language is present. What is dishonest about the citation of such quotations as "personal attacks" is that they are taken out of the true context under which they were made, which is in an atmosphere of anger where the "victim" had quite recently deliberately disrupted the wiki, at one point with vandalism. There is much difference between one person yelling an insult at a passer-by and two persons engaging in a shouting match where insults happen to be thrown. For example, an admin referred to another user as having a "thick head". Quoted without knowledge of the circumstances under which that comment was made, it seems like an attack. However, if it is clarified that this was part of a long argument which began when an anonymous contributor posted on my wall with the intention of intimidating me (see this thread), it would be objectively unreasonable to treat the admin's comment as the same thing as a premeditated assault on another person's reputation. Yet some have chosen to unconscionably deviate from what is reasonable.

Finally, there is the assertion that behaviour on our IRC chat is "cruel". Again, this is grossly unfair. Aside from the fact that one can hardly expect respect in return for bitter and malicious comments against the wiki, it is well established on our IRC channel that if you are uncomfortable with what is being said (and usually these are jokes, we must allow a sense of humour after all), you should say so in neutral terms. It is not an acceptable response to something you don't like to heap further abuse on other channel users. It is deeply hypocritical to expect respect but give none.

A new direction

The endless finger-pointing is threatening to bog the wiki down – in the long term, endless arguments amongst ourselves only threaten the quality of our content and the interest contributors maintain in coming to the wiki. It is clear that it is in the interest of every contributor to this wiki to collaborate peacefully. The first step in resolving this issue is to clarify misunderstandings and misconceptions, which I have done above. The second is to attribute a common genus to the these misunderstandings and misconceptions and encourage everyone towards behaviour that awards repetition of them.

The behaviour that is required is the same behaviour that all wikis must show in spades if it is to succeed indefinitely. It is the assumption of good faith. It is where all users assume (without knowing things like a user's background and beliefs) that every other user is here to try to help the wiki. It is where every user assumes that there is a good reason to why an edit was reverted, and that if the reason provided is unsatisfactory, the logical course of action is to talk about it in good faith. It is where every user assumes that an admin (who, after all, commits a lot of time to the wiki without being paid) is simply trying to keep order on the wiki rather than intimidate or make a power grab. The satisfaction of good faith prevents outbreaks of arguments that lead to the kind of angered comments spuriously referred to as evidence of personal attacks.

That assumption so essential to the operation of the wiki should hold until if it is reasonably certain that a user does intend to harm it. And in that kind of situation, it is always best to report to the admin noticeboard.

Finally:

In my opinion, it would be best if everyone just took a deep breath and walked away from their personal vendettas against each other and/or the wiki community. Discard memories of past actions and perceived injustices. Forget what this person said to you or that other person and why it made you so angry. Throw out the prejudices that have been held up to this point. The best thing we can do now is end these heated arguments ... and then from today, judge each other by what we give to the wiki.

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