Resolving disputes and conflicts with bad faith Wikipedia editors can be the most challenging situation on the encyclopedia. Best practices on Wikipedia are highly nuanced and situational, especially when a dispute involves a sophisticated bad faith editor with an agenda to damage the reputation of the subject of a Wikipedia page. This column provides background and guidelines for dealing with this difficult problems.
Experienced Wikipedia editors hold considerable advantages in any dispute. A knowledgeable Wikipedia editor can get the most egregious of these situations (such as libelous attacks against living people) resolved very quickly. But Wikipedia’s complex practices can similarly be used by bad faith editors to bludgeon inexperienced users or even get them banned, regardless of who is right on the merits. For example, violating the “three revert rule” can lead to an immediate account block. It’s just one of dozens of policy traps an inexperienced editor can fall into. If you don’t have the time and patience to immerse yourself in Wikipedia policy to learn these rules it’s going to be hard to prevail absent coaching from an experienced Wikipedia editor.
How Do I Identify a Bad Faith Editor on Wikipedia?
Bad faith editors on Wikipedia are those who intentionally violate the platform’s guidelines with an aim to harm the reputation of a subject or article.These editors will often resort to vandalism, libel, or personal attacks to achieve their goals. Identifying such malicious editors typically involves collecting evidence of repeated instances of thigns like them posting misleading or false information, showing a repeated disregard for Wikipedia consensus if it does not fall in line with their own objectives, or lodging personal attacks against users who attempt to correct or dispute their changes.
What Should I Do If I Encounter a Bad Faith Editor on Wikipedia?
If you encounter a bad faith editor on Wikipedia, it’s important not to get into conflict with them but instead to follow the platform’s established dispute resolution process. Start with good faith discussions on the “Talk” pages, focusing on the content dispute rather than the individual’s behavior. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, seek assistance from uninvolved editors or use the appropriate notice boards for appeals. There are many, depending on the nature of the dispute. Bad behavior is reported differently than a content dispute. Remember, you must always clearly represent any conflict of interest when posting on Wikipedia. When you have a conflict of interest, volunteer editors will expect you to quickly cite the relevant policy violations, backed by supporting “reliable sources.” If you fail to make your case within the context of Wikipedia’s policies (e.g. verification, coatracking, weasel, NPOV), then decisions may go against you even if you’re right on the merits. COI users who fail to declare their conflict of interest properly are usually not hard to spot — and depending on the situation, they may be banned or, at the very least, their arguments will be severely undermined by having failed to disclose a COI.
As a last resort, you may request arbitration from the Arbitration Committee, which can be considered a sort of “Supreme Court of Wikipedia”. But if you have not tried all the lower rungs of the ladder first, your appeal will not be considered. Also, consider seeking professional help from paid consultants who are experienced in handling such disputes.
How to Resolve Disputes with Bad Faith Wikipedia Editors
In general, disputes on Wikipedia are complicated affairs that can involve not just clashes of viewpoints or unpleasant personal interactions, but also sophisticated invocations of Wikipedia policy (especially by more experienced users). When you’re dealing with experienced bad faith editors who are intentionally undermining the integrity of an article and know how to do so effectively, these disputes can become even more challenging. The first step towards resolution is understanding the dispute process and your options within it. The second step is maintaining your composure throughout the process. This guide will provide an overview for effectively dealing with disputes involving bad faith editors on Wikipedia.
1. Identify Bad Faith Behavior
Before you can engage in dispute resolution, you need to identify bad faith behavior. Bad faith editors usually violate Wikipedia’s guidelines with the intention of causing harm to the subject or article. Such actions may include vandalism, libel, or personal attacks. Identifying these editors usually involves tracking patterns of false or misleading information, disregard for other editors’ consensus, or a tendency towards personal attacks. Having a clear understanding of Wikipedia’s policies can help you identify such behaviors. The basics of Wikipedia policy can be found in the page called The Five Pillars of Wikipedia. Before engaging in a dispute resolution, you need to at least read and absorb the fundamental policies. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a policy with a name like “reliable sources” means the same thing as the English language definition of those words. Policy names are just shorthand to represent many thousands of words of text – and your personal idea of “reliable” is unlikely to be the same as the technical definition on Wikipedia.
Don’t make arguments based on “common sense.” Make the time to find the appropriate Wikipedia policy and cite to it, specifically. You’re playing on Wikipedia’s turf even if the issue is very personal to you.
2. Engage in Good Faith Discussions
Once you have identified bad faith behavior, initiate a polite and rational conversation with the editor. Use the Talk page of the article or the user’s talk page for these discussions. Make sure to explain your objections and concerns clearly and maintain civility throughout the conversation. Even when you suspect bad faith on the part of another person,do not accuse someone of deliberately being disruptive when engaging with them on Wikipedia — this violates the “Assume Good Faith” policy, which stipulates that all editors must assume that others are acting with good intentions when debating content issues on the platform. Even if another editor or editors violate this policy and attack you, don’t retaliate and do the same to them; let them make the mistake of violating AGF (or Wikipedia’s No Personal Attacks” policy) instead of doing it yourself, as other editors will respond both to the merits of your arguments and to the tone and language you use to make them. You can even get banned for fighting back in the wrong way.
3. Focus on Content, Not Conduct
During your discussions, it’s essential to concentrate on the content of the article rather than the conduct of the editor. Even if the editor’s behavior is questionable, focusing on content helps keep the conversation productive and avoids escalating the conflict. This includes avoiding personal attacks and maintaining professionalism throughout the process.
4. Seek Assistance from Uninvolved Editors
If your discussions do not resolve the dispute, you can request help from uninvolved editors who have not been involved and can potentially provide a fresh, unbiased perspective on the matter.
Uninvolved editors with a good understanding of the subject matter or Wikipedia’s policies can be particularly helpful. That said, it is against Wikipedia policy to only seek out editors who you have reason to believe will be sympathetic to your point of view. If you are reaching out to previous participants in a discussion, then you must notify all of them, not just the ones who you like. Navigating this particular maze can be particularly difficult. You might want to reach out to a professional consultant for help. An experienced professional can help you avoid charges of “cherry picking” editors, which can result in your being disciplined by Wikipedia administrators.
5. Utilize Noticeboards for Conduct Disputes
In cases where the dispute is about the conduct of the editor rather than the content, utilize appropriate noticeboards. There are dozens of possible noticeboards to report issues and seek intervention. Wikipedia provides directories of noticeboards. That said, you are prohibited from “forum shopping” – you can’t just jump from noticeboard to noticeboard when you don’t like the result. There is an escalation path that may be appropriate if the process of “consensus” decision making is done incorrectly. In general, appealing a previous decision (or decisions) requires referring to the previous decision(s) and explaining why the process was flawed. Simply ignoring a decision and starting over somewhere else because you don’t like the outcome is not permitted, and consistently or egregiously ignoring consensus can get a user banned. Escalation of failed consensus decisions or dispute resolutions requires years of experience to handle correctly. If the volunteer community is not being helpful, consider a professional consultant.
6. Consider Arbitration as a Last Resort
If all other steps fail to resolve the dispute, you can request arbitration. This is a last resort and requires you to demonstrate your efforts in trying to resolve the dispute through other means. The Arbitration Committee will then issue a decision — and whatever they decide is binding, there is no further appeal beyond this point.
7. Hire a Paid Consultant
Finally, if the dispute is complex or you’re unsure about how to navigate the policies and process, consider hiring a paid consultant. Experienced consultants have extensive knowledge of Wikipedia’s policies and dispute resolution process. They can providing expert advice and strategies to counter bad faith editing and when it makes sense, manage the disputes on your behalf, while staying strictly within Wikipedia guidelines, especially proper disclosure of conflict of interest. Be sure to hire a “white hat” Wikipedia consultant or the page about you or your organization might end up being attacked even more severely. See our guide on how to tell the difference between a “white hat” consultant and a “black hat” vendor.
Dos and Don’ts of Resolving Disputes with Bad Faith Wikipedia Editors
- Do initiate a polite and rational conversation with the suspected bad faith editor, explaining your objections and concerns.
- Do focus on the content of the article rather than the conduct of the editor during discussions.
- Do seek assistance from uninvolved editors if the dispute remains unresolved.
- Do use appropriate noticeboards like for conduct disputes.
- Do consider arbitration if all other methods have failed, but be prepared to demonstrate your efforts in resolving the dispute through other means.
- Do consider hiring a paid consultant if the dispute is complex or if you’re unsure about navigating the process. WhiteHatWiki has been assisting clients navigate highly contentious matters on Wikipedia since 2013.
- Don’t engage in personal attacks or unprofessional behavior, even if the other editor is acting in bad faith.
- Don’t ignore Wikipedia’s guidelines and policies in an attempt to counter the bad faith editor.
- Don’t fail to disclose your conflict of interest every time you start a new post.
- Don’t get involved in an edit war, as this can lead to both parties being blocked from editing.
- Don’t take unilateral decisions without seeking consensus or a third-party opinion.
- Don’t resort to arbitration without first trying to resolve the dispute through discussion, mediation, or seeking help from uninvolved editors.
- Don’t give up on the process, even though it may be time-consuming and frustrating. The integrity of Wikipedia depends on users like you standing up to bad faith actions.
Debunking Bad Faith Wikipedia Editor Myths
There are many misconceptions surrounding bad faith editors on Wikipedia that can create confusion and make it difficult for well-intentioned editors to navigate disputes effectively. Debunking these misconceptions is important to empower users with a better understanding of bad faith editing and how they can work with the wider Wikipedia community to address and resolve conflicts caused by malicious editors quickly and effectively. To that end, here are some of the most common myths about bad faith editors and bad faith editing that less experienced Wikipedia users tend to fall victim to:
Myth 1: All Disagreements on Wikipedia are Caused by Bad Faith Editors
Not all disagreements on Wikipedia are the result of bad faith editing. It is normal for editors to have differing opinions and interpretations of sources, guidelines, or policies. Many conflicts arise from genuine differences in perspective and can be resolved through constructive dialogue and consensus-building. It is essential to differentiate between a well-intentioned editor with a different viewpoint and an editor who is deliberately trying to undermine the encyclopedia’s integrity.
Myth 2: Bad Faith Editors are Always Obvious and Easy to Spot
While some bad faith editors may be blatantly obvious in their attempts to disrupt Wikipedia, others can be subtle and sophisticated. They may engage in slow-burn tactics, spread misinformation, or manipulate consensus-building processes to push their agenda. According to reports in the press and on Wikipedia, bad faith actors on Wikipedia have included government-backed misinformation agencies, political parties and ideologues attacking opponents, litigation opponents and corporate dirty tricksters. Identifying bad faith editing requires vigilance, a strong understanding of Wikipedia policies, and the ability to recognize patterns of behavior that suggest an ulterior motive.
Myth 3: Bad Faith Editing is Unstoppable and Cannot Be Resolved
Although dealing with bad faith editors can be challenging, it is not an insurmountable task. Wikipedia has robust dispute resolution processes in place, including discussions, mediation, third-party opinions, noticeboards, and arbitration. By following these processes and remaining professional, you can effectively manage and resolve conflicts with bad faith editors. Additionally, paid consultants with expertise in handling disputes can be hired to help manage complex situations and ensure the integrity of the encyclopedia is maintained.
You Can Protect Wikipedia Pages from Bad Faith Editors
In this guide, we’ve explored how to identify and deal with bad faith editors on Wikipedia. We’ve debunked some common myths and provided a basic approach to resolving disputes effectively. From initiating good faith discussions and focusing on content, to seeking assistance from uninvolved editors and considering arbitration, we’ve covered the comprehensive process to tackle these challenges. We also discussed the benefits of hiring paid consultants, who bring their expertise and strategies to the table for managing complex cases.
If you’re dealing with a dispute involving a bad faith editor and feel overwhelmed, you can seek assistance and stay within Wikipedia policy. Consider seeking professional help to navigate the process. If you’re ready to take that step, don’t hesitate to reach out to WhiteHatWiki.to get into conflict with them