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Admins' Corner: Warnings and Blocks

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It's always worth going over basic principles of wiki management, and one of the more important principles is when to warn a user and when to block a user from the wiki.

Where to start

  • If a user does something which violates the wiki's policies, first consider the motives behind that user's action. Wherever possible, Assume Good Faith - assume that a user's actions, even if they violate policy, were done with the intent to improve the wiki, unless evidence clearly indicates otherwise.
  • Consider the magnitude of the policy violation, especially in light of whether the action was good faith or bad faith.
  • Consider (to a limited extent) the past actions of the user - see below for more info on this.

Determining Good vs Bad faith

The base assumption of all administrators should be that every edit made to the wiki is made in good faith - unless evidence exists to the contrary, every edit should be treated as if the editor had the best intentions, even if the quality of the edit is poor. For instance, a user might make an addition to a page without citing the source. While this technically violates our policies and/or guidelines, it was likely not done with the intent to harm the wiki or the article; indeed, it is likely that the editor was making a potentially useful edit but simply didn't know the rules or didn't know how to cite a source properly.

However, there are cases of obvious bad faith; examples include inserting random characters, gibberish or profanity into a page, or attacking a user on their talk page. In these cases, it is clear that the user had no intent to make a positive contribution, and may even be present with the goal to cause trouble or create drama. The thing to remember, though, is that these incidents are relatively few and far between, compared to the number of positive users and positive edits that we have.

Rule of thumb - Give users the benefit of the doubt, and don't block for good faith edits (unless they've been instructed multiple times to change behavior).

When (not) to block

A mistake that many may make is to block for things which don't need blocks. Therefore, I've identified a guide for when a block is appropriate and not appropriate. These lists are not exhaustive.

Consider a block if
  • A user makes multiple large-scale bad-faith edits (for example, replacing all the text on an entire article with profanity)
  • A user makes a bad-faith edit after receiving a warning for similar behavior
  • A user making good-faith edits continues to violate policy after receiving warning and guidance from administrators/users
  • A user continues personal attacks after being warned
Do not block if
  • A user makes a good-faith edit that is bad or violates policy
  • A user makes a minor bad-faith edit (warn instead, for first offenses)

When and how to warn

Warnings are not as simple as they may seem. For instance, an administrator may find that the templated warning is not suitable for the message they need to convey to a user, so they may instead choose to write one of their own. In any case, it's sometimes difficult to know when a warning is warranted and, if it is, what the severity of the message should be.

Keep these things in mind:

  • "Final warnings" should be avoided - this just acts as temptation to try and push the envelope even further. This also challenges the credibility of previous warnings, or any warnings that don't come accompanied by the words "this is your only/final warning." Treat every warning as the final warning unless there is a reason to show leniency.
  • Don't attack the user - Warnings should be straightforward and not personally insulting or attacking. Personally attacking only shows that you have assumed their guilt, and serves to provoke a negative response from the user.
  • Don't shame the user - this applies more in cases of poor good-faith edits; in these cases, warnings should only serve to try and correct a problem, rather than as a punishment or a deterrent. These warnings should try to point out the flawed behavior and constructively correct it, rather than overly threaten the user or make them feel ashamed for their mistakes.

Revert, Warn/Block, Ignore

A golden rule to wiki administrating is Revert, warn/block, and ignore. Many times, users will make bad faith edits in an attempt to get attention and to cause drama. In that case, "making a scene" by calling out the user on their talk page is exactly what they want. In these situations, the best thing to do is to undo/revert any offending edits, immediately warn or block the user (based on the severity of the offense[s]) and ignore the user if they try to create drama from your actions (i.e. complain about a warning that you've issued).

Past Actions

Sometimes, a user has been warned/blocked before but comes back and breaks policy. Keep in mind that users can change; this is especially true if the user has made good faith edits to the wiki, or where it is clear that they have made positive contributions despite behavioral problems or, perhaps, a misunderstanding of rules. Blocks shouldn't escalate for every single violation of every single policy- blocks should escalate for repeated violation of the same policy. Additionally, do not hold a user hostage by things they have done a good time in the past. Once a user has served a block time, they should be given the benefit of the doubt unless they continue to blatantly defy policy.

What if...

Feel free to ask any what-if questions you think would fit in this section!

Q: What if a user has acted in bad faith (i.e. clearly on purpose) but hasn't done anything major like deleting lots of information? A: Often the mistake made is to jump to action too quickly. Keep in mind that nothing is ever permanently damaged, no matter how severe the edits are. That said, there is no harm in erring on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt with a warning, rather than issuing a block immediately for a bad faith edit.

Q: How long should a block last? A: This, of course, depends on the situation. A general block for bad-faith editing should be, by default, one day. This sends a strong message that bad-faith editing is not tolerated, and in many cases the editor will be too impatient to wait out even a 1-day block to return to bad-faith editing. If a user does make a bad-faith edit after a block, simply escalate the block lengths to 3 days, then a week, then two weeks, then a month, and so on. In severe situations, an immediate block of up to a week is justifiable. BLOCKS LONGER THAN A WEEK must have a very very strong justification for them.

Q: A user is clearly never going to improve their behavior; can we permanently block them? A: Yes, BUT this should only be done in the absolute worst cases. In almost no circumstances should a permanent block be issued until after block lengths have escalated well beyond a month's length. There are exceptions to this rule, including sockpuppet accounts, but these should be heavily discussed before a permanent block is issued.

Q: Another administrator took action/didn't take action against a user, and I disagree with their decision; what do I do? A: If an administrator has acted too leniently or too strictly in a situation, the best idea is to discuss this with the administrator directly. Unless the user's behavior does not improve, do not override the administrator's decision, unless discussion is held on the Admin portal talk page. If you think an administrator has acted against a user due to personal feelings rather than strictly due to the user's actions, bring up your concerns with the admin- if the problem persists, contact a bureaucrat immediately.

In a Nutshell

Long story short, warnings are preferred to blocks, and shorter blocks are preferred to long or permanent ones. Before jumping to blocking a user, be absolutely sure that a warning would do no good. Before jumping to a permanent ban, be absolutely sure that incremental blocks do not help, and discuss with other administrators. Don't assume that a user will continue to act in bad-faith, because many users do change!

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