When I first started editing Wikipedia, it didn’t take me long to figure out not everyone is welcome on the site. You find out quickly that there are biased editors on Wikipedia that don’t like new people coming in with an opinion. New editors are often met with harsh tones and berating due to Wikipedia’s toxic editing environment.
Clients often contact me and say they are having a difficult time with a particular editor. And, despite following Wikipedia guidelines, that editor continues to add or remove content contrary to those guidelines.
This first thing that comes to mind is whether clients were following Wikipedia guidelines properly.
Unfortunately, most of them are. And, they still get backlash despite following the rules.
The issue here is that these editors seem to be protected. So, even if they add or remove content contrary to guidelines, other editors don’t seem to care. They are allowed to run freely on Wikipedia, interjecting their personal points of view in their edits.
So how are some editors allowed to get away with violating rules while others are not?
What is an Unblockable Editor on Wikipedia?
According to Wikipedia, an unblockable is an editor who does something in violation of Wikipedia rules, gets blocked for it, and then gets unblocked by an admin quickly; with little, if any, admonition.
The unblocking admin often admits that the user violated the rules, but that their contribution to the site outweighs their violation.
So basically, an experienced editor who is liked by the community becomes almost immune to being blocked for their behavior. This is dangerous because they often edit in contentious articles and chase away other editors because they don’t agree with their point of view.
These administrators can be considered toxic editors themselves as they often turn their back on bad behavior.
It is also unfair. Other editors are blocked for similar (or often less egregious behavior) and must abide by their punishment, while biased editors on Wikipedia are allowed to roam free causing trouble in Wikipedia.
Who Are These Editors?
A few good examples include:
- Calton – I have discussed this user before, and since that time they have still been blocked and unblocked for the same offenses. Their block log shows dozens of blocks, mainly for civility, and then unblocking shortly thereafter.
- Jytdog – This was one of my all-time favorites and even has a long thread on Wikipediocracy. Their block log doesn’t show a lot of blocks because they always avoided them by leaving Wikipedia prior to getting banned. However, the most recent offense was so egregious they were unable to avoid it. They contacted someone off-Wiki by telephone who they had a disagreement with – something they also did with me several years ago. They even requested that Arbcom let them come back to Wikipedia after being gone a year. If it goes as it usually does, they will be unblocked and right back to causing problems again at Wikipedia.
- David Gerard – Sometimes unblockables aren’t even blocked in the first place. Here is an example of where someone with an anti-crypto currency stance is allowed to run around Wikipedia unchecked. Despite the off-Wiki and on-Wiki complaints about the conflict of interest, they are still editing crypto currency topics freely with little oversight. In fact, this person is an administrator, so they become even more difficult to block.
There are dozens more that I can bring up but there’s a good chance you are already familiar with them (probably the reason you are here in the first place).
Now, let’s discuss how unblockables are able to get away with toxic editing and expressing their personal points of view with little, if any, oversight.
Wikipedia is Run by Consensus
This is the term that makes Wikipedia go around. Obtaining consensus is one of the keys to open source collaboration as people need to agree on things in order to implementing them. Without consensus, there would be chaos and nothing would get done.
Sounds pretty simple. Common sense will tell you that consensus is just getting everyone on the same page and come to an agreement on what should/shouldn’t be written in Wikipedia.
Well, not so fast.
As with everything in Wikipedia, consensus isn’t so simple.
One of the most important parts of Wikipedia’s definition of consensus is as follows:
“Consensus on Wikipedia does not mean unanimity, which is ideal but not always achievable, neither is it the result of a vote.”
That little caveat allows for a mob mentality to take over. It allows a group of editors who want to control a specific narrative to have their way. Biased editors on Wikipedia then control the narrative of specific pages, making it nearly impossible to correct misinformation.
“As long as I count the Votes, what are you going to do about it?” — William M. “Boss” Tweed
Lord of the Flies Mentality Takes Hold
For those not familiar with the Lord of the Flies, it is a 1954 novel that was turned in to several movies and became a study in mob rule. It is about kids who were stranded on an island who attempt to to self-govern.
Unfortunately, it results in disaster. They wind up deciding to do what they wanted, regardless of what was good for the community as a whole.
This type of mob mentality often takes place with Wikipedia pages. A few editors get together and have a similar personal point of view on an article.
When you try to change something based on a reliable source, it gets reverted for whatever reason they decided. If there isn’t a valid policy reason, it often comes down to an “I don’t like it” argument. The mob will agree with each other within, and you are out of luck regardless of what you do.
This becomes very frustrating and often causes people to give up. But don’t! There are many things that can be done to help, such as going to noticeboards and getting help from Wikiprojects.
Unblockable Editors and Civility
Now that you see how editors can get away with violating guidelines for their own benefit, you should also expect an issue with civility. You will come across editors who accuse you of having a conflict of interest or being a “newbie” because they don’t want to address the actual content issue.
There is no way around this. Wikipedia editors act superior and want you to know that they are in charge. It’s the same as the mob mentality described above and God forbid you challenge their authority.
When this happens, don’t attack back.
Stay calm, as doing anything inflammatory only makes things worse and may lead to you being blocked. Protection could also be placed on the article so you are not allowed to edit at all.
So, what can you do when there is a toxic and likely unblockable editor you are having a problem with?
Overcoming Problem Editors
Now that I have scared you and made you believe that it is impossible to beat editors such as these, there is a bright side.
Some of these editors can and have been beaten.
In order to do this, you need to be precise in your arguments while still adhering to Wikipedia guidelines. Over the years, I have learned the editing behaviors of various editors and know what they like to see and what they don’t like to see. I know there is a way things need to be worded, what sections need to be used, and the sources that are consider reliable. This has given me an advantage when advising clients on how to deal with biased editors in Wikipedia.
It’s like surgery.
Every Wikipedia page is different and every editor you go up against is different. It’s important to evaluate their edit history and know what types of edits they are likely to revert. You need to know who is watching the article and likely to jump in to assist in the mob mentality. It is a difficult process, but one you can master if you monitor these editors’ behaviors.
There is also a way to get help outside of editing the page directly and edit warring. You can use the talk page to elicit feedback from other editors. You can also take up the issue with certain Wikiprojects pertaining to the topic you are editing. Finally, Wikipedia has noticeboards where you can deal with content disputes.
Now, make sure you are careful in how you approach these methods. It can sometimes result in more issues if you state your complaint in a way that makes editors feel inferior. When editors feel attacked, they are less likely to listen to your complaint.
Yes, Wikipedia is frustrating. Even with guidelines, editors don’t always follow them. It can be difficult to get something edited if you don’t have thousands of edits and years of experience on the site. Mob mentality rules and it can be difficult to work with editors, especially on a topic that can be highly controversial.
Make sure to stay calm and be patient.
Use noticeboards if necessary and you can always reach out for a consultation if you are running into issues you feel cannot be overcome.