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Wikitravel:How to handle unwanted edits

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This document deals with how we, as Wikitravellers, deal with unwanted edits.

What is an unwanted edit?

Unwanted edits are contributions made to Wikitravel that don't jibe with our policies and guidelines and manual of style. Such edits don't help us get towards our goal of making a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide. Some examples of unwanted edits are listed below, along with our strategy with dealing with them.

One may ask why unwanted edits are, in fact, unwanted. Sure, they may not get us towards our goals, but why not just leave them on Wikitravel anyways? The answer is that unwanted contributions clutter the guides, making it harder for travellers to find the information they're looking for. In addition, they make it harder for contributors to find where to share their knowledge, or may give them the wrong idea about our project and what kind of knowledge we want.

One thing to note is that we talk about unwanted edits, and not unwanted editors. Wikitravel is open to anyone who has knowledge to share, wants to help us reach our goals, and is willing to work with other contributors to get there (see: Wikitravel:terms of use for more information). The lifeblood of any Wiki Web site is the ability of any reader to add, edit, and delete information on the Web site. For Wikitravel in particular, we absolutely depend on a large pool of casual readers to share their knowledge about places around the world.

Executive summary

For the impatient, here's the basic idea: the basis of Wikitravel's editorial integrity is that a large community of editors with their head on straight can revert and correct unwanted edits made through ignorance or malice by individuals. In other words, if someone makes an unwanted edit, someone else reverts it. In case it's needed, that someone else informs the first someone what was wrong, and maybe tries to help them do it better next time.

It's a community solution to the problem of unwanted edits. It's based on the idea that there are more people interested in fixing and correcting unwanted edits than there are people making them. So far, it's worked. It works for a lot of wikis. It's a pretty darn good system.

Simple cases

These are some simple cases of unwanted edits.

Graffiti

Graffiti is when a user puts graffiti-like off-topic messages into Wikitravel pages. Examples: "BOB IS GAY", "asdfasdfasdfasdf", "Does this really work?" Most graffiti is simply a test that the Wiki principles we espouse are actually in use. The editor is in effect asking, "Can anyone write anything on any page?" The answer, of course, is yes, indeed, they can. Another common bit of graffiti is selecting the entire contents of a page, deleting it, and saving the now blank page. This, also, works.

Graffiti can be a first step to becoming a real contributor. For this reason, it's best to treat graffiti as experimentation, and simply revert the edited page to its previous ungraffitied version. A message to the person who made the graffiti edit, letting them know that it was noticed, and that they're welcome to make more valuable contributions to the guide. It can also help to point them to the Graffiti wall, where they can practice their Wiki markup skills without scribbling on regular pages.

Vandalism

Vandalism is when a user deliberately replaces page content in a way that damages or destroys an article. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between vandalism and graffiti. However, vandals will tend to ignore pleas to stop their activities. Persistent and non-obvious vandalism activity should be posted on Wikitravel:Vandalism in progress so everyone can help repair the damage. Vandals tend to stop only when they realise their changes are easy to remove, and will be removed without acknowledgment. Slow reverts, that is, waiting a while to remove the vandal's changes, can be very effective in discouraging vandals by boring them.

From time to time Willy on Wheels impersonators all of whom go by many numerous names come to Wikitravel to attempt to wreak havoc. Their mode of operation usually includes copying and pasting a boring message on a lot of pages or moving a page from Foo to Foo on Wheels! To fight this it is easiest to team up with multiple users to move the page back to Foo. If an administrator is also logged into Wikitravel try to work with the administrator by moving all the affected pages back to the proper title while the administrator deletes the vandalism pages.

What you should not do It is best to never acknowledge an act of vandalism - neither by posting a message on the vandal's user page nor by commenting about the act in the edit summary. Vandals (trolls) love to be acknowledged and any comment ("nice try," "why are you doing this," "you can't win," etc.) will only encourage the vandal. It can be boring to repeatedly make edits without a reaction and the focus should be on making it as boring as possible for vandals.

WikiSpam

WikiSpam is where a user (or an automated script posing as a user) posts lots of irrelevant links on wiki pages. Their reason for doing this is to improve their website's page ranking in a Google search. They may not even care if their edits are reverted, as once their links are posted they sit in the page history, where the Googlebot and other search engines can find them. Disallowing search engines from history pages defeats the WikiSpammer's intentions, as does submitting the spam to http://spammers.chongqed.org/. Wikitravel's spam filter may also be a useful tool for blocking automated spambots.

Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes -- spelling errors, typos, punctuation gaffes, factual errors, bad article names or page formatting that doesn't conform to the manual of style. The easiest way to deal with mistakes is to correct them. If a contributor continues to make mistakes, it can be helpful to send them a message letting them know what they're doing wrong, and perhaps pointing them to the page on the manual of style that describes the correct way to do what they're doing.

It's important to be friendly when telling people about mistakes. Almost all mistakes happen due to ignorance and not stupidity or outright malice. Let them know that their input is valuable, but that it makes it easier for other editors if they do it right the first time.

Defiance of policy

Sometimes contributors who make mistakes just won't agree that what they're doing is wrong, no matter what the policy says. Such a refusal is a defiance of policy. While stubbornly plowing ahead in defiance of established policy is not the most effective or polite way to challenge a policy, it is nonetheless a potential opportunity for our community to review the policy in question. Is our policy really the right way to serve travelers and make a good travel guide? If so, is it stated well, or does the explanation need to be clarified to make the policy more explicit? Do we explain why the policy is the way it is -- even if it's just an arbitrary decision one way or another?

Challenges to policy can help improve our community. They give us incentive to make our policies clearer, fairer, and more effective towards reaching our goals. In addition, having policies based on input from lots of people makes our policies fairer and lets all contributors feel "ownership" towards the project.

If you tell a contributor about a mistake, and they challenge the policy that defines that mistake, point out the page that explains that policy, and suggest that they explain on the talk page why they disagree with the policy. If the policy hasn't been fully stated or elaborated, feel free to update the policy page to state it more clearly, or give the reasons why it's policy. If there's no page for the policy at all, but just "general ideas", suggest that the contributor bring up the issue on the travellers' pub.

If the only way to make the case for a change in policy is by letting the contributor continue his or her edits and see how the article develops, then you may agree with the contributor to defer discussion of the issue till it is clear how the article will turn out. But make it clear to the contributor that if the challenge fails to gain consensus, the edits will have to be reverted.

One thing to avoid is to tell people, "That's just the way it is." Contributors need to feel that they're part of the community and have a say in the decision-making process. It's up to the contributor to decide whether they can live with the policy or not; they're always welcome to work on another project. It is fair, however, to insist that they challenge the policy on the appropriate policy talk page, rather than simply continue making edits in defiance of the existing policy.

Copyright violations

Copyright violations are contributions of text or images that the contributor didn't create themselves, and didn't get the original author's permission to license under our copyleft policy. This kind of contribution is occasionally made by overzealous editors who think it's more important to have lots of information in Wikitravel, forgetting our goal that the information has to be free, too.

Searching on Google for some key phrases in text is a quick way to find if the text has been copied from somewhere else. Another clue is that text copied from Wikipedia (which uses an incompatible license) often has [[lots]] of [[Wiki links]] [[everywhere]] to [[subjects]] not usually found in a [[travel guide]].

If a text edit is a copyright violation, simply revert the edit, and add a note on the Talk: page explaining where the text came from and why it was removed. It can sometimes be helpful to send a message to the user who posted the text, pointing out our copyleft. As usual, a gentle approach, without recrimination, is the best way to make sure that a contributor continues to help with our guide.

If an image is a copyright violation, list the image on the votes for deletion page. Again, a polite note to the uploader explaining our copyleft can be helpful. (A Google image search for the filename or the name of the subject is often a quick way to find if an image has been copied from another Web site.) If in doubt about an image's copyright status (e.g. it's on another web site, but maybe it's the uploader's site) tag it with {{copyvio|http://thatwebsite.com}} and ask the uploader to clarify.

Harder cases

These are some harder cases to deal with.

Excess baggage

One specific type of mistake, probably worth pointing out here, is when contributors bring excess baggage to Wikitravel. Everyone in the world has opinions, ideas, beliefs and causes, and it'd be kind of weird if anyone contributing to Wikitravel held our goals and not their own. But when a contributor doesn't respect our goals at all, and merely wants to use our Website as a soapbox to broadcast their opinion, well... we have a problem.

Our official content policy is to use the traveler's point of view for articles. This means that we don't espouse any particular ideas about culture, religion, nations, politics, or other non-travel topics. We also don't espouse any particular philosophies of travel, but try instead to provide information for as wide a range of travelers as possible. In addition, we don't endorse or advertise any particular travel businesses, services, or venues, but try to give them fair and honest reviews.

The easiest way to deal with edits that espouse a particular point of view is to correct the edit. Remove advocacy, and if the issue could have any importance to travelers in particular, explain the issue in an objective way. Generalize advertisements for businesses or services into suggestions for the activity or destination, and perhaps a review of the business or service. If necessary, add a note to the Talk: page for the article as to why you changed the content, and if you want send a message to the person who made the edit.

Trolling

The basis for a lot of humor in the English-speaking world is tweaking the tail of authority figures, zealots, and the self-righteous. The Internet example of this is trolling -- a practice of disrupting an online community for amusement. People who troll -- themselves often called "trolls" -- enjoy seeing someone get all red in the face over an issue they themselves don't actually care about in the least. The more people that get in the argument, the more successful the troll.

(Note that sometimes the term "troll" is generalized to mean what this document calls "excess baggage", and even to mean what this document calls "challenges to policy". Because the word is emotionally charged, it's probably not a good idea to mix those (at least sincere) concepts with deliberate disruption.)

There are any number of trolling techniques, but most involve starting an argument through feigned ignorance or advocacy, then fanning the flames with outrageous assertions or personal attacks. In general, a troll works to instigate conflicts by focusing attention away from the project's goals and instead towards individuals or policies. Note that in the case of trolls it is always best to err on the side of being overly tolerant as it is far worse to alienate a new (but possibly confused) contributor by treating that user as unwanted.

The best way to protect yourself and Wikitravel against trolling is to keep an open mind and not take yourself or the site too seriously. Keep a level head during editorial conflicts and edit wars, remember to be fair and objective as often as possible, and try to keep focused on issues rather than on personalities. Most of all, avoid being pompous, authoritative, or pushy. One of the best ways to let yourself be trolled is to accuse someone of being a troll.

Computer security issues

Modern Web browsers, as well as the MediaWiki software we use for Wikitravel, go to particular lengths to prevent damage to Web users' computers due to hostile Web content. However, there are a lot of known security problems with browsers, and it's theoretically possible that someone could use our Web site to attack or compromise a reader's computer.

Of course, any such content should be blanked and/or deleted immediately. The contributor should be warned quite sternly that this kind of thing is not welcome, but should be given the benefit of the doubt... if any exists.

Repeat offenses

It can happen that, even after having been notified with polite but firm requests, a contributor continues to make deliberate unwanted edits. The response, as usual, is to revert them. Again, and again, and again, as long as is necessary.

Our community and professional attitude are stronger than any particular person's commitment to mess up the guide. It may seem kind of annoying and distracting, but it actually strengthens the project when we deal with problems like this. It only takes a very little time to correct unwanted edits, fix mistakes, and keep the guide in good shape.

If you get tired of following around a particular person making unwanted edits, let it slide. Someone else will jump in. If you have to, ask for help from other Wikitravellers. Continue to try to make contact, look for ways to come to a solution that pleases all sides. Always concentrate on the edits themselves, and not getting drawn into personal issues.

Last resorts

These are some last resort options for dealing with really, really problematic situations.

Project fork

It may occur that some editor or group of editors challenges one or another policy for Wikitravel, and we can't come to terms with a compromise that works for everyone. If that person or persons just can't live with the policy, but wants to try something else, it's possible that we have a project fork.

A project fork means that the editors take the content of Wikitravel and create a new wiki -- or conceivably, another kind of collaborative Web site -- and continue developing the content there. This is, of course, entirely compatible with our copyleft.

If possible, it would be nice to make forks "friendly" -- understanding that people may see things in different ways, or may want to get to our goals by different paths. It's better for our project to have Fellow Travellers than rivals.

User ban

It may occur that a contributor lets us know that they're not interested in our goals, and/or not interested in compromising or working with other Wikitravellers to achieve those goals. If they insist on continuing to edit articles against our terms of use we may resort to using a MediaWiki feature that bans that person's username or IP address from editing Wikitravel.

User bans are an extreme last resort for us. They are embarassing, because they are an admission that our community is not strong, patient, and professional enough to deal with unwanted edits using the simple freedom built into the Wiki way. In addition, they are terribly ineffective -- a user can change IP address by moving to another computer, or of course just change to use another user account. Lastly, they make an enemy out of a potential friend. Our project is enough of a challenge; we don't need enemies.

If there is a need for a user ban, someone needs to nominate the user or IP address for banning on the Wikitravel:user ban nominations page. If the ban gets seconded by two administrators, and no objections from administrators, within 3 days, the ban goes into effect. If a nomination is not unanimously supported, then a broad consensus for the block is the only necessary requirement before the block be instated.

Any administrator may also apply a user ban at their discretion at any time, if they feel that the damage done while discussing the ban for 3 days would be unsupportable. However, the administrator has to put the ban on the nominations page, also, and if the vote doesn't pass, the ban is removed. Bans made without a vote and without an understanding of the gravity of this action are considered abuse by the administrator. In other words, a user ban is a really, really big deal.

Only the most short-term temporary bans (one day or less) are exempt from the user ban nominations process. They are a discretionary tool for administrators in slowing exceptionally high-volume unwanted edits (e.g., move vandalism), to halt the vandalism (however temporarily) to create space to clean it up.

Scripts

A slightly less dramatic reason to employ a user ban is for unauthorized or erroneous scripts. As mentioned above, our editorial integrity depends on the community of editors checking and correcting each other's mistakes. But it can be hard, if not impossible, to correct the mistakes of a buggy or malicious automated editing script.

We have a script policy that outlines how to write scripts that edit Wikitravel pages in a safe and sane way. There are a couple of ways of stopping a well-behaved script without employing a user ban; see the script policy page for details.

However, if a script is badly-behaved -- due to programming error or malicious intent -- an administrator can and should put a user ban on the IP address and/or user account the script is using. Again, the administrator should note the ban on the user ban nominations page, and the same procedure applies as for other bans.

See also

External links

These are some external links that explain the ideas and philosophy behind this process.

Variants

Actions

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