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Grants:IdeaLab/Area for topic banned editors to talk freely about their ban, e.g. to ask questions of experienced wikipedians

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Area for topic banned editors to talk freely about their ban, e.g. to ask questions of experienced Wikipedians
A banned editor needs some place on Wikipedia to speak freely about the topic ban and the events leading up to it with uninvolved experienced editors. Alternatively this could be an opportunity to ask questions via email or off wiki in some other forum.
idea creator
this project needs...
created on13:49, 14 June 2016 (UTC)

Project idea[edit]

NOTE: I did some rewrites of this proposal since the RfC began, and didn't mark them clearly. Please chalk that down to inexperience. They were mainly to do with clearing up confusions in the text. For the details, see Documentation of diffs in the proposal since the RfC opened

What is the problem you're trying to solve?[edit]

Lack of any place where you can talk freely about your topic ban and the events that lead up to it and to get some understanding of what happened, as well as advice on how to return to constructive editing, ask about the scope of the ban, and understand guidelines and policies better, especially how they are customarily understood on wikipedia which is often unclear to a recently topic banned editor.

Any actual decisions of course go through the closing admin as before. The proposal has nothing at all to do with enacting or changing or clarifying policy. That's already covered in en:WP:ARCA. It's rather to reduce the burden of the many more mundane questions that an editor will want answers to immediately after being banned.

It's a place for meta discussion of the sanctions, see rest of this proposal for details.

EDIT: To clarify, the core idea behind this proposed noticeboard is that topic bans would not be in force there so that editors could focus on improving their behavior and situations without fear of being blocked. See the mockup for more detail. Robert Walker (talk) 21:42, 23 November 2016 (UTC)

All other ordinary rules concerning civility, conduct and WM:NOT will apply, <<GUIDELINES PENDING>> see ESN mockup. At present they can't ask such questions of anyone except the closing admin under en:WP:BMB (in practice).

It is not an "anything goes" free speech area. Just a place where you can talk naturally about the issues connected with your topic ban. And importantly - a place that feels friendly. You need help and support even more than at any other time if you have just been topic banned. And to still assume good faith. This is especially for editors who are not intentional trouble makers - their edits, including the ones that led to the ban, may well all be good faith edits, done with the aim to improve Wikipedia. A lot of the work of the board might be helping editors to understand their own situation better, after which they may see the solution for themselves. Sometimes just listening is the main thing you need to do to help someone.

It would be purely informational, non binding, and would reduce the burden for admins of answering more mundane questions, plus dialog to help editors to help themselves to work towards constructive solutions of issues as the main focus. There would be no need for closing admins to get involved, unless they were interested, as editors would go back to them for any substantial questions about ban scope etc.

This is in response to the Inspire initiative to reduce on-wiki harassment.

What is your solution?[edit]

I'd like to suggest that after being banned, an editor should have at least one person on Wikipedia they can go to, to talk about the action and whatever it was that led to the ban, without risk of being further banned just because they discuss what happened to them. You need a small area somewhere in Wikipedia where you can talk freely about these things, if it is just a single conversation thread with a knowledgeable editor. Or it could be someone on Wikipedia you can talk to privately via email, or some other place where you can talk to an experienced Wikipedian off wiki. This would be very much appreciated.

You will want to:

  • Understand what just happened, and why
  • Find out whether you can appeal or raise the matter at a higher level in Wikipedia, and if not, to be told clearly that you can't do anything and why.
  • Understand what the topic ban meant and what you can and can't do as a result of the ban.
  • A place to get detailed procedural information for instance what the terms in your ban announcement mean, and how they apply in your particular case, similar really to the help you'd get from a lawyer in a legal case that was closed against you. Wikipedia guidelines can approach legal rules in their complexity, and can be hard to follow, and how they are applied is sometimes unintuitive to those not used to them. Even after you've read and understood the rules, sometimes there were other discussions on how to interpret them that you'd need to know about also to fully understand how they are now applied.
    • Including information regarding ongoing sanction discussions such as what actions accused and accusers are and are not allowed to perform, and whether allowed actions are advisable.
  • Ask whether gray-area edits are permissible under a topic ban before you do them
  • Talk about any issues you had with the conduct of the editors who took out the ban against you, and find out whether there is anything you can do about this.

These are natural human questions that anyone would have at that point.

As it is now, the only person you can go to for most of this is the editor who closed the action against you. Also, you can't mention the topic itself anywhere else on Wikipedia including editor talk pages (except during an appeal), and you can't refer to the discussion that led to the ban or the behaviour of the editors who banned you. Whatever the original intent behind en:WP:TBANEX, it's often next to impossible to get much help from anyone on wikipedia or answers to questions you have once you are banned. Here is a simple example from my own experience. I wanted to ask:

  • Can I publicize the RfC on this proposal on wikipedia (since I mentioned my banned topic during talk page discussions)? - this is his response

He didn't give any reason for ending the conversation, so I don't know what rule or established practice my questions violated there. And most of my questions were unanswered. For details see below:

Extended content

In detail:

  • I stated what was my understanding of what he said and asked for confirmation and he didn't confirm it.
  • I asked if I could ask the questions anywhere else. He didn't answer.
  • He didn't say why he ended the conversation, and why I shouldn't ask any more questions of him, so I don't know what I did wrong and what are and are not appropriate questions to ask him.
  • He didn't answer my question about whether I can ask this question of anyone else on wikipedia,
  • He didn't answer my question about whether @Darkfrog24: would get in trouble if I posted about it to wikipedia in November.
  • There was an implied question there as well, about whether as a topic banned editor I can give advice on others discussing this proposal on wikipedia if I can't do that myself. I'd have made that more explicit if there had been some more dialog here.

I needed the ESN board in order to understand why he ended the conversation and to ask additional questions that he didn't answer.

There is also no way to get help with practical advice such as how to reform your editing habits or whatever issues lead to the ban. If the closing admin doesn't answer your questions, as is often the case, you can't go to anyone else for help.

We need an area for you to talk freely about your topic ban at a meta level to ask the questions that would be natural to anyone in that situation. Including, helping each other when admins don't have the time to help us.

Suggestion is[edit]

The suggestion is a change of rules or guidelines to permit some such zone somewhere on Wikipedia, or off wiki. The aim is not to continue the activity that lead to the ban. It is just to discuss what happened with a knowledgeable and hopefully sympathetic uninvolved Wikipedian. Someone who will listen to you and won't judge you or block you just for saying things about the other editors, or about the discussion or topic, but will hear you out and then give an independent viewpoint on what happened. And also someone experienced to answer your questions.

It would be a good idea if it's an open area - a special noticeboard or some such - in some way for other editors to get involved if the original editor who closed your case is too busy / unsympathetic / just not very good at advising people. Some editors on Wikipedia understand the guidelines and rules very thoroughly but don't seem able to put themselves in the position of relative newbie editors that don't understand these rules and are not very good at explaining them to others. So it might not always be that the closing editors are the best ones to help you understand what the topic ban means, what you can and can't do, and what your options are.

An open area will also permit topic banned editors to help each other, and it has several other advantages. For more on this, see #What about OTRS - private email

Editor sanction noticeboard (WP:ESN)[edit]

This could work like the Reliable Sources Noticeboard WP:RSN or the Neutral Point of View Noticeboard (WP:NPOVN). With those noticeboards, editors show up, say "I have a question about this reliable source/possible neutrality issue," and experienced editors give their non-binding opinion.

Similarly, at the WP:ESN, editors would show up and say "I have a question about my topic ban/an edit that I think might be covered/the issues underlying the ban" and experienced editors again can give their non-binding opinion, with the additional feature that at this special noticeboard, editors are not banned from mentioning the topic or the dispute that inspired the sanction or the editors involved in the dispute.

This can also relieve pressure on the closing and enforcing admins for the Administrators Noticeboard / Incidents (WP:ANI) and Arbitration Enforcement (WP:AE) as they will no longer be faced with so many questions from the editors they ban or can redirect such questions to this new noticeboard. (Suggestion by @Darkfrog24:, see talk page, thanks!)

@Darkfrog24: has done a fun mockup to give an idea of what the discussion board might be like. The mockup is a collaborative effort and still under construction. If you have ways to improve it, add or remove links, change phrasing etc. See ESN Mockup

Helping to make this new area friendly[edit]

From time to time even with a special area where you can talk about the topic ban and other editors involved and the discussion that led to the ban, you may go over the bounds of what is accepted, whatever they are. After all it's not an "anything goes area" so that means you can still make mistakes there, there will be some rules though much more relaxed than elsewhere.

I think a two stage process as in: Encourage editors to talk to other editors before banning them will also help here. That in this special area at least, if you step over the lines accidentally, you will be given a chance to change your behaviour before you are disciplined. That would help greatly with this atmosphere of friendliness.

You can at least talk reasonably freely knowing that nobody can instantly increase your ban period or add new sanctions as a result of some mistake you make while speaking in this special area. They will notify you and give you a chance to reform first, and I suggest a one week period would be suitable for them to reform their behaviour. that is, apart from obvious things like vandals, spamming, extreme harassment etc just as in Encourage editors to talk to other editors before banning them .

This would also be an area where sanctioned editors can help each other[edit]

In case it seems that all this will be a huge burden on the admins - editors that have been sanctioned will probably form a community of sorts around this board. After you've been helped there, you may return and help other editors in a similar position to yourself. Many of the easier questions will probably be answered in this way once the board is well underway, with the more experienced admins stepping in to clear up misunderstandings and to make sure the advice is reasonably accurate.

As it is now, sanctioned editors I think often end up so discouraged they just walk away from Wikipedia or just do minor edits in other areas of expertise. It would help them talk to each other and learn from each other's understanding of what happened.


It has not yet been decided whether this noticeboard would be hosted on Wikipedia or at Meta-Wiki.

As the proposer currently I'm strongly in favour of Meta-Wiki if that's at all possible. So I'm not going to try to make this an unbiased section, just to explain my own views here, for comment.

Issues for wikipedia as a location[edit]

I agree that it would be ideal to host it on wikipedia, I can see the advantage of that. But it has some disadvantages. In the following by "technical issue" I mean not just issues of programming and such-like, also issues of establishing compatibility with other pre-existing rules and established practice

  • Technical issue - can we expect to get an exemption granted for topic bans on Wikipedia for this board, for all banned editors? The problem is that currently there are few exceptions, and they all involve going through the editor who closed the case for your ban see en:WP:BANEX. Basically our proposal is to permit a topic banned editor to ask similar questions to the ones in en:WP:BANEX as well as more general similar questions, but ask them of anyone, on a special board. That's a major change in the rules which may have ramifications which we can't see, and there may be prior decisions on wikipedia that would need to be reversed. I think we need a pilot first to show the many benefits we anticipate for both banned editors and overworked admins - and then maybe there's a chance of an exemption granted on wikipedia. I think we also need to establish prior support of at least a fair number of interested admins first to have a chance.
  • Technical issue - it is not clear that topic banned editors can be involved in setting up the board on wikipedia. We have the most direct experience of the issues the board is designed to resolve. As a topic banned editor, even just in one small topic area, mainly concerning a single page, it's not at all clear that I can discuss this proposal or mention it on wikipedia. The indications so far are not encouraging. See Response from Ed Johnston. I can't discuss this with anyone else by en:WP:BANEX so the only safe assumption to make is that to discuss the proposal on wikipedia would lead to additional sanctions being taken out against me.
  • Technical issue - it's impossible for blocked editors to take part in discussions on wikipedia about proposals to set up the board. It seems that we need something like the board to be in place already before blocked and topic banned editors can discuss the possibility of having such a board in wikipedia.
  • Technical issue - some topic banned editors will also be blocked - and blocks have no exemptions It may be possible to do something about this, but again this would need a lot of admin support and is a major change. I don't think the board should be set up in such a way that it has to abandon support of topic banned editors if they get blocked, even as a pilot.
  • Diving in at the deep end If we do it in wikipedia, especially if it is also added to the topic ban notice, it's like diving in at the deep end before we learn to swim. We'd get dozens of editors needing help for sure, and many issues are likely to arise. I
  • It's not our priority to get as many editors as possible in my view, especially if that leads to chaotic or difficult situations. It's better if we can be in it for the long haul, and gradually expand. I think in a pilot we only need to show that it is going to help some editors. If one editor finds their way to the new board and is helped by it, that would already show it is doing something useful and it could grow outwards from there.

What about OTRS - private email[edit]

We discussed OTRS - the private email help ticket system, on the talk page here: Exists already (OTRS) and following.

Some reasons one might haves for doing it as a public board rather than through private email are as follows:

  • Faster response and faster turn around. You might come to the new board with some question that needs a faster response, and that's more likely on a public board, with many editors watching it.
  • You have a public record of what was said. Though views on the ESN would be non binding and only informational, it does provide a public record that you asked for help and can help to confirm that you are acting in good faith
  • You get the help of many people to correct mistakes or fill knowledge gaps if your adviser on the board makes a mistake, others can correct them, or if they don't know something, others can supply the missing information right away, and you can get different perspectives
  • If it is more than a "yes / no" type question, others may give you more insight into the situation. As an example, if you need to modify your talk page or editing behaviour and need help on how to accomplish it, it may help to have many persepctives on the issue.
  • Topic banned editors can help each other We hope that the board will help build up a support community of admins and topic banned editors. The topic banned editors themselves have direct experience of the many issues and can help each other towards more constructive approaches. Editors not expert enough to man OTRS may well have useful perspectives and understanding on some particular point or issue.

Sometimes a private email may be needed, for instance, if you have a question about whether it's okay to say something publicly at all including on the ESN. It might be an idea to add a link to OTRS or similar to the board, but I don't think it can replace it. Any thoughts on this, do continue the discussion in Exists already (OTRS)

Advantages for Meta[edit]

  • Editors are already permitted to talk about banned subjects here as the bans are localized to Wikipedia local projects. No special exception is needed.
  • Also the WM:NOT rules are already worked out and in place as guidelines to let editors talk about their banned topic while making it clear that they can't use the board as a battle ground or to attack users or get something overturned.
  • Fewer participants - that might be an advantage as we can evolve procedures to deal with issues as they arise. Better to help a few editors than have a chaotic situation with lots of banned editors.

The main disadvantages for meta are less integration. And the main thing we've thought of, that wikipedia editors can't put meta pages on their watch list for wikipedia itself.

With Meta though,

  • we can still link to Wikipedia guidelines using e.g. [[en:WP:PROXYING|WP:PROXYING]] for WP:PROXYING etc.
  • we can still ping editors in wikipedia as pings work cross wiki for most editors.
  • If we can get the new board added to the topic ban notice, that's likely to lead to lots of participation.

Also it could be seen as an advantage of wikipedia that we would have to get a lot of admins on board before the scheme started, but I can't see a likely path to achieving that myself, for as long as it remains a proposal. While the suggestion I'm going to present here I think has some chance of success, not sure how great, but at least I can see a possible way forward to a future where the board gets established, first on meta, then perhaps later on local wikipedias.

Pilot scheme plan - stage 1[edit]

I'd suggest that we start off slowly. In the first stage, the aim is not to get lots of banned editors to the board, but rather to show the idea works for a few editors.

  • Advertise on the village pump in wikipedia, or anywhere suitable, and deal with anyone who comes from there
  • work to build up a community, some maybe can help with support, others may need the help of the new board, or both. Gradually we hope this will build up, that some of the editors who arehelped by the board will join in helping others.
  • Aim to attract knowledgeable and sympathetic people including admins to offer help - the more we can show it is working, the more we can hope to attract knowledgeable people to help with the board

If we help just one person, or few people in the first few weeks or months, that would be enough to show that it is something worth doing.

Pilot scheme plan - stage 2[edit]

Once we see it is working well, and dealt with some teething issues, we can move on to the next stage, which will involve doing various tests for longer and longer periods.

  • we could see if we can get it added to the topic ban notice, perhaps for an initial trial period of a few days or a week.

I think a link to the board might well bring lots of participants. So, then see how we manage with them. If that works well, can try other tests, and then if it is still going well, get it added permanently.

By this time, if all goes well, hopefully we have a vibrant community here where banned editors are helping each other and at least a few admins and other wikipedians with a lot of experience of topic bans have become involved.

If it is going well and we have a lot of support from the admins, and if it seems feasible to do so, this would be the point where we could consider setting up the appropriate exemptions and moving the new board to local wikis.

For the RfC[edit]

For these reasons I'm keen on starting here on meta, if it is judged acceptable to do so. If it isn't, I have no idea how to take this forward with a reasonable chance of success, but welcome suggestions!

If someone here can present a clear path towards it working in Wikipedia. Especially from an admin or someone likely to get a lot of support, because it will need to be approved by admins, and because also it seems likely that topic banned editors can't take part in the initial discussions on wikipedia anyway.

Whatever the solution, I think we also need to consider the issue of possibly getting overwhelmed in the early stage and prepare for it and plan for it if it seems likely.

We plan an RfC on this in the near future, meanwhile you can discuss on the talk page. Do you have any other thoughts about advantages and disadvantages?

The draft RfC is here: RfC (draft)


The goals are twofold. To support topic banned and blocked editors who get very little support at present, and also to encourage them and their friends to continue editing wikipedia and to present a more friendly environment for wikipedia editing.

At present topic banned and blocked editors get almost no support after the ban. In theory, according to en:WP:BANEX the enforcing administrator is there to help them, but in practice, they don't have the time to answer detailed question. We risk getting sanctioned just for asking questions which we think (incorrectly) are permissible under those guidelines. We need the board even to ask in advance which questions we are permitted to ask the enforcing admins. I have had my questions just not answered by an enforcing admin who made it clear he doesn't want the conversation to continue, and @Darkfrog24: has had similar experiences attempting to ask questions that seem to be covered by en:WP:BANEX. I have no reason to suppose that either of our examples are unusual here, and assume that this is just regarded as the established way to deal with topic banned editors on wikipedia.

I believe myself that in this interconnected world, this has a huge off wiki impact. Probably for every topic banned and blocked editor, there may be on average, say 100 people who get a negative impression of wikipedia and as a result are less likely to take part in editing it themselves. In my case, with over 300 facebook friends and over 1500 followers on facebook, I think probably many more than 100 people off wiki have had negative impressions of wikipedia editing, just because they followed me through everything that happened, just friends of mine, who know what happened to me.

I've had friends say they are hesitant about editing wikipedia after seeing what happened to me. I reassure them that what happened was unusual on wikipedia, but it still has a negative effect. Since it is off wiki, wikipedia admins don't see any of this. Just the existence of such a board can change perception of how wikipedia works as seen from off wiki by topic banned editors and friends of topic banned editors. It would show that we are still supported, in a (hopefully) friendly community, not just abandoned, after a topic ban.

Get Involved[edit]

About the idea creator[edit]

I'm a topic banned Wikipedia editor and after I was topic banned, I discovered that because I can't mention the topic I'm banned for, or the discussion or the other editors. As a result, there's hardly anything I can do on Wikipedia to ask the natural questions anyone would have in that situation. I was told to stop saying these things and warned I'd be blocked if I continue.

Would just like to add - that I am not challenging my own current situation on Wikipedia, since as far as I know the other editors seem to be following the Wikipedia guidelines correctly. I'm just suggesting a change in those rules and guidelines for the future.



  • I think this could work very well as a noticeboard. It would give well-meaning editors a place to field gray-area edits (if nothing else, it would prove due diligence). I've heard some AE admins complain of being overworked, and this would help with that too. Darkfrog24 (talk) 21:31, 14 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Support this should have been done a long time ago. —Neotarf (talk) 00:54, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
  • An open and transparent project should have the strength and courage to hear the voices of all. Thekohser (talk) 03:34, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
  • כי זה נותן מענה לצורך הדחוף הזה לדעתי

[Auto translated from Hebrew as "Because it addresses the urgent need for this in my opinion"] ישראל משה ישראל משה (talk) 12:00, 15 June 2016 (UTC)

  • This is relevant to the Inspire campaign because it would give topic banned editors a chance to talk about their topic ban but in a way that hopefully would discourage them from behaviour that could be perceived as harassing, or prolonguing a personal dispute. Greenrd (talk) 20:01, 15 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Support. This is definitely a good idea. It'd be a bear to oversee, I won't deny that, but I also know that there needs to be some sort of board that can answer questions freely and focus specifically on this area. I suppose that they can technically use ANI, but that's not really the greatest area to post semi-general questions like that, especially since the board is so cluttered. It might not be a bad idea to open this board up to people who want to ask questions about bans on other editors (ie, they're afraid that asking the person directly could result in punitive actions against the editor) or perhaps people looking for general answers. Tokyogirl79 (talk) 05:27, 16 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Support. I was topic banned and was very frustrated at what felt like the inability of others facing a similar topic ban from being able to compare/share experiences. Having such a section could be a good way to root out and identify possible bias in how topic bans are administered. Spudst3r (talk) 12:36, 16 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Support. One reason I long delayed contributing to Wikipedia was the plethora of rules all enforced by an ever present threat of IP banning. As Theokohser said, "An open and transparent project should have the strength and courage to hear the voices of all," and that would include the ability to listen to explanation and justification of action. Gsnerd (talk) 16:17, 16 June 2016 (UTC)
  • I and a bunch of other editors have been rebuffed on the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity page. There are editors there who claim authority, yet they are actually NOT PhDs or published authors (like me) like some of the editors who have tried to add to the page, constructively. Seems like intellectual tyranny to me. Kd3qc (talk) 14:29, 17 June 2016 (UTC)
  • As a new wiki editor I was harassed and cussed about references in an article which I made in good faith and which were relevant but perhaps not specific enough. As I had a lot on my plate at the time I just gave up on the article rather than argue. Had there been a space where I could have had the problem discussed dispassionately I am sure I would have retained some enthusiasm. The protagonist in this case was arrogant and yet their own articles are riddled with weak references to other unsubstantiated 'Wikipedia' pages rather than primary external sources. I came away with the impression that the 'edit review' was being done with little knowledge but a great ego. I needed a space where I could refer this to a competent umpire. Imbwiki (talk) 00:39, 19 June 2016 (UTC)
  • Support Definitely good/great idea. Especially, when acts biased admin on small project. Therefore I think it should be placed somewhere in Meta, because in some projects it would be unreachable to implement. --Kusurija (talk) 21:18, 21 June 2016 (UTC)
  • This is a great idea. Topic-banned editors should be able to talk freely to administrators about their ban. This would give them the opportunity to ask an administrator about their ban. X2A3Q (talk) 21:38, 22 June 2016 (UTC)


@Neotarf:, Thanks, added it to "see also" Robert Walker (talk) 15:42, 2 July 2016 (UTC)

See also[edit]

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