Mitigating or avoiding harmful wikidrama
|(English) This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.|
WordNet defines drama as, "An episode that is turbulent or highly emotional." Those who have been editing wikis for very long are surely familiar with such episodes.
Alleged harm from wikidrama
Drama is often viewed as harmful for a variety of reasons. Heated arguments can go on for pages and consume many man-hours. People may threaten to leave the project if they don't get their way. Testiness may border on or cross the line into incivility. If grudges are held, working relationships (e.g. within a WikiProject or article) may be damaged; and people may carry over resentment to other interactions with opposing editors. Once the wikidrama starts, the pace of the discussion tends to accelerate, people are more likely to make hasty evaluations (is this person a troll?), and the situation may begin to seem out-of-control, leading to perceived urgency to do something about all the fuss.
Responses to wikidrama
Uncomfortable with such situations and/or concerned about their possible implications, onlookers may take measures to stop or prevent drama. If they believe misconduct (e.g. trolling) is taking place, or that the debate is being instigated by a small minority whose objections are unmerited and whose view is unlikely to prevail, they may put an archive box around it, closing the debate – even if it was just a Village Pump discussion. When a subject of past drama is raised again, they may urge it to be dropped, saying it's time to move on. They may seek to delete or protect a page on the basis of it provoking drama, even if the policy grounds for such deletion or protection are shaky.
The difference between harm from wikidrama itself, and harm from response to wikidrama
It is worth asking, Is drama itself bad? In other forums of our civilization, such as political debates, we view impassioned exchanges as beneficial and healthy. In politics, when incivility occurs, we view it as reflecting poorly on the person slinging the mud, rather than meaning that the subject itself that prompted their incivility is one to be avoided in the public discourse. With some issues, such as abortion, drama and even disruption (e.g. illegal demonstrations) are routine. Yet it does not shake our democracy. These hot-button issues, despite having been settled legislatively or judicially, are continually revisited and reargued, in the hope that one day the consensus will shift. Why, on Wikimedia projects, are we relatively intolerant of this?
Alternatives to overreaction
There are other ways of addressing wikidrama besides stifling the debate. It is often helpful, when viewing a contentious argument, to disregard emotions for a moment and look at the facts. What superordinate goals or common ground exist among the disputants? What valid points are being raised? Does the debate point to some underlying issue or systemic problem that needs to be addressed? There could be merit to what someone is saying, even if they are saying it in an inappropriate way. In those cases, the community can still benefit by working to solve the underlying problem.
Often, the community seems to say, "We shouldn't reward this person for stirring up trouble. By saying something provocative, they're trying to manipulate the community into paying attention and doing what they say." Could it be that the rush to silence them actually draws more attention and drama than it would to stay calm and reply as though unperturbed? Particularly in the case of trolls, this is the only way to defeat them. Righteous indignation is what they feed off of; without it, they get bored and wander elsewhere. In the case of a well-intentioned petitioner, on the other hand, there is not necessarily any harm in letting the squeaky wheel get the grease. You have not because you ask not. Also, what about those instances in which the introducer of a subject was not the source of the drama, but those who strenuously disagreed? By shutting down or discouraging the debate, we could be rewarding their dramatics. As Sarcasticidealist once wrote, "If you're spending much time complaining about drama, you're probably part of the problem." Or as Friday noted, "When children cry at the movies, you remove them from the theatre, you don't turn off the big loud scary movie."
This it not to say that personal attacks or other uncivil behavior should be allowed. But as a practical matter, it is not always good to jump off the deep end in response to someone, especially if they are raising an issue that could legitimately be viewed from the perspective they're espousing. Deal with any incivility separately from the issue at hand.
Sometimes, after one side has lost a contentious debate, users will place a userbox or template protesting it in the userspace. These sometimes end up on miscellany for deletion, as other editors claim, "This is just creating more drama; the issue is settled." Yet, one of our policies states that consensus can change; how can that happen if there is not free and open expression of opinions? Which would the opponents of wikidrama prefer – that users register their displeasure with the decision on their own userpage, or that they be forced to take such opinions to the Village Pump and other public forums? Perhaps it is better to let things simmer for awhile, with users quietly expressing their thoughts in userspace and perhaps caucusing with like-minded individuals and negotiating in small groups with members of the opposition, until a suitable time comes to more formally propose reconsidering the decision. Trying to suppress expressions of opinion just causes the whole debate to flare up anew, and thus is counterproductive. As Jeremy Bentham noted, postponement of the full assembly's consideration of a matter until a later time is useful because it allows an opportunity for strong emotions to give way to rational thought:
|“||Fixed adjournment, or in diem, may have the same object, the procuring of new documents upon a question which does not appear sufficiently clear; or it may be for the purpose of arresting a discussion which assumes too lively and passionate a character. Precipitation may arise from two causes: from ignorance, when a judgment is formed without the collection of all the information required—from passion, when there is not the necessary calm for considering the question in all its aspects. What may happen to an individual, may happen to an assembly. The individual may feel, that in the actual conjuncture he is not so sufficiently master of his passion, as to form a prudent determination, but he may be sufficiently so, not to form any— “Quos ego. Sed motos præstat componere fluctus.” Æn. I. 139. “I would beat you,” said the philosopher to his slave, “if I were not angry.” This faculty, of doubting and suspending our operations, is one of the noblest attributes of man. These two species of adjournment decide nothing as to the merit of the motion: but to demand an indefinite adjournment, is to cut short the debate by rejecting the motion itself. Ordinarily, the partisans of the original motion will be opposed to this adjournment, and they will employ all the arguments which they can advance in its favour, in opposition to the adjournment. In this case the debate will be less direct, but not shorter. But it may happen that they may themselves favour the indefinite adjournment, if they judge by the complexion of the debate that the chances of success are unfavourable, and that they can attempt their object with more success at a future time.||”|
There have been many proposals for harnessing the power of wikidrama. CommunityWiki, for instance, seeks to turn it into a fun process by having DramaCharacters represent the different viewpoints much as characters on the Simpsons represent the whole spectrum of American society. In debates about Star Trek articles, for instance, one point of view might use John Hodgman or Professor Frink as its avatar.