Requests for comment/How to improve RfC Process

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Background[edit]

The RfC regarding abuse on Croatian Wikipedia will soon enter its 8th month, with no resolution in sight. We greatly appreciate all the essential, voluntary work that Stewards and Admins do on Wikipedia, but this has been a frustrating process.

Therefore, we’d like to gather comments from people on what they think of the current general RfC process, with a focus on constructive suggestions how this might be improved. We’d very much like to hear from the Stewards as well, in order to better understand the challenges they face, and how we might assist them, since we believe we’re all part of the same Wikipedia team, seeking to enhance the platform. Thhhommmasss (talk) 15:35, 8 May 2020 (UTC)

What currently works well in RfC process?[edit]

What does not work well or could be improved?[edit]

1. Irrelevant/inappropriate comments. One of the big problems on the Croatian Wikipedia RfC is that is has produced a lot of off-topic comments (rants on totally unrelated issues), what-aboutism (attacks on enwiki, claiming they do same, with no proof provided), claims of misbehavior by posters of RfC (again with no proof provided when challenged), many other claims with zero proof, direct attacks on core WP principles (i.e. claims that Reliable Sources should not be used), ad hominem attacks on participants, including multiple disparagements of ethnicity, etc. The result has been much totally irrelevant material, and in my view also much totally inappropriate material. Among other things, this poses a challenge of how to wade through all this irrelevant material to arrive at a decision Thhhommmasss (talk) 15:57, 8 May 2020 (UTC)

2. Lack of transparency. I hope others will join in with some suggestions, but let me mention another issue with the current RfC process – lack of transparency as to what is going on. Now there may be good reasons for that, but as multiple people have repeatedly commented in the Croatian Wikipedia RfC, they do not understand what is happening with the RfC, who, how and when will render a decision.Thhhommmasss (talk) 19:09, 24 May 2020 (UTC)

Suggestions on how to improve RfC process[edit]

1. Add Judge role. It helps to think of RfCs as mini-trials, thus it’d help to add a judge role. Role of judges is to guide trials – decide what’s admissible/relevant vs. inadmissible/irrelevant, bring up points of law, reign-in inappropriate behavior, and help drive the trial toward a decision. Currently Admins only delete vandalization, aside from that it seems anything goes. I believe it’d help if Meta Admins and/or Stewards also acted as Judges, starting with deleting all irrelevant comments, since key role of real judges is to block irrelevant/inadmissible material (e.g. off-topic rants, what-aboutism, claims that basic WP principles should not apply, ad-hominem attacks, etc) Other participants could raise that a comment is irrelevant, but it’d be up to Judges to revert irrelevant ones. Beyond that, comments without substance or proof, should also be reverted. Perhaps Judges can add a ProveIt tag and if within some time (e.g. 1 week), no proof is provided for the claims, they’re reverted. These 2 items alone would’ve reduced substantially comment volume on Croatian WP RfC. Judges might also block repeat violators from RfC, just as real judges can eject from courtroom people who violate courtroom procedures. All this could streamline and aid RfC resolution Thhhommmasss (talk) 17:16, 8 May 2020 (UTC)

2. Follow City Council example. With regard to Problem #2 above, it may also help to think of RfCs in terms of city council meetings, which are built around very transparent, community-based processes. For example, when cities encounter problems (e.g. with some public officials, departments or processes), they will typically hold hearings where the public can comment on the issue. This also happens with RfCs, but in city council meetings, the city councilors will then publicly debate and vote on the issue, as opposed to trial processes where juries/judges deliberate in private. Since WP is a community, I believe the more open, city council process could be more relevant. Such open debate by decision-makers would not only provide transparency, but also help educate and build common understanding of how WP should function, just like a public hearing to replace a city official is an opportunity to gain a common understanding on how its officials, departments and the entire city should properly function. In the Croatian WP RfC the debate is over core issues like NPOV, Reliable Sources, role of Admins, when to replace them, questions of how independent should individual wikis be, etc. Thus it’d help to hear stewards' views on these central issues. In terms of mechanics this could be done by creating a separate section on the RfC page, where following public comments, only the stewards could openly debate the issue amongst themselves and openly vote, same as city councilors do Thhhommmasss (talk) 19:17, 24 May 2020 (UTC)

Comments[edit]

  • There are many problems with the Meta RFC process but I do not think this is the way to fix them. --Rschen7754 06:15, 27 May 2020 (UTC)
What would you suggest as approach? Thhhommmasss (talk) 17:57, 27 May 2020 (UTC)
I have been thinking of a proposal of my own - but generally the concept of a global ArbCom hasn't worked because so many people globally are against it (having had local ArbComs that failed). --Rschen7754 18:07, 27 May 2020 (UTC)
Inspired by what is by now a very curious case of Croatian Wikipedia, I've been planning to post a lengthier comment of my own, time permitting. Until then, a summary: 1) smaller wikis are often severely broken, 2) there is virtually no recourse, 3) Meta-Wiki RfCs are ill-suited for dealing with such issues, and 4) that's because these are disputes rather than proposals. A global ArbCom is an obvious solution - perhaps too obvious - and it's apparent that many won't like it for various reasons, but what are the alternatives? From a global perspective, is status quo an acceptable alternative? GregorB (talk) 18:32, 27 May 2020 (UTC)
There’s something obviously wrong when the serious issues with CW have persisted without resolution for over a decade. I was not engaged in prior RfCs, so may be missing some facts, but it seems prior attempts at removing certain Admins and setting up a local CW ArbCom were soon subverted, and things returned as before. Without continuing, rapid-response oversight, this is unlikely to be fixed by again replacing a few folks, since over a decade of abuse, they’ve chased away many, and mostly a like-minded, non-representative, POV-promoting cohort remains, which will likely continue to vote in similar Admins, and continue in same way. The RfC process does not seem to be set up for requisite rapid-response, continuing oversight. A global ArbCom does sound like one possible solution. Perhaps the reason local ArbComs failed is that they were local – i.e. too easily subverted by the affected local interests, without continuing outside oversight Thhhommmasss (talk) 19:52, 27 May 2020 (UTC)
I agree. Croatian ArbCom lasted for less than a year before it was dismantled by the local clique. The vast majority of wikis do not have an ArbCom to begin with, and even if they had, poisoned tree would produce poisoned fruit. GregorB (talk) 20:44, 27 May 2020 (UTC)

The Foundation is currently on a mission to establish a global Code Of Conduct and for the Trust&Safety department to get involved in routine editing squabbles. (I'm being HARASSED!) It might be possible to channel some of that energy in a useful direction here. The Foundation might be able to offer much-needed help regarding dysfunctional wikis. Currently Stewards are loath to do anything because removing the local admins drops the entire mess into their lap. Maybe someone(s) can work up a proposal that will get the Foundation's interest. Be sure to emphasize holocaust denialists, homophobic abuse, anything relating to gendergap and harassment of women editors, etc. Alsee (talk) 18:12, 5 June 2020 (UTC)

Really, the first step is to fix Meta RFC - not with outlandish radical proposals that will never gain consensus, but with well-accepted proposals that will bring results. I have some ideas but still need to draft a RFC. --Rschen7754 18:15, 5 June 2020 (UTC)
@Rschen7754: Of the ideas brought up in this discussion, which do you believe to be "outlandish radical proposals that will never gain consensus" and what do you believe are "well-accepted proposals that will bring results?" DraconicDark (talk) 18:56, 5 June 2020 (UTC)
Of the two proposals above? Both. --Rschen7754 04:04, 6 June 2020 (UTC)
I’m not wedded to the 2 proposals, and did this only to start the conversation, since in a couple of days we’ll enter month 9 of the CW RfC, with no resolution (not to mention that this problem has now persisted for more than a decade). I think a Global ArbCom also makes a lot of sense, and would hope they’d consider the proposals above for the ArbCom as well, so that it does not devolve into an off-topic, zero-evidence-accusations, blocking-of-participants free-for-all like the CW RfC Thhhommmasss (talk) 19:21, 6 June 2020 (UTC)

My current perspective on Meta RfCs: the main problem with them currently is their relative disorganization and lack of structure. As a result, Meta RfCs have a tendency to go off-topic sometimes and just not have focused discussions in general. The current suggestions made by Thhhommmasss are good, but I don't think stewards would be willing and/or able to act as judges because the description of the steward role explicitly states that "Stewards are not arbitrators or mediators." Therefore, the proposed "Judge" role (which might be better described as a "moderator" role) would have to be a distinct role, separate from the steward position. At the moment, I'm not sure how that would be handled. I do agree, however, that in cases where the stewards do have to close an RfC, there should be more transparency. DraconicDark (talk) 18:56, 5 June 2020 (UTC)

Let me start by quoting myself, from yet another azwiki RfC:[1]

This is the crucial quote:

"Turkish Wikipedia is a self-managing community. Stewards have no authority to intervene, it is not their role. Your only means for resolution is with that community."

Let me translate it:

"The Turkish Wikipedia admins may do as they please, unless they get tangled up in an irrelevant technicality such as wheel warring. You have no recourse."

Please do not interpret this as a stab against the Turkish Wikipedia, or a particular steward, or stewards in general. It's not anyone's fault, that's simply how things work.

Discussing here whether someone got blocked for their opinion or not is beside the point. The real point is this: if a participant in this discussion actually went on to criticize a local admin and indeed got blocked by him, with the block log reading "I'm blocking you because you criticized me in the Meta-Wiki RfC", nothing would happen - the above quote still applies. What is the purpose of this discussion then, and what sort of message is being sent to the editors?

While this RfC is directly inspired by the still ongoing Croatian Wikipedia RfC, deeper issues are at hand. Let's consider this:

  1. Croatian Wikipedia has a major, long-standing problem with ideological bias and admin abuse. These are not minor or transient issues: it's blatant and systematic.
  2. This problem is severe enough that it caught the attention of the media. As many as 50 or so articles on the topic can be found online, both in Croatian and English.
  3. There is an abundance of on-wiki evidence, because the clique's methods have always been straightforward, even blunt; there was never too much finesse about it.
  4. I've been trying to fix this since 2013. That's seven years now, on and off.
  5. I have 15 years of wiki experience. I'm fluent in English. I consider myself fairly competent in wiki matters.
  6. I've gone through all available public channels. (Also some non-public ones - I'll leave it at that.)

The result thus far is nothing. It's not nothing because I'm proven wrong or because people tend to disagree with what I say. It's because all these channels turn to quagmire one way or the other.

What is the recourse for wikis where the abuse is severe, but perhaps less systematic - or systematic, but less severe? Where it doesn't reach the media? Where the evidence is not as blatant? What recourse is there for Wikipedians who are not experienced? What happens to those who are not extremely persistent? All in all - what chance do they stand?

I'd be in favor of establishing a global ArbCom, to deal with high-level, WP:PILLARS issues with local wikis. I see a major problem right now, and I don't see real alternatives. GregorB (talk) 18:43, 23 June 2020 (UTC)

Sadly, I agree. The RfC process thus far appears to be totally incapable of dealing with the type of blatant, even loudly self-proclaimed abuse of core WP principles like NPOV, Reliable Sources, etc. Without enforcing these principles WP is a fraud, since as one Croatian history professor noted, it advertises itself as an encyclopedia, while in the case of hr wiki it peddles blatant POV and unreliable sources, even holocaust-denying convicted fraudsters seem to be perfectly OK. As many historians have stated, these type of Balkan-nationalistic alternative truths have fed wars and mass slaughter, and WP seem intent on contributing to same. I too see a Global ArbCom, willing to actually enforce WP principles as if they mean something, as the only solution here. The only other solution would be to at least be honest, and paste a big warning label on top of WP, like on cigarettes, stating that the encyclopedic name, plus NPOV, Reliable Sources and other proclaimed WP principles in many cases mean absolutely nothing, since individual wikis are allowed to totally violate these. Or get rid of the encyclopedic name (e.g. change it to WikiBlog or WikiTweet) and core WP principles like NPOV, Reliable Sources, etc, since you can't have it both ways - i.e. proclaim principles and then fail to enforce them. That is fraud pure and simple - promising something and failing to deliver it. Btw, my sense is that even Twitter is now starting to take ownership and act more responsibly to clean-up misleading information, or at least label it as such, than WP with hr and similar wikis
Sorry for being so blunt, but something is seriously broken here, with harmful, real-world consequences, given WP’s influence, thus I do not believe it is helpful to pussyfoot around this major problem. If I am mistaken, I’d like to hear how, instead of total, dead silence, as now for 6 months on the CW RfC, which to me is the polar-opposite of any notion of a real community. I’ve worked for privately-owned companies, where the owners owned the company lock, stock and-barrel, yet displayed more transparency and more of an obligation to communicate about their decision-making processes, than during the RfC process on supposedly community-based WP. Thhhommmasss (talk) 18:43, 24 June 2020 (UTC)
Let me add something about "Balkan-nationalistic alternative truths". There is a strong streak of ethno-nationalism running in most, if not all, Eastern European wikis. Its Croatian proponents, for example, will argue that their local wiki is entitled to present things from the Croatian perspective, they see it first and foremost as a national(ist) project, and will decry attempts to introduce NPOV as "meddling". These views seem to be carbon-copied all across the wider region: some of the non-Croatian examples have been pointed out to me, and I was astounded at how similar they all were, it's almost as if the same sentiments are repeated over and over again, only the signatures change. Concordant to the above-described understanding of what wiki is about, there is typically distrust and even enmity towards "outsiders": for example, there will typically be Croatian editors who will go out of their way to make a Serbian-speaking editor feel unwelcome right away. These problems will persist, no matter how blatant the manifestations are, because where there isn't a local way to solve them - there isn't a way to solve them, period. As a consequence, we'll see a rise - we're already seeing it, I believe - of WMF wikis which are encyclopedias in name only. GregorB (talk) 13:32, 25 June 2020 (UTC)
The ultimate agenda of this nationalistic POV-pushing are clear from the vandalization on CW RfC, done no-doubt from public Wifi IP addresses because they were carried out by CW participants, quite likely some of the CW Admins WP has allowed to remain in their positions. By calling people the N-word for Serbs, and writing “Kill Croats” it is clear their primary objective is to foment ethnic hatreds to start the next cycle of war and ethnic mass-slaughter, to finish-off what previous nationalistic mass-slaughter failed to 100% finish. By failing to act, WP is a willing participant in this, allowing the use of its name and servers to promote such hateful, harmful agendas, since as many historians have stated, it is not only outright hate speech that has led to Balkan wars, but the persistent distortion of history (i.e. minimizing/denying crimes of one’s own side, while shouting “genocide” for what the other side did, even when there was no genocide, as on CW), intended to foment a sense of victimhood, needed to incite the mindless hate for the next cycle of Balkan wars and mass-slaughter of civilians
Even though they make no NPOV or Reliable Source claims, Twitter and even Facebook are starting to take ownership for false, harmful content on their platforms, the later with a global content advisory committee. Thus if things continue this way, smaller wikipedias may soon become the best option for promoting Holocaust-denial and other harmful massive lies and distortions, as in the case of CW, since WP, while publicly advertising itself as a NPOV, Reliably-Sourced encyclopedia, refuses to take serious responsibility for what appears on its servers, allowing instead WP’s name and servers to be employed to promote harmful POV-agendas. And Gregor is right, this is not a Balkan-only problem. Extreme nationalisms, fueled by massive lies, ignited 2 world wars, with 100 million dead. Thus WP with its broad influence and hands-off approach that enables harmful, blatantly-false content, via persistent violation of its own rules, may be vying to take some credit for the next one
Btw, the absolute lord of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, with 70% of the voting stock, has felt the need to not only act, but repeatedly explain FB content and process decisions, to dissatisfied Facebook employees, the press and the public, thus indicating some sense of accountability and transparency. Sadly it seems “community-based” WP feels no such obligations toward its editors in its RfC processes, where 6 months of no-decision stonewalling on very serious issues appears standard practice. Thus we have the irony of a large corporation at least making efforts toward transparency, accountability and social responsibility, while on “community-based” WP I perceive no interest in same with regard to CW and other small wikis, but instead a failure to take responsibility for false, non-encyclopedic, socially-harmful content appearing on its servers, under its name, in violation of its own widely-advertised principles. And given the total, anti-community non-communication and lack of transparency, I can’t even begin to figure out where this failure lies, or how it might be addressed. Thhhommmasss (talk) 19:53, 25 June 2020 (UTC)