User:Qq/Tit for tat

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Noto Emoji Pie 1f4c4.svg 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.

Tit for tat, on Wikipedia, consists of offering to support one user's proposal in exchange for that user supporting one's one proposal. It is, in essence, a quid pro quo, reciprocity-based system for influencing debates.

Tit for tat currently exists on Wikipedia in the form of implicit transactions by which users curry favor with one another and build up symbiotic, trust-based relationships over time. The request for adminship "thank you" cards, by now ubiquitous across user talk pages, are like business cards exchanged in a transaction. It is like a receipt for a deposit made on that new admin's good account, which can be cashed in later. Users who have frequently sided with one another in deletion debates about each other's articles may be reluctant to register a contrary opinion to that person's view, lest the relationship be harmed. Frequently, users claim the existence of a cabal with a set agenda; in reality, there are simply many loosely-knit networks of users who do business with one another. The editors comprising these networks typically begin with some commonalities in philosophy and interests which help bring them together into the symbiotic relationships through series of debates in which they mutually participate. For this reason, the economic underpinnings of these relationships may be indistinguishable from users simply happening to agree with each other consistently. The "friendly notices" that appear on user talk pages can be given either to total strangers whom one has confidence, from observation of their other interactions, will weigh in on one's side; or distributed to a small group of friends with the subtext being, "I'm ready to cash in my favor now."

There is some question as to whether the favor-trading marketplace could be made more efficient. The accumulation of friends and earned favors that can be drawn upon in time of need is a lengthy process. Indeed, those who have devoted much to gaining a powerful position under the status quo and would be threatened by a process that is more favorable to upstarts may well argue that the inefficiencies should be retained. However, it is not hard to imagine the establishment of a central marketplace for favors, analogous to centralized vote-trading proposals that have been made in reference to the U.S. Congress.[1]

Price-setting could be an interesting challenge. The stock market has numerically-defined ratios such as price to earnings that can be objectively measured. Deletion debates and so on may also have some measurable criteria, such as the number of opinions currently registered for and against. Presumably, the price for another support vote in a debate that already has 20 support votes and no oppose votes would be relatively small, given the laws of supply and demand. It is possible that users in need of support could buy it from brokers who, based on experience and knowledge of the market, could readily estimate a reasonable price. Those brokers could then draw on their network of contacts to obtain the needed support.

It is also possible that the marketplace could exist without managers. Users could simply post notices much like classified advertisements, stating their need and what they are willing to offer (perhaps "3 pro-keep remarks in deletion debates of your choice, or best offer"). Users wishing to preserve their reputation in preparation for an RfA could list such indecent proposals anonymously using another account, and specify "Must be discreet!" It could also take the form of auctions in which users bid until a cutoff point. Failure to follow through on the terms of the agreement, if proven, could be grounds for being banned from the marketplace. Relatively new and un-established users could be required to fulfill their side of the agreement first, much as in real world markets, those without established credit are often required to pay in cash.

Some may wax philosophical about the cold, unappealing nature of negotiating on the basis of explicitly stated rewards rather than having to form meaningful relationships of trust with other users in order to get support. This is analogous to how in the United States, many people oppose prostitution on the grounds that sex should take place between people who share bonds of love and commitment with each another. Yet, in actuality, as Mac Horn's book Panties Down Before Money Down and The Onion article "Housewife Charged In Sex-For-Security Scam" point out, many of us pay for sex in one way or another.[2] If prostitution is already considered acceptable in Amsterdam and certain Nevada counties, how much more should we embrace something following the same conceptual framework that, in contrast, lacks the negative consequences of STDs and bastard children? Free markets are a crucial element of wikilibertarianism and to restrict them is to compromise freedom. Let us set moral principles aside and embrace the potential offered by organized tit for tat systems on Wikipedia.


In contrast to the mutually beneficial arrangements described above, tit for tat can also take the form of spitefulness. For instance, one member may respond to another's vote to delete his favorite article by voting against his RfA. This in turn may lead to a cycle of retaliation in which each act serves as reminder and stimulus to engage in another act against the other.

As with mutually beneficial tit for tat, a deviation from the pattern of reciprocated behavior by one party can disrupt the cycle. If one party terminates the harmful behavior or responds to the other with kindness, it removes the stimulus for retaliation and possibly offers a tempting opportunity to initiate a relationship that will be beneficial.

Effect of openness of communication[edit]

On Wikipedia, all communication is publicly accessible and a matter of historical record. Even emails are in writing and can be revealed if the relationship goes bad. Consequently, tit for tat arrangements that normally could take place in private are subject to detection or exposure to other members of the community. For this reason, spiteful behavior typically takes place in an underhanded manner, in which the perpetrator claims to be appealing to the merits of the issue at hand; and the terms of mutually beneficial arrangements are also implied rather than being made explicit, in a similar matter to a series of transactions in a prisoners dilemma. It should be noted that the openness vitually obviates the problems of office gossip and organized logrolling, neither of which take place on a widespread basis on Wikipedia except through off-wiki workarounds that may be risky or difficult to arrange. For instance, there is no equivalent of a group of legislators meeting for lunch to make an unrecorded, informal deal that is not subject to public review.

See also[edit]


  1. Kenneth J. Koford. "Centralized vote-trading". Springer Netherlands. 
  2. "Housewife Charged In Sex-For-Security Scam". The Onion. 2005-07-06.