Wiki adminning: Different strategies to deal with conflicts

August 27th, 2009 by Laura Leave a reply »

We’ve been busy watching our recent changes on Fan History. An incident recently came up and we had a fair amount of behind the scenes discussion on how to handle it. After exploring our possible actions, we analyzed where our desires to take these actions came from. They can best be summarized as follows:

  1. Desire to thoroughly document a topic, be completely truthful, provide multiple perspectives and be as unbiased as possible.
  2. Desire to behave ethically, enforce our policies in an ethical and consistent way, and to adhere to the norms of the community of which we are a member.
  3. Desire to avoid drama, possible negative publicity for the wiki, and personal attacks aimed at our admin staff.

This situation is one that many other wikis are likely to deal with. The problem with these motivations is that plan of action for each requires a different response. The plan of actions will have different outcomes when implemented. The desire for the first will almost certainly run afoul of the third one. The desire for the second one could likely piss off both sides who will see you as negating the first one and resulting in the third one not being met. It is a messy situation to be in. When you’re faced with a similar situation, our advice is to write down the pros and cons of implementing a strategy based on each desire. Examine those pros and cons and then implement the solution that will allow you to sleep at night. There is no right answer.

  • sidewinder_FH

    Good post, and yeah -- I tend to go with option #2 as my default position. I think we've learned (sometimes the hard way) that this is the generally the best approach to take. I can't personally live with myself if all of the truth is denied in favor of #3 unless the situation has become untenable; #2 may not always be perfect but if seems to open up the best possibilities to come out of a nasty situation as well as may be possible.

  • As you say, it's a tricky topic, and you have to strike a balanced approach. Often 2 and 3 can be viewed as overriding 1 - which can be disappointing to those who feel they are not important.

    Personally, I'd avoid following 3 in cases where it could be perceived as giving an advantage to those who don't deserve it. You don't want to indicate to an abusive user that threatening your administrators is a valid (read: workable) means of getting their way.

    At the end of the day, you have to remember that it is your site, and you will never get everyone to agree with everything that you do. The best compromises often fail to leave any party completely happy - that's why they're compromises.

  • Three is the worst one to do in many cases... but I remember sitting at a panel at WisCon and the people who were engaged in and talking about participating in a certain type of behavior made it clear that of all the options you are faced with, the best option when dealing with them is to do three. It is the only way to make situations go away and get certain people to shut up and leave you alone. It can be a really compelling line of thinking if you suspect that train is coming at you. I've seen people do it and done it myself for my own sanity. On the other hand, giving in to that does allow yourself to being open to a lot of abuse for when you do poke your head out of the rabbit hole later and you live with a certain degree of paranoia. By saying screw it to the mob, following the truth and your own ethics, you end up being less beholden to the loud voices. After they have done things to you, what else can they do and threaten you with? Not much... and they may not understand that failure to get people to acquiesce and be silent means that they are no longer have the power they think they had.

    I'm personally a fan of number two. It feels like the middle way. My ethics demand that I try to live with in the rules of the community, listen to things that appear reasonable where the parties are interested in genuine dialog, where I try to treat everyone equally, where we try to present the truth, where we cite sources so that people can draw their own opinions, etc. If we have to leave a few names out for the sake of doing that, so long as people can find it through our citing, that's fine.

    I've just found that being overly truthful can be ... problematic as people do not always like the truth and find it frightening or too heavily reliant on one perspective. (The truth doesn't always make people look good.) It can be a really hard principle to stand on and make us seem... unyielding, inflexible and not like good fannish neighbors.

    But yeah, end of the day... a wiki and the community involved need to make the decisions that work best for them. Two works best for us but it might not work best for others.

  • Option two is normally the way a wiki ends up going, because it is largely run by consensus. Of course, your editing community has to reflect the wider community. If it doesn't - or if there are differences between sections of it - then there can be trouble.

    To take a furry example, a lot of artists in the fandom tend to have a far greater interest in privacy than the average furry fan, and are different in other demographic and philosophical ways. We get a higher level of requests for exclusion from them. Fortunately, the impact of an individual exclusion is very small, and if that's what it takes to keep everyone happy, then it's a reasonable solution.

    Normally, a 3 will itself be objectionable to 2. People who have committed crimes may be very motivated to remove that information from the public record, but the community may require that it remains for the good of everyone else. This is one of the few cases where one side is unlikely to get what it wants, though there may still be concessions that can be made to make them feel they got something.

  • Our issues with people wanting content removed that we are unlikely to remove tend to be because:

    1) They do not like ME personally and resentment ME documenting it;
    2) They want actions they took place in a certain community setting to remain solely in the context of that community.

    The second one has the issues where norms in the community may differ from elsewhere. Or when spelled out in a neutral way from an outsider perspective aren't as nice as they are viewed in inside the community. The power dynamics just change.

    And some of those things that are acceptable in that community really need to be exposed to the light of day. They need to be on public record for the good of the community. (There were people who were called rape victims members of a privileged class... and of suppressing artistic expression when the rape victims asked for authors to warn for certain triggers. There was another person who accused some one of lying about her years of sexual abuse. That needed to be documented.) The side who did that doesn't like some of that being documented... because yeah, absent community context, political context inside of fandom, things are more neutral, etc. They won't be happy... and some of those folks can just be vicious. So while they might not be happy, the question kind of is mental fortitude and allies in place to with stand that? Is there a way to concede? This taught me with some parties, there are no concessions that can be done that will appease.

    Most of our exclusions come from no name fan fiction authors. The impact of their exclusion is minimal, which is why we have a procedure of how to request deletion. If we had a huge number of them, where we thought that you couldn't tell the history if we deleted that many, we would probably revise that policy... but so far, not an issue we have had to worry about. :)

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