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Admin reports board under criticism

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By Zarasophos

Zarasophos is currently working on everything related to Jadidism. He also recently took up Editing the Signpost.

The thread was found on AN/I April 20th, 2018, extending to more than double the shown length in total. The number of involved editors was close to twenty, and growing.

Out of over one hundred questioned editors, only twenty-seven (27%) are happy with the way reports of conflicts between editors are handled on the Administrators' Incident Noticeboard (AN/I), a recent survey by the Community health initiative on English Wikipedia found. The survey, which was undertaken by the Wikimedia Foundation Support and Safety and Anti-Harassment Tools teams, also found that dissatisfaction has varied reasons including "defensive cliques" and biased administrators as well as fear of a "boomerang effect" due to a lacking rule for scope on AN/I reports. Ideas for improvements included moderation of discussions by neutral clerks as well as bans of uninvolved editors in AN/I discussions. The survey also included an analysis of available quantitative data about AN/I.

53% avoided making a report due to fearing it would not be handled appropriately

Invitations to the survey were sent to editors who had recently contributed to the AN/I boards, but were also posted publicly on noticeboards and through Wikimedia affiliate mailing lists. Overall, 136 people completed the survey; 100 of those claimed to have been editors for longer than five years, which conforms with the teams' warning that the opt-in nature of the survey and its small sample would most likely result in a skew towards experienced editors.

Nearly three quarters (72.06%) of the participants reported being involved in an incident reported on AN/I in the last twelve months before the survey took place, while about as many (73.13%) said they were dissatisfied with the way reports are handled on AN/I. These do not necessarily have to be the same people – the survey was anonymous – but still, that's not a very good quota. There was also general consensus among answers that the AN/I process breaks down with increasing case complexity. However, while more than six in ten (62.5%) participants said they "sometimes" or "frequently" disagreed with the outcome of AN/I cases, nearly as many (51.13%) reported they "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the general process of AN/I reports.

"Otherwise 'popular' users often avoid heavy sanctions for issues that would get new editors banned."

A specific problem raised by several answers is the discrepancy in the handling of new and old users – which is especially interesting considering the high self-reported experience of the participants. "Rarely is the discussion unbiased in these cases [...] where one of the users is new and the other one is a 'old hat' with plenty of friends", one editor writes. This bias of Wikipedia meta structures towards more experienced users – even in cases where that experience should not generally matter, such as in AN/I decisions that should be made according to Wikipedia policy – has already been reported on in other circumstances.

Another issue that could potentially further this clique-building was a perceived lack of admins actually active on the noticeboard – one participant reports seeing "the same old faces time after time." Participants speculated that this may be associated with the sometimes extreme complexity and long history of cases discussed on AN/I, as well as the "thanklessness of both the admin's and the involved editor's role." Finally, almost half (48.49%) of the participants said that discussions on AN/I are "almost never" or "rarely" focused and neutral.

"Discussions need to be clerked to keep them from raising more problems than they solve."

While there was no lack of criticism, there was also a consensus that AN/I in general was a positive thing in need of reform. This sentiment is also shared among admins active on AN/I, according to Oshwah:

The improvement to AN/I advocated by most editors was the introduction of moderators to keep discussions relevant to the discussed issue. These moderators would not have to be admins, as they would not be responsible for the final verdicts; instead, they would keep order so that admins could proceed with their investigations. Two other proposals that aimed in a similar direction were a ban on uninvolved editors getting involved in AN/I discussions and the introduction of a fill-in report form, which would allow more standardized procedures.

Oh, and there is a Harvard paper

The Wikimedia Foundation also reached out to the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) in the autumn of 2017 to provide recommendations for reports and management of conflicts between editors. HMNCP observed several communities, interviewed experts and finally published an extensive catalogue of findings and recommendations.

The findings of the paper are similar to the ongoing internal criticism against AN/I: a discussion-based culture and a decentralized network of noticeboards without effective moderation do not lead to effective case management. For HMNCP, the result would be the replacement of the noticeboards with a single, centralized evaluation system. While this is harsher than what editors wanted in the internal survey, many of the proposed ideas seemed to build on similar ideas.

Another finding of HMNCP is a systemic inability of Wikipedia report structures to convert precedents into standards, with many cases being negotiated in very similar fashions time after time again. It is noticeable that Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) cases already function in a fashion of strictly enforcing and, if necessary, modifying prior verdicts. The status of ArbCom as Wikipedia "High Court" could inspire AN/I to adopt an analogous standardized way of conduct, in a fashion adopted to the generally lower profile of cases.

The HMNCP report applies the general idea of standardization in three recommendations:

Especially the call for better organization of complex discussions seems very much in line with the proposal of report forms and the exclusion of uninvolved editors made in the Wikimedia survey.

Finally, HMNCP recommends a better standardization and dissemination of systems and policies across Wikimedia communities and offers a bit of warning: Harvard "assumes no responsibility for the implementation of the recommendations expressed herein".

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So, first off. Does the Signpost undergo any proofreading? I suppose I'll do it myself, but this whole thing is full of inappropriate capitalization. As an example: "The improvement to AN/I advocated by most Editors was the introduction of Moderators to keep discussions relevant to the discussed issue. These Moderators would not have to be Admins, as they would not be responsible for the final verdicts; instead, they would keep order so that Admins could proceed with their investigations. " "Moderators", "admins", and "editors" should not be capitalized, and that's five wrong in less than a paragraph. That aside, if we introduced "moderators" in addition to "admins", people would just bitch about both of them. By the time a matter comes to ANI, it's usually at a point where you already will be making someone mad no matter what you do (or even if you do nothing at all). So it's not surprising that tough issues leave someone pissed off. Seraphimblade Talk to me 02:42, 26 April 2018 (UTC)[reply]

Okay, and now I've also looked at the huge image with the scary red outlines over "attacks and accusations". And there's nothing to it. Even a comment consisting of nothing more than "Please elaborate" is marked in red, which means "Accusations/attacks". There is absolutely no way a request for someone to elaborate on what they said can be construed by any reasonable person as an accusation or an attack. There are many similar comments highlighted as "accusations/attacks" that are not in the slightest anything like them. On the other hand, an accusation of "long-term edit warring" is highlighted in green, despite that being a clear accusation of wrongdoing. So whoever did that analysis didn't do it very well. Also, rather than or in addition to an image with usernames redacted, there should be a link to the archive of the discussion itself. It's not like we hide this stuff from public view and so there's a need to use screenshots instead of the real thing. Every last word gets archived. Seraphimblade Talk to me 03:26, 26 April 2018 (UTC)[reply]
Please don't be too hard on the editorial team. You're lucky there was another issue of the Signpost. The March issue was almost certainly going to be the last one. This article was the only one I didn't copy edit myself. Our ad hoc efforts to get this thing out was like passengers being asked if they can fly a plane because the pilots have had heart attacks - neither of the users who worked to get it it published had any prior experience with it. I saw those capitalisations but I honestly thought the author would have addressed anything as blatant as that themselves. We don't mind you volunteering to do 30 hours of copyediting for the next issue - we can then be sure that it is perfect. We need all the help we can get. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 17:17, 26 April 2018 (UTC)[reply]
Hello! Thank you for your constructive feedback. The capitalized titles were, in fact, part of a new Manual of Style; however, they don't seem to be taking on. As for the screenshot of the AN/I thread, this was done to prevent anyone from stumbling in there from here, maybe leaving another unconstructive comment adding nothing to the discussion. If you want better copy-editing, Be Bold! We can use every helping hand. Zarasophos (talk) 17:21, 26 April 2018 (UTC)[reply]
@Kudpung:, I didn't know you were in that type of a situation. I would hate to see the Signpost go away, and if you'll let me know what I can do, I would certainly be happy to help, whether that's copyediting or anything else. Seraphimblade Talk to me 14:51, 28 April 2018 (UTC)[reply]
I did the copyediting and decided to leave the caps as-is. It turns away contributors if the c/e is overly prescriptive. In my judgement, building and revitalizing The Signpost outweighs what comes down to a trivial difference in style. I note that caps for positional/occupational titles is common in some communities. ☆ Bri (talk) 18:10, 26 April 2018 (UTC)[reply]
The Administrator noticeboard exists to settle conflicts related to Wikipedia editing. I do not think that there is anyone on the Administrator board that ever wants to address harassment, stalking, violence, sex danger, criminal derangement, or people who are incapable of socializing. If anyone wants to fix the Admin board, it is possible to divide the pool of issues into "what any sane person would say that crowdsourced volunteers should manage" versus "what any sane person would say requires special training to manage, and probably paid staff". We are at an impasse because the Wikimedia Foundation will not hire paid staff to address social misconduct on Wikimedia projects, nor is there any Wikimedia community organization which has ever requested Wikimedia community funding to address harassment directly. I see no fault in the WMF because there is consensus that the WMF not have paid staff engage too much with the Wikimedia community.
I really feel sorry for the admin board and the personal risk that administrators assume in making themselves available. The WP:AfD process is intense, but community evaluation process demonstrates that the community expects that admins resolve wiki conflicts, and not that they need to perform exorcisms. I think the research shared here has diminished value for not acknowledging a community insight that we already had: the admin board is a last resort and being used as a catch all because there is no place to kick other problems. This research project begins with the presumption that all problems have to go to the admin board, when actually, the Wikipedia community has always behaved as if the admin board is the place for problems with a wiki nature and that the Wikimedia community's funding pool, either through the WMF or otherwise, will be the part of the process for generating ethical judgements of suspected deviancy beyond the context of the software interface. There should be another place, not the admin board, where the problems which would emotionally damage a normal person to hear should go. I think that the criticism that this research surfaces is too much confused over issues which the admin board does not even want to address. Blue Rasberry (talk) 23:29, 30 April 2018 (UTC)[reply]
IMO one of the problems with ANI is that it's been allowed to become run by the comments of too many uninvolved and/or inexperienced users and wannabe admins (what we casually refer to as the peanut gallery). Due to our open access nature, many people think it's cool to be a 'forum moderator'. Kudpung กุดผึ้ง (talk) 02:15, 1 May 2018 (UTC)[reply]
Those "peanut gallery" editors cannot run AN/I because they cannot decide & block. Kudpung, good to read how you think about those non-admins. Then, when you handle a case, the reporter and the accused editors (involved by definition) suddenly have become experienced in AN/I business and you do take them serious? How can you ever make a decision when you are this biased re non-admins? - DePiep (talk) 09:50, 1 May 2018 (UTC)[reply]
Bluerasberry, your comments are really insightful and have made me re-think what ANI is all about. It's still swirling around in my brain but I think your idea that the admins aren't to blame for not engaging in discussions that are harmful to them is something I'd never considered. It's always been a kind of "what jerks they are for not dealing with this stuff" Zeitgeist. Ideas like this are hard for the community to swallow, though: that the community has limits on its ability to self-regulate or self-resource and may need help from outside. ☆ Bri (talk) 21:07, 1 May 2018 (UTC)[reply]
@Bri: We already send certain legal complaints to the Wikimedia Foundation legal team. Lately the Wikimedia Foundation Support and Safety team has started taking serious violent threats. These are the precedents we have for sending some issues to paid external support services. There are some Wikimedia chapters who use their paid staff to resolve some social problems, like addressing people in conflict at events in the role of security officers. The most stressful issues at the admin board are intense harassment happening in the wiki space but unrelated to wiki, and which include suggestion of violence, suggestion of sex negativity, and suggestion of personal threat. Wiki volunteers are happy to moderate wiki disputes but when something is creepy, but not creepy enough to trigger a Wikimedia Foundation response, then there is a service failure. On the creepy danger scale, the ANI board can take anything that ranks 1-2 (2 is slightly concerning) and the WMF will take anything that ranks 8-10 (8 being evidence of threat). 3 is "somewhat concerning" and 7 is "really scary but ambiguous". Volunteers do not come to Wikipedia because they want to deal with problems ranking 3+ on this scale, and yet these kinds of problems fall to ANI and ArbCOM. Way too often, administrators and arbitrators who have elite skills to resolve wiki issues get their time and emotional labor wasted on legal, violent, and harassment issues which require a non-wiki skill set to address. I would not prohibit willing wiki volunteers from taking these issues sometimes, but considering that the role specification for admins and arbs is wiki expertise and not social work, it is not a natural fit to expect expertise with domestic violence, mental health, online stalking, and social deviancy from the people who get appointed based on wiki proficiency. I think that there should be trained staff on these issues. Organizations which have volunteers or staff who regularly expose themselves to trauma need to offer their agents regular access to counseling to debrief and process and get regular reality checks on their personal safety, because by responding they actually get involved in the dangerous situation.
Another big problem with all of this is the lack of visibility. The WMF just went through an entire research project in this and I would say that they have a conflict of interest in this research. It is unfortunate, but historically the WMF has been structured in a way that if they acknowledge that harassment exists then for whatever reason the organization interprets that as a failing of their operations. Of course this is not true and there is no shame in admitting that one is the victim of harassment, because the victim is not to blame. While any and all individuals in the WMF acknowledge problems, collectively the organization has an aversion to identifying them. A premise in this study is that the reports which go to ANI are supposed to go to ANI. This has never been the case - ANI is not a police force and lots of things happen on wiki / online which, if they happened on the street, would result in bystanders calling the police. When an issue is 4+ on the scale of 1-10 for danger, a person would call the police if they witnessed that social transgression in-person in an urban crowd. The on-wiki tolerance for social transgression goes far beyond what is tolerable in person and this is not natural.
I advocate for either Wikimedia chapters who hire special staff or non-wiki nonprofit organizations with expertise in social work to handle these issues. I expect that these issues number in the 1000s/year on wiki globally. If we actually had a reporting system rather than pushing them inappropriately to ANI I think that many would be easier to identify and sort. Blue Rasberry (talk) 21:45, 1 May 2018 (UTC)[reply]
Telling, the call is for "More guidelines" (Harvard says this too), but no hint is made for more reasonable guidelines. Introducing unfair or unbalanced guidelines will not improve the "community health", it will only let careless admins off the hook (an indicator is the many boomerang references). Survey outcome does not point to this in any way. (And one guideline less could be implemented today: "Personal attacks are allowed at AN/I").
All in all I get the sense that unevenly more respondants are admins, and crucial questions are missing, hence the survey is evading the issue of admin conduct at AN/I. - DePiep (talk) 09:43, 1 May 2018 (UTC)[reply]

Hello @Bluerasberry:, @Bri:, @DePiep:, @Kudpung:, thank you all for reading the AN/I report and leaving really insightful comments. The AN/I research is part of a larger project by the Wikimedia Foundation Community health initiative (CHI) to identify problems with reporting and managing harassment cases and then work with the wikimedia communities to come up with solutions. Right now, we (WMF Anti-Harassment tools team and Support and Safety team) are opening up discussions on English Wikipedia and Meta to talk about the results of these studies, hear other thoughts and ideas exactly like the ones that you all have expressed here. I would like to copy this thread over to the place where we are opening the discussion about improving harassment reporting systems and workflows so that others interested in the topic can see your thoughts. On the other page, I'll respond with my thoughts on substances of your comments and how it fits in with some the CHI's tentative work projects for the next calendar year that begins in July. SPoore (WMF), Community Advocate, Community health initiative (talk) 14:25, 3 May 2018 (UTC)[reply]


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