Wikipedia:Dealing with coordinated vandalism

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A Kodiak Brown Bear.

On 31 July 2006, on the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert urged his viewers to modify the Wikipedia article Elephant to report incorrectly that the African elephant population had recently tripled.[1] The segment was very funny, and also provided a chance for us to show interested viewers what Wikipedia is about.

Unfortunately, this opportunity was partially undermined by some over-reactions and ill-coordinated handling of the resulting influx of users trying to follow Mr. Colbert's advice. This essay discusses how to handle similar future situations; it is a collection of existing policies and guidelines and a discussion of how they apply in such cases, not an attempt to formulate new policy.

It is important, in order to deal with and to benefit from such potentially disruptive situations, to:

  1. Not bite the new users, and
  2. Present a united, organized, and calm front to deal with the problem, as our reaction may be subject to external scrutiny.

Here are some things that can be done to deal with the situation:

Monitor[edit]

The first thing to do is monitor the progress of the vandalism in a centralised place. Pages that are being vandalised should be categorised into frequent, medium, low vandalism, and monitored. An example of this for the Colbert situation is User:Centrx/Colbert. Perhaps a central page like Wikipedia:Mass vandalism with sub pages can be established.

Revert vandalism[edit]

If the rate of vandalism is low, all you have to do is revert the page to an earlier version. Leave a simple, polite edit summary; usually "revert vandalism" or "rv" will suffice.

Get help![edit]

A small group of editors may be quickly overwhelmed by a large influx of new users, so it is important to alert others to the situation before things get too stressful. Consider reporting the situation at some or all of the following locations:

Remember, it's better to err on the side of asking for too much help than not asking for enough. The faster targeted pages are monitored and/or protected, the less of an impact coordinated vandalism will have on the project.

Warn vandals[edit]

Do not bite the new users! Many new users of Wikipedia start out by vandalizing a page to make sure they can really edit it; once they discover they can, they sometimes become productive users. For this reason, in almost all cases vandals are to be warned before they are blocked. (See Wikipedia:Blocking policy.) There is no reason to be less lenient because the vandals are part of an externally organized effort! More vandals arriving could mean more new contributors.

Warning templates may be used for warnings, and in cases particularly similar to the Colbert episode, {{Template:Uw-joke1}}, {{Template:Uw-joke2}}, {{Template:Uw-joke3}}, and {{Template:Uw-joke4}} may be applicable.

...then block them[edit]

If a user or IP is repeatedly vandalizing after being warned, use Wikipedia:Administrator intervention against vandalism to request that the vandal be blocked for a brief period per blocking policy. New users should not be blocked for unusually long periods of time for the same reason they shouldn't be blocked without warning—such newbie-biting costs us potential users.

Vandalism-only and "sleeper" accounts[edit]

Accounts that are clearly used only for malicious vandalism, and in particular those that have been created in advance to be used in evading semi-protection at a later time ("sleeper" accounts), can be dealt with more harshly than is described above. It is commonly accepted that users who demonstrate knowledge of Wikipedia and use this knowledge to repeatedly and deliberately harm the site are not likely to be redeemable, and can be blocked immediately as an application of Wikipedia:Blocking policy#Users who exhaust the community's patience.

Protect pages[edit]

The fundamental goal of Wikipedia is to create and maintain an encyclopedia. If the users who are watching a page cannot keep it in good shape most of the time by reverting vandalism, then page protection may be appropriate. Non-admins can request page protection at Wikipedia:Requests for page protection.

...but don't over-protect![edit]

Another very fundamental value of Wikipedia as possible is that users can edit articles!

  • Don't protect a page unless vandalism renders it inaccurate or unusable.
  • If semi-protection is sufficient to reduce the rate of vandalism to a manageable level, even if some vandalism continues, there is no need for full protection. Use semi-protection first. In addition to leaving pages editable by regular users and avoiding problems of accidentally protecting inaccurate information, this gives us a chance to force "sleeper" accounts out of hiding and block them.
  • Don't protect pages preemptively, even if external coverage or vandalism on other pages gives you reason to believe they will need to be protected. From Wikipedia:Semi-protection policy: "Semi-protection should not be used . . . as a pre-emptive measure against the threat or probability of vandalism before any such vandalism has occurred." Full protection, as an even more drastic measure, is obviously not to be used for this purpose either.
  • Unprotect pages as soon as possible. Try unprotecting after a couple of days, and reprotect again if the vandalism remains unmanageable. For full protection, try downgrading to semi-protection for a day or two first and see how that goes.

Communicate[edit]

Users dealing with mass vandalism, and especially administrators, should talk about strategies during ongoing incidents in order to avoid working at cross-purposes. Drastic solutions to ongoing problems should not be undertaken without discussion and consensus—when we are reacting administratively to a situation whose handling may be scrutinized from outside, it is best to be careful about being bold. It is detrimental to Wikipedia if we are perceived as panicking, confused, or otherwise unable to handle problems. The truth is that we can handle them easily, so we should show it.

Keep talk pages usable[edit]

Article talk pages are for discussions of how to improve the article; new users directed to Wikipedia pages from elsewhere may mistakenly use them as a discussion board. If disruption to a talk page due to discussion about an external reference to an article (or related vandalism) becomes severe, consider creating a sub-page for such discussion and posting a notice that it is to be used rather than the regular talk page. (See the red box at the top of this version of Talk:Elephant, for example.) Ruthlessly remove any further comments to the sub-page, but be civil about it. On either the main talk page or the incident sub-page, obvious trolling should be removed, and a warning should be given to the trolling editor.

If a large volume of new users and IPs are trolling and vandalizing the talk page, semi-protecting the talk page briefly may become appropriate. However, from Wikipedia:Semi-protection policy: "Talk pages are not protected as a rule, except in special circumstances."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Montgomery, James (3 August 2006). "Can Wikipedia Handle Stephen Colbert's Truthiness?". MTV News. Retrieved 4 December 2017.