|This page in a nutshell: Creating and spreading drama disrupts and harms Wikipedia – and it may get you blocked.|
Much of Wikipedia's success is attributable to it being open to contributions from all. However, this openness sometimes attracts people who seek to exploit the site as a launchpad for unnecessary conflict and strife; in other words, drama. As with trolling, drama is a negative form of interaction that harms and destabilizes online communities. As with trolling the goal of those seeking to create and expand drama is to provoke a reaction. Unlike trolling the goal of drama is to confuse and divide the community in order to weaken the community's policies, gain support for a cause or policy interpretation, or serve some other goal such as driving away contributors.
Along with Wikipedia:Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point and Wikipedia:Disruptive editing, this proposed guideline serves to document the community's methods for minimizing disruption and the wasting of Wikipedia volunteers' time.
What is Drama?
Drama is the unnecessary creation, prolongation, and/or spreading of conflict and strife. The nature of wikis and message boards provides a natural venue for minor personal conflicts to be intentionally exaggerated and spread across multiple pages and even sites drawing in dozens of otherwise unrelated people.
Some banned editors, stymied POV warriors, malcontents, and those with personal grudges have a distressing habit of turning minor issues into Greek Tragedies. Dramas can be instigated and carried out by a single individual unable to move forward from a minor setback such as a warning and feeling a need to get the last word in, on up to an entire complex community at third-party websites opposed to Wikipedia. Members of such sites engage in drama to play to their audience and to gauge the Wikipedia community's strengths and vulnerability to further destabilization. They have produced incidents of mass sock puppetry, targeting individuals, especially members of Wikipedia's administration, for elaborate long term harassment spanning multiple sites.
Indefinite bans have sometimes been the initial triggers for drama. Banned editors have returned as sock puppets to disrupt the community or weaken the policies supporting their ban and the documentation of it. Consensus supporting bans becomes hazy or lost as people leave the project, archived discussions are lost or forgotten, and messages are removed from banned user pages. This process is well understood by dedicated dramamongers who will spread dissent and confusion by seeking out and enlisting well-intentioned but unaware contributors to support their cause. They actively attempt to spread discussions across as many pages as possible, such as WP:AN/I, WP:RFAR, user talk pages, thereby weakening their responders by dividing their responses and preventing consensus, counting on new arrivals at each page to only get part of the story. They can then count on gathering some new supporters from those lacking critical pieces of the puzzle. Further ambiguity is caused when warnings and sock puppet templates are removed from User pages by their owners or supporters, again hoping to cause new arrivals to the strife to accept them as established community members worthy of full trust and support. They "helpfully restate" the dispute, quietly losing the parts describing their actual roles, which only causes the emotionally involved responders to try to set the record straight. In short, they do anything they can to fracture and divide the community and get it to turn on itself. Often well intentioned people fall into this trap when a deep-seated community disagreement floods across Wikipedia. The openness of Wikipedia, and its Assume Good Faith attitude work in favor of the dramamonger, who continually canvasses for Wikipedia editors who might take their side.
The conventional Wikipedia:Dispute resolution path is not a solution since each stage takes time and provides yet another stage for Additional Drama. Many dedicated troublemakers take a long-term view that every setback provides a new opportunity to recruit others, reintroduce false or distressingly private information about their opponents, start a new round of provocation, and perhaps goad their targets to take rash responses that lead to sanction, or lead them to simply give up, having been worn down by the constant harassment. Thus for the dedicated dramamonger every RFC or arbitration case becomes an event to score points with their audience, renew previous attacks, and try out new tactics. When faced with the necessity to end a drama, endless effort must be expended by responsible contributors just to enforce or uphold a previous block or ban. Creators of drama and their enablers know that endlessly challenging and rehashing every detail of previous blocks and bans wears down and demoralizes their opposition and they will take advantage of it at every turn to such a degree that this behavior has become a hallmark of dramamongers.
Occasionally chronic troublemakers have found like-minded administrators willing to support them, even going so far as to unblock them. The result leaves the troublemaker free to renew their campaign against their targets, sometimes for months. Administrators who act to minimize the disruption of well-supported troublemakers sometimes must spend an enormous amount of energy defending themselves and their action. Faced with entrenched and chronic sources of drama and their enablers, people soon are no longer willing to act and a paralysis sets in. In a dysfunctional community that can not respond effectively to conflict, people become disillusioned and leave. This is why drama is anathema to online communities, especially Wikipedia, which survives only by dint of the willingness and generosity of its volunteers.
Responding to drama
Drama rapidly undermines morale, wastes time, and divides communities; thus it must be quashed quickly. Remember, the goal is to provoke a reaction, the bigger the better. You can use the desire for a reaction against them. Unlike the immediate reaction to trolls to ignore their comments, openly challenge the behavior of dramamongers, not the content of their comments. Take away their cover by surfacing that this appears to be drama. Ask them directly if they have noticed any problem with their method. Say you noticed attempts to spread the dispute and would like to know what sparked such an action. If they make fun of your facts, ask them to explain what was wrong with the facts. Often they have no basis for their actions, so the more you press them for details, the more their drama will fall apart.
Dramamongers try to break social cohesion and thus gain power and tend to test the waters continuously until they are sure there is no room for their weak power play. The community must continuously reassert its authority and unity each time. This may be tiresome; other options are to ignore the drama or leave. The degree to which the community is split on handling drama is the degree of success the dramamongers can be assured before even starting.
First and foremost, don't feed the trolls (sometimes abbreviated "DFTT"). Denying troublemakers and their audience a show by staying strictly on the topic of their behavior and not the content of their comments takes away their ability to spread the drama. Secondly, identify drama for what it is and let its creator know that you oppose any spread of it. Thirdly, centralize all discussions; if a dramamonger or group of them is expanding a conflict across many pages, move it all to WP:AN/I and consolidate and identify the drama for what it is clearly and succinctly. This minimizes the disruption to the Wikipedia community. Turn the informal slugfest into a formal debate about behavior and policy. And in all instances abide by Wikipedia's policies and guidelines, particularly WP:CIVIL: Do not hand dramamongers both the gun and ammunition to snipe at you. Lastly, once a drama has been settled, tag any sock puppet accounts identified per WP:SOCK where evidence exists that supports this. Ensuring that sockpuppet accounts are properly tagged and remain so is essential for the benefit of later newcomers to the past disruption.
Explicitly identifying drama and centralizing it minimizes disruption to the community. Incivility or other missteps can be apologized for, miscommunications clarified, and conflicts resolved all in one location. Trolls and dramamongers will suddenly lose the excitement of seeing their handiwork spread across many pages with their opponents scrambling to react and make sense of it all; a suitable method to derail attempts to fracture and confuse the community. Lessons learned can be rolled into policy in such discussions. And most importantly, everything relevant can be found in one archived page, making dealing with the next iteration of the drama easier.
And if a dramamonger defies your attempt to centralize the discussion, everyone is responsible for moving his text back to the central location. This community expectation is critical if you intend to still have a community in the morning. Paraphrasing Smokey the Bear: Only You Can Prevent Drama.
When the drama rises to the level of disrupting Wikipedia to illustrate a point, it may result in being blocked as described at that page. The worst such cases usually result in the community or arbitration committee issuing an indefinite ban or block.
How to not respond to drama
- Waiting for it to go away: Sorry, but it won't.
- Thinking it isn't a big deal: Wrong! It's a big deal. It's a mistake to underrate the malice of troublemakers.
- Creating more drama: With drama, you can't fight fire with fire. Always work to minimize disruption, not spread it.
How do I know it is drama?
- You know that you are experiencing "drama" when you lose track of where the rapidly expanding "front" of the dispute is.
- When you are making the same point in multiple places and you have to argue "laterally", across pages, in order to state a cohesive perspective.
- You no longer know which discussions on which pages are the most current and relevant to the dispute because people keep starting new ones.
- The number of participants grows rapidly, and many arrivals appear to be SPAs.
- When people consistently refer to off-site harassment as the origin of the drama.
The Principle of Least Drama
The Principle of Least Drama says that given a choice between several ways of dealing with a problem, pick the one that generates the least drama. If the only approach you can think of is laden with drama, sign off for the night. You may think of a new alternative in the morning, or someone else may have implemented a better approach.
- Wikipedia:Deny recognition
- Wikipedia:Disruptive editing
- Wikipedia:Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point
- Wikipedia:Sock puppetry
- Wikipedia:Single-purpose account
- Wikipedia:Ignore all dramas
- Wikipedia:Is wikidrama bad?
- Wikipedia:Hasten The Day