Wikipedia:Avoiding difficult users

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There are relatively few difficult users, but they need to be avoided to stay focused on writing the encyclopedia, and not let petty squabbles cause frustrations and doubts about other, decent users. Vast numbers of users, rarely seen, are highly considerate and intelligent people. Only a few users are difficult, so they should be avoided to keep working with the nice guys. Avoiding those users also means avoiding several significant articles where they obsess and dwell. It might seem that difficult users could be confronted and stopped, but when they group together, they are almost unstoppable. They scare other users or admins who do not have time to fight against all of their many antics and complex games targeting their victims.

Rare but difficult[change source]

Simple Wikipedia has roughly 892 thousand registered users, so if the vast bulk of people were jerks, then every article would be totally trashed, and every user-page would be filled with warring insults added by everyone else. No, instead, most wiki-people are basically good, and it is just a "small group" of difficult users who cause most problems. Yet, those problems are hideous nightmares of lies, distortion, innuendo, with later hounding of users into being edit-blocked, or removed from Wikipedia.

Plus, even a small percentage, of 892,000 users, is a considerable number of difficult users. Consequently, they are encountered, every few days, and even though rare, they know how to be difficult. They have a history of being difficult, so they've had a lot of practice, and know all the tricks to upsetting people. You think you know how difficult people can be, but you have no idea.

Acting like trolls on meth[change source]

A lot of difficult users act like Internet trolls on meth: they bait and insult to get a reaction, and to see their victims suffer and react with justifiable rage, to gain an advantage over them. Then the victims are blamed for getting mad and acting hostile, blamed by "cherry-picking" their angry responses without showing how they were tricked or goaded into becoming furious. To save time, many admins look mostly at the (carefully) selected angry responses. Those admins warn the victims to admit their mistakes or face severe blocking or topic bans. The reason the victims are quickly blamed is because they clearly wrote angry remarks, and in the long run, the various users must co-exist, and if the victims are fewer then they are easier to change than the larger majority of their tormentors. This logic gives power to groups of bullies who are seen as "the community" of most users. They learn to complain, within the rules of making disputes, playing along with cohorts to game-the-system, often but not always, to win their fights against opponents.

Wikipedia is a relatively neophyte (new baby) system, and it has no penalties for false accusations, unlike the mirrored, reverse punishments for false accusations handled many centuries ago in the Code of Hammurabi. So, even when wiki-tormentors are found to be making false accusations, the result is merely that the complaint is refuted, so "no harm done" and there is no punishment (at all in any form whatsoever) for people who invent witch-hunts, thus they are free to try again, hoping for a likely win, in the next false accusations they make. If false accusations were, some day, to be punished, as an eye-for-an-eye, then false claims would be greatly reduced and made less likely, as being too risky to try.

Also, if most trouble makers are ignored rather than scolded, then they lose interest when their victims escape the trap of posting angry replies, so they move on to find other victims. To avoid them, perhaps just switch the subject to edit even 5 other, minor articles, and the trolls will lose interest, because the controversial issue they debated has been washed away by the numerous details in 5 dull articles.

Difficult groups[change source]

The illusion of "jerk-ipedia" is fostered when difficult users band together, as a sort of gang mentality. Even though they are few, when perhaps 5 people gang up and spew vitriol onto a new user, it gives the intense illusion, as one person concluded: "The inmates are running the asylum". They are not. Most people in charge are not nut-cases, not slowly insulting others. The vast majority of Wikipedia articles are written by normal people, with healthy attitudes, and common courtesy. Most of the 17 admins on Simple Wikipedia are well-mannered and grounded in reality, and any unusual admins who join are generally removed, and soon.

Dangers[change source]

Wikipedia warns each new user not to reveal personal information. Do not create a username the same as on Facebook, YouTube or Google. Although they don't necessarily know where anyone lives, some difficult users find where you write. The problem of wiki-stalking involves tracing user-editing of various pages, along with determining a list of people you have contacted, by analyzing your access to user-talk pages, or other websites. The real dangers:

  • Articles you wrote get hacked (why? "well, you changed the article I wrote, so..." ).
  • Conversations get snooped ("I see several other people are having trouble with you, as in your debates with User:xxx and User:yyy" ).
  • Your opinions get pre-guessed ("Based on your prior user-talk, you will say "xx" and so you will be wrong because..." ).
  • You quit to avoid getting more insults.

Basically, you don't even need to be present, at all, to have a long set of problems thrust into each article you wrote, contacts to users you know, and debates stating how wrong your opinions are (or rather, would be as the guess you would state). Even though you never even entered the discussion, some users will predict your opinions (in writing) just to let others see how wrong you are about something you never said.

The warning signs[change source]

Many types, of difficult users, can be detected early, by off-balance actions that they employ: "where there's smoke there's fire". Now, remember, that several users might just be copy-catting bad behavior, so the first impressions, of how people behave, are somewhat misleading. Look for 2 or more warning signs, and compare as repeated patterns of behavior. Some signs:

  • a peculiar Article-for-deletion notice: if a key article you (carefully) wrote is being discussed for deletion, that is a bizarre situation; good articles rarely get noted for deletion;
  • a "hate mail" entry on your user-talk page instantly condemns you, rather than the way normal people would ask, "...could you explain why you did...";
  • an insulting revert of a major edit: polite people will generally initiate a discussion before reverting a major change, and certainly they would not "twist the knife" by also insulting you, in their edit-summary, while knifing the revision you had carefully written.
  • use of veiled insults: difficult users often write negative judgmental phrases such as "disruptive edits" or "contentious changes" or "errors introduced". Those mild insults don't really violate WP:No personal attacks, but such wording leaves a scarring record of insults, toward you, in each edit-summary line or in each talk-page entry.
  • several articles, you recently edited, get changed: wiki-stalking.

Again, many difficult users have a lot of impact, so some new users might get goaded into bad behavior, in a copy-cat manner, and it takes a few combined actions to realize the behavior is a pattern of intentional, negative, and insulting actions by truly difficult users.

Perhaps keep a list of users who insult you, noting the date and type of insult. If those same people insult you again, check the difference in dates and the type of comment they made. Consider: "Where there's smoke, there's fire" so plan to avoid those people or expect the likely results in the risk of working with them.

Remember no one cares, so ignore troublemakers[change source]

Of course, many Wikipedia editors have left in disgust at such petty, childish, psycho behavior. However, remember, in general, when it comes to your "bad" wiki-reputation, no one really cares. It's a volunteer project, and most people are too busy to worry about wiki-reputations. If people really cared about that, then certainly all difficult users would have been banned for their reputations, many years ago, banned from the wiki-Solar System long ago. But they haven't; instead, troublesome users are generally ignored, and so are their angry remarks about your wiki-reputation.

Most people have simply decided to ignore those difficult users and, also, ignore the veiled insults or other mud thrown at wiki-reputations. In general, people don't think about who is wrong or who is right, but rather, "Those guys sure argued a whole lot". Decent people won't believe too many angry remarks that others say about you. So it is not a real problem, like it might be in live social settings, where typically, insults must be backed by some real facts to convince others.

Avoid some significant controversial articles[change source]

Similar to a legendary troll under the bridge, who waits and makes demands of travellers trying to cross the bridge, the difficult users tend to hang around some significant articles, knowing that certain people will want to change or correct part of the text. Just as the troll exerts power against those wanting to cross the bridge, the difficult users feel they have a "captive audience" in particular articles. Specific changes will be reverted and disallowed by them. Those articles should be avoided, abandoned, as areas of continual confrontation, at least for a few weeks or months.

Perhaps the most that can be done is to lodge a "POV dispute" on an article's talk-page, but not carry out a protracted debate, because the difficult users will likely escalate any rebellion to become wiki-stalking and hounding of their rivals. However, soon, some of those users will likely "archive" your comment topics (as being old topics) from the active talk-page, further denying your voice about the article. At any given time, there are well over 50,000 highly significant article topics, so just visit some minor articles first, until those difficult users have lost interest in following. Then, later, try to improve some other significant article, which is not a battleground for such controversies.

Wikipedia is a neophyte (new baby) forum for users, so it does not have limits for obsessive editors, such as a limit to how many times a day, or month, someone can edit an article, or post a message. If each user's article edits were limited, within a month, then the power to continually re-change an article would be reduced for those types of people.

Remember who was difficult[change source]

Many difficult users have left within 2 years of joining Wikipedia, as they struggled to gain more power, but were continually ignored or rejected. Eventually, they snapped, and went out in a "blaze of glory" by insulting everything and everyone, until the admins reverted their hateful, final rants from the pages where they had cast their vicious parting remarks.

However, other less maniacal users have acted as "semi-trolls" with more balance, and remained years longer. One user thought the solution was to list every difficult user on his user-talk page, but that tends to merely anger them. Instead, just keep a private list, off-line from Wikipedia, so that when the names of difficult users re-appear, you can review their infamous antics of the past, and take evasive action.

Spin negatives as positive[change source]

Each veiled insult, or slur, against your wiki-reputation can be given an easy spin, with follow-on wording that focuses on a strongly positive view about each comment. Examples:

  • Someone reverts a change as reverting "your contentious edit". Well, later, just re-add the change, with a slight positive overstatement, "re-added vast improvement misviewed as contentious".
  • Someone logs a veiled insult as an entry in your user-talk page: "About errors you made" and so, just re-label the topic with a better spin, "Great ideas mistaken as errors".

Although the glowing, positive terms might seem excessive, the effect is perfect. A dull veiled insult, obviously intended to scar your reputation (in writing), is reformed into a 100x times greater compliment, to all who later see the entry. Because of the hugely wonderful, over-the-top positive wording, those spins have a second benefit of laughing away the insults, which were not just undone, but thoroughly trounced, beaten down 100 times, by the overly-positive wording of the enthusiastic spin. The reason each spin can work so well, against the insults, is that, typically, an insulting remark must be mild (otherwise it becomes a vicious personal attack), so consequently the positive spin can easily claim a viewpoint 100x times the opposite, as an enormous compliment. The result: insults can always be reworded as a 100x better compliment. It's a guaranteed easy win, with a humorous spin 100x times funnier than the meager insults. Rather than having to re-read, each time, the negative wording of the insult, the text to be seen, each time, is the glowing positive view of the improvements (or other "great impact to the universe") that you have made.

You will have won, completely, and avoided the insulting words of the difficult users.

Say a prayer but don't minister to users[change source]

It might be tempting to try to reform the difficult users. A moderate amount of personal discussion, with those users, could be considered as beneficial to Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia is funded to write the encyclopedia, not provide cyber-counseling or psychiatric treatment to disturbed individuals, and not to convert the hearts of hateful people to become humanized or Christianized. It would be unethical to use Wikipedia outside the stated policies of the Wikimedia Foundation, even when following good intentions. Perhaps the most you can do is to say a prayer, or otherwise, counsel with them outside the scope of Wikipedia, but always protect your identity: "Beyond this point, there be demons".

Improving the next article is the ultimate win[change source]

Many difficult users tend to block progress, and some simply want to stop others from writing, or expanding articles, with information they don't want to be shown. Confrontations with them can be utterly demoralizing and make people want to quit Wikipedia, then warn hundreds of people about the horrifying, degrading, disgusting experiences they had while being insulted, tormented, and hounded on Wikipedia.

Again, the interactions with difficult users can be so unpleasant that many people have quit. Consequently, because of that focus, the simple act of ignoring troublesome users, and moving on to improve another article, constitutes a total victory over their attempts to block other people from working on other articles, although the trolled articles are virtually hopeless.

Try to tune out the difficult users and, instead, always remember the millions of other people who are helping to improve Wikipedia. Mustering the renewed enthusiasm, to improve even one more article, is the ultimate win.

One of the secrets of highly successful people:
       "Never let the bastards get you down."