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Wikipedia talk:No personal attacks

Supporters of the "no personal attacks" rule include:

  • Ed Poor thinks that people who try to influence others by calling them names should be ashamed of themselves! and people who try to change people by shaming them are idiots! (sarcasm intentional)

  • JHK
  • Eclecticology (essential for maintaining peace in the family)
  • Martin (especially on talk pages on articles - user talk pages don't matter as much)

Opponents of this rule include:

  • Lee Daniel Crocker (see below),
  • 24 (see below),
  • JHK (because I think there might be cases where Lee is right, and believe strongly in peer pressure and shame culture.)
  • NetEsq (concurring with Lee Daniel Crocker - see below)

Supporters of the "move persnal debates to e-mail" rule include:

Opponents of this rule include:

  • 24 (strongly, either the "unpleasantness" is irrelevant to wiki or it is vital to wiki - in the former case cut it out, in the latter case everyone must hear it out because it probably isn't "personal" but illustrates an ideology or cosmology or ethics dispute)


If calling a troll a troll or pointing out someone's statements to judge their credibility helps produce better articles, then an occasional personal attack is warranted, as long as it serves our goal. Obviously physical threats are out of place, as are impugning someone's race, gender, nationality, etc., but character and credibility are fair game. Just blindly calling someone an idiot without explanation or reason serves no purpose, but even those should be judged case-by-case. All "zero tolerance" rules are bad; human beings should exercise judgment, and not be afraid to stand behind those judgments. -- Lee Daniel Crocker

I concur with Lee Daniel Crocker on this issue, and I offer my own thoughts here as a supplement. An absolute prohibition on personal attacks would violate the proposed ignore all rules rule and would more than likely give rise to a culture of forced politeness, hypocrisy, and passive aggressive behavior. The work is the important thing, and suffering personal attacks is an inescapable part of holding one's work up to the scrutiny of one's peers. On this note, the best way to deal with unprovoked and/or unfair personal attacks is to ignore them and focus on the work. However, the decision to stand down from a confrontation should be left to the sound discretion of the individuals involved in such a confrontation.--NetEsq

24 - not only is such a rule exteremly unlikely to be fairly administered by a clique, but frankly, someone committed to a particular approach to editing or collaborating or not is not going to give a damn about "shaming" or even "outing" (much more serious). Handing over banning-power to be used again people who simply offend others as part of a two-way semi-abusive discourse is a sure route to groupthink - and the end of any serious pretense of the project to "neutrality". That said, ad hominem attack generally contributes little to discourse as people defend their positions reactively, and anonymous parties with little at stake except a disposable identity should be relatively more conservative about such tactics than those who are using the same names that are attached to their bodies. However, those gloves should come off the instant someone is "outing" or "framing" anybody, i.e. if someone tells me I'm Mikhail Gorbachev and should "know better", then they deserve intense ad hominem attack in return from infinite anonymous parties until they learn not to "out". Those who wish to put their own real-body names up in a one on one mud wrestling competition with disposable anons (IP numbers, pseudonyms) who might as well be programs or many people posing as the same character, are not going to survive this millenium anyway, so let's not bother pretending that their opinion can matter. Also, there are many who consider this process, or the role of the "troll", to be constructive and necessary, like the "devil's advocate" or "shaitan" or "defense attorney" or "opposition leader" or "Supreme Court minority opinion author", to reduce groupthink and identify values divisions across which people cannot cooperate constructively anyway, and can only ever agree to just disagree. I'm confident that the record shows that I never attacked or insulted anyone who didn't attack or insult me first - if they object to getting the diseased end of the stick thereafter, well, tough. Finally, let's not pretend that those ideological or ethnic conflicts in the "real world" that people are dying and killing for, are going to lead to anything less than verbal or emotional simulacra of violence here. Blunt brutal argument between Arabs and Israelis, Communists and Capitalists, Globalists and Localists, Greens and Golfers, Gollums and Gandalfs, is the only way we're going to get to this "NPOV" God that some here want to worship - or, for that matter, talking people out so they come at least to an exhausted truce.


I, Ed Poor, generally believe that personal attacks aren't going to improve the Wikipedia. In the few debates I've followed in which participants spill a substantial amount of ink questioning each other's integrity, intelligence, and (probably) taste in clothes, I've noticed that no fruitful plans tend to develop for the improvement of the article under consideration.

Occasionally, I myself have been such a participant, and I judge the exercise to be a waste of time for all concerned. Now, I might try to lighten the gloom with a wisecrack (as in "my dear lab rat"), but since other parties have informed me regally that "We are not amused", this leaves me no other recourse: I'm going to have to start writing politely! Ed Poor, Wednesday, April 17, 2002


I just wanted to explain a little of the background behind the proposed e-mail rule.

I have participated in more unpleasant exchanges here on Wikipedia than I care to count. There are almost always good grounds for these exchanges--people who debate things here are generally very intelligent and their opinions are backed by substantial reasoning. But, as happens almost everywhere else on the Internet, harsh feelings, often or usually based in misunderstandings and incomplete communication, tend to spoil the thing. I really don't want Wikipedia to become another debate forum or flame-fest. I think we will work best if we avoid all unnecessary controversy, and if we must engage in controversy, that we practice wikipetiquette as far as we are able.

I think it would be great if we all made it a habit of saying, when appropriate, "Hey, this is getting a little too unpleasant for Wikipedia, which is supposed to be a nice place focused on creating an encyclopedia. I'll write you privately. (Or: My e-mail address is X@Y.Z. Could you write me, please, or post your address, so we can resolve this amicably in private?)

If more of us did this, I think Wikipedia could become a much more pleasant place to work on this worthy project. Please, let's not let such a great project be slowed down by personal difficulties. I really do think we can avoid that. --Larry Sanger


I think that sounds preferable to the current way (making a public spectacle, people taking sides, slinging barbs and arrows ... seems too much like it belongs in a colosseum, most of the time). But I should say I have no problem at all debating things in wikipedia, only I'd prefer it go private if it becomes a bit personal or disrespectful. And of course everyone likes to see the happy reconciliation. :-) --Koyaanis Qatsi

Note being a net techie I don't know how hard this would be to set up, but what about a "usenet" group? Alt.pedia.debate (not alt.wikipedia to prevent it turning up in search engines). Then we could legitimately say "take it to usenet". Just a thought - MB

Starting a group in the traditional 'Big 8' hierarchy involves a long, fussy procedure; starting one in the alt hierarchy is easy but getting news servers to carry it is not so easy. I don't think it's appropriate for a world-distributable newsgroup, anyway. It may be possible to set up a newsgroup on the Nupedia server and have it archived by Nupedia (not quite a 'private' newsgroup, but not fully public - keep Google out of it). Would a mailing list be a good 'middle ground' between fully public discussion and private email? -- Claudine


What about ageism? In talk:Libertarian socialism Len[?] said that another person is "obviously a college student" and called him or her "son" (this is also a minor form of sexism, since it makes assumptions about another's gender). This is clearly a personal attack. bpt 02:27 May 3, 2003 (UTC)

That is an excellent example of a situation where a prohibition against personal attacks would chill spirited debate. Moreover, those who cry foul are often the passive aggressors. -- NetEsq 05:28 May 3, 2003 (UTC)



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