Essay:Why the Vandal Bin hurts Rationalwiki

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Essay.svg This essay is an original work by Laurogeita Hamabost.
It does not necessarily reflect the views expressed in RationalWiki's Mission Statement, but we welcome discussion of a broad range of ideas.
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Feel free to make comments on the talk page, which will probably be far more interesting, and might reflect a broader range of RationalWiki editors' thoughts.

Okay, this essay may be seen as self-serving but if you don't wanna read it, you don't have to and it does not even clog mainspace, but if you wanna hear me out, please do. Talk pages are for debate, so please use it for questions and debate.

What is the Vandal Bin?[edit]

The Vandal Bin is a "penalty" that is probably unique to Rationalwiki, at the very least I have not found it or anything like it on any other wiki. While it may possibly be a holdover from earlier days of the wiki phenomenon - like the ancient version of Mediawiki RW still runs on - it is more likely to have originated on RW independently like other aspects of its "culture" like goat, "joke blocks" or the "Chicken Coop". What it does is technologically limit a user to one edit every thirty minutes. This is non-stackable and non-inclusive, so if you don't edit at all for several hours or even days you are still blocked for half an hour after your next edit, no matter whether it is moving a comma or writing a five page screed. In almost all cases any "time limit" to the bin is arbitrary and not built in when the penalty is handed down, so unlike blocks which usually come for a predetermined amount of time, the bin only ends when someone with sysop rights explicitly lifts it. The Bin also forces the user in question to solve a captcha with every edit which would pose accessibility problems if Rationalwiki did not require a Captcha for signup and every edit without logging in anyway (thus eliminating accessibility to those unable to solve a Captcha)

What is the bin intended to do?[edit]

Ostensibly (given its official name and its alternate name "vandal brake") it is supposed to deter wiki-vandalism or make it impossible. Unlike a block, which either limits posting to the talk page of the blocked user (to make an appeal possible) or inhibits all editing for the duration of the block, the bin does not limit the user to any specific page(s) and allows the user to edit any page not otherwise protected from editing. So even if a user put into the vandal bin were to vandalize across multiple pages (single-page vandalism can be combated by simple page-protection), it would be greatly reduced in scope and speed due to the 30 minute limit. However, for reasons laid out below, it really sucks at doing what it is supposed to do and instead does a lot of things it really shouldn't.

What does the bin do in reality?[edit]

In reality the bin is hardly ever used on "vandals" in the classical sense. Users that post "hihihi PENIS", racist claptrap or alt-right talking points are usually swiftly banned either for a few days or for long enough to deter them from posting again. The Bin is however occasionally employed against people who either really do or accused of one of the following

  1. edit warring
  2. "Endless discussions" on talk pages
  3. conflicts with other users (including but not limited to hitting below the belt)
  4. miscellaneous

Of course some of those put into the bin notice how hard this makes editing are discouraged from further editing and turn away, as happens to many recipients of short term blocks. However, a few binned editors have not let the bin discourage them and thus tried to continue editing. This however usually leads to the following phenomena:

Binned users tend to write longer talk page posts[edit]

As RW talk pages are either dormant - with posts from now long gone users the most recent thing in sight - or very quickly moving (with a new post every couple of minutes) it is very hard for someone limited to one edit every thirty minutes to write a short concise post as sometimes several posts - including a handful aimed at them or concerning them - have appeared in the last thirty minute window. Therefore binned users often see the need to address several topics at once leading to lenghty talk page posts.

There is only one problem with that: The vast majority of RW users hate lengthy talk page posts.

Binned users tend to cease copy-editing[edit]

Copy-editing is one of the myriad seemingly minor things happening on wikis that keep them up and running. Even the best spellcheckers leave out some typos and even then awkward wordings and grammar snafus may only become apparent once the "send" button has been hit. Of course if only one edit in every thirty minutes is possible, this tends to get "reserved" for bigger stuff than a comma here or a category there.

Binned users are unable to defend controversial edits effectively[edit]

Rationalwiki is not without controversy. In fact, it partially thrives on giving no holds barred beatdowns on mainstream media darlings like "Doctor" Oz and other woo-peddlers and there are of course other things over which by no means all RW editors see eye to eye. This can be bad as it can lead to edit wars, but it can also be productive as in airing out opposing opinions and talking about them neutral observers can learn the arguments of both sides and draw their own conclusions. Unfortunately, controversial debates tend to move fast and long talk page posts tend to get ignored (see above) so binned users are unable to effectively defend their position even if it is reasonable and sane or has just been misunderstood and would be perfectly acceptable to the other side if only presented in a slightly different way (which of course only became apparent during the thirty minutes of being unable to edit)

Binned users will spend disproportional amounts of time trying to get out of the bin[edit]

Due to all the above points, the bin obviously sucks for the person in it (which is kind of the point) and from a rational resource utilization perspective, trying to get out of the bin is probably the best thing a binned user can do with her/his one edit per half hour. This of course means their already truncated chances of actually participating in debates or - goat forbid - working constructively on articles become non-existent "by their own actions" as almost all edits are spent trying to get out of the bin. This leads to a Catch22 where other editors say "we will let you out of the bin if you write good edits" but the editor cannot write good edits because they are in the bin.

The bin punishes the most common style of editing extra hard[edit]

Some editors write long texts to articles (sometimes pre-saving them on some device outside RW) and then upload them when they are mostly done. Most other editors (including old timers like Krej or nobs but also including some Mods) make several small edits in short succession or make one big edit that is subsequently polished by a barrage of smaller edits before one of those turns into a larger edit and so on. This is of course impossible for any editor in the bin. They have to convert to the former style or make almost no output visible on this page.

The bin hampers communication[edit]

Think about it, how often was there a misunderstanding in your time on RW? From something minor like someone misreading your mainspace edit to something potentially major like someone accusing you of holding views you find abhorrent. For sysops those things can be resolved in no time via the joke block system. For (almost) everybody else talk pages are an efficient way to resolve such issues. Even a simple "thank you" for an edit, a good post or whatnot becomes hard for users in the bin as they have to spend their one edit - or worse yet wait a long time to do that. Of course communication is the key to the smooth operation of a wiki and it can greatly reduce the harm that arises from misunderstandings and nip conflicts in the bud before they get out of hand and one misunderstanding turns into the next and the next.

So what should the bin be replaced with?[edit]

Frankly, I have no fully formed idea, but here are some "thinking aloud" not even proposals

Same thing shorter time-frame[edit]

Maybe instead of thirty minutes the bin could be a more efficient tool if the edit interval were capped at ten minutes or twenty minutes or any other time frame

Bin but you can "save up" edits[edit]

So in essence once you have been put in the bin a counter starts and for every half hour that elapses you can write one edit whenever you want. Once the counter is at zero you have to wait half an hour again

Get rid of the bin entirely[edit]

This would mean all punishments would be to user rights and banning exclusively. This has the potential downside of making some people even quicker with the banhammer than they currently are. However, experience shows that the threshold to bin is much lower than the threshold to ban, especially when more than a couple of hours are concerned

Give the bin a maximum duration not exceeding a week[edit]

After a week a lesson may have been learned. After a month or a year, the user is most likely not around any more and if they are, it will usually be under an alias. If the bin is for a certain limited amount of time, the user might have reformed their behavior afterwards and may even show some of that while still in the bin (with all the caveats mentioned above) kind of like a person sent to a prison that allows an hour or so in freedom per day.

Replace the bin with "unremovable red exclamation marks"[edit]

So there are red exclamation points behind every edit that has not yet been looked at by a sysop. If a user proves problematic but not problematic enough to outright ban, those exclamation points might be a good warning sign that those edits deserve the scrutiny of more than one single pair of eyes

Replace the bin with a cap on bytes added/removed[edit]

Now this wiki - like almost all other wikis - automatically counts the amount of bytes added or removed to or from an article. As larger changes are more likely to result in controversy (and large talk page posts are almost universally hated), a cap on the amount of "damage" that can be done in a single edit might be helpful

Replace the bin with an inability to "undo" edits[edit]

Sometimes the bin is imposed for real or supposed edit warring. Edit warring usually takes the form of hitting "undo" or "rollback". Rollback is automatically disabled for users in the bin, but they can still "manually" undo by clicking the diff in question with minimal time needed. If they had to manually make all the changes needed, it would be likelier that they'd consider every single aspect of the edit(s) in question and make them more willing to talk it out. Furthermore it would slow the whole thing down thus unclogging recent changes.

Conclusion[edit]

In conclusion, the bin is harmful, Rationalwiki is probably the only wiki that (still) has it and there are several alternative besides the most important alternative of them all (ironically hampered by the bin itself) just talk. fellas. I am not the Ombud's man 20:40, 8 October 2016 (UTC)