Administrators differ in competence, and perhaps even in
trustworthiness, but I think experience has shown that not even the
most experienced and trusted of all will always correctly interpret
the view of the community, and that nobody whomsoever can really trust
himself or be trusted by others to be free from bias. I see no reason
to think that the long-term administrators are any more likely to show
neutrality or a proper self-perception as the newer ones. If anything,
they are more likely to have an over-extensive bview of the centrality
of their own ideas. Consequently, I think there is no other basis
by which any administrator can make a decision except by consensus,
implied or express . For those who are willing to read beyond the
in general I do not think it is the business of the closer to decide
between conflicting policies. Their job is to discard arguments not
based on any policy, or, sometimes, by SPAs, and then judge consensus.
The questions asked at RfAdmin are enough to identify admins who know
enough to tell what is policy and what is not, as long as things don't
get too complicated. It is not enough to identify admins who
understand all policies well enough to judge which of conflicting ones
to apply, or how to interpret them in difficult situations. A good
thing, too, or we'd have chaos, because none of us agrees for all of
that. The only people here competent to judge conflicting content
policies or how to interpret them are the interested members of the
community as a whole, acting in good faith. It is by the community's
express consensus that BLP and Copyright trump other policies if the
situation is unambiguous. But how the BLP and copyright policies are
to be interpreted and applied in any particular instance is a question
for the community, not individual administrators.
The assumption in closing is that after discarding non-arguments, the
consensus view will be the correct one, and that any neutral admin
would agree. Thus there is in theory no difference between closing per
the majority and closing per the strongest argument. But when there is
a real dispute on what argument is relevant, the closer is not to
decide between them , but close according to what most people in the
discussion say. If the closer has a strong view on the matter, he
should join the argument instead of closing, and try to affect
consensus that way. I (and almost all other admins) have closed keep
when we personally would have preferred delete, and vice-versa. .
When admins delete by Speedy, it is on the assumption that what they
are doing is so unambiguous that the community has given implied
consensus in advance. If someone challenges this is good faith, the
proper response is to simply send the article for AfD, and find out
the express consensus.
If I wanted a place where my view of proper content would prevail, I'd
start a blog or become an editor of some conventional publication.
On Mon, May 31, 2010 at 5:51 PM, David Lindsey <dvdlndsy(a)gmail.com> wrote:
The key is not making it easier to remove adminship.
This proposal gets us
closer to the real problem, but fails to fully perceive it as does the
common call to separate the functions of adminship.
The real solution to the current (and relatively long-standing) problems
with RfA and adminship in general is the marriage of the "technical" side of
adminship with a "political" side, which is rarely acknowledged. Successful
reform will involve separating these two aspects, rather than the more
common idea to separate some technical pieces from others. The proposal
below is a bit lenghty, but it's the product of years of thought, and I
encourage you to read it. If you don't have the time, well then, the take
away point is that we should create a distinction between those
administrators trusted to intervene in highly-controversial areas and those
not so trusted.
The technical bits of adminship are, indeed, no big deal. With a large
community of administrators and an alert body of stewards, the possible
danger of obvious abuse of the administrator privileges is nearly zero. As
an illustration, in the heat of the recent dust-up on commons, an
administrator there "went rogue" and vandalized the main page. His edits
were reverted in less than a minute:
Even in an absolute worst-case scenario of administrator abuse (for example,
vandalizing the main page and then deleting a large number of pages with
just less than 5,000 revisions in an attempt to lock the servers, especially
abusive shenanigans in the MediaWiki namespace, or inserting malicious code
into monobooks), the damage done would be reversed in under 10 minutes.
Given this, it is highly improbable that any vandal/banned user would
attempt to gain administrator status solely for the purpose of carrying out
some such abuse. The danger comes from a compromised account or a higly
disaffected administrator, and neither of these possibilities can be headed
off by any level of standards at RfA, however high.
Why, then, has adminship become a big deal? Because in addition to the
purely technical functions of adminship, administrators also have a
political function. Administrators are often compared to janitors, but the
metaphor is highly flawed. Janitors empty the wastebins, but they don't
decide what should go in them. Many of the functions of adminship do not
carry a significant political component: blocking obvious vandals, most
instances of speedy deletion, fixing cut and paste moves, deleting old
userpages, straightforward AfD closures, etc. are simple instances where a
trusted user is needed to perform a technical function.
On the other hand, there are cases were administrator functions become
highly charged and political - in closing controversial AfDs, blocking in
many 3RR situations, and above all, in cases where some sort of intervention
is necessary against well-established users who have engaged in some sort of
unacceptable conduct. In these cases, the role of the administrator is
fraught and ambiguous. He is faced with highly political choices about how
to judge consensus, what course of action to take, etc. It is customary for
relatively new and inexperienced administrators to stay out of these
situations and leave the decision up to an administrator who has more
experience and, for that matter, for political weight within the Wikipedia
The problem, though, is that there is no formal guidance of any kind as to
who should actually make such decisions. From a policy perspective, an
administrator sysopped last week has the same standing as someone with years
of service. More importantly, a long-standing administrator with a
reputation for more questionable judgment has exactly the same standing as a
long-standing administrator with a reputation for impeccable judgement.
There is no drawn by the community, except in the various most informal way,
to separate administrators who should intervene in highly controversial
situations from those who should not.
It is intervention in the highly controversial cases that causes problems
and allegations of abuse. Our concern is, or at least should be, primarily
in who is making highly controversial administrator judgements and on what
basis, not who is carrying out F5 speedy deletions or blocking obvious
vandals. Concern over these highly controversial judgements, because there
is no line separating those administrators who engage in them from those who
do not, is what has driven steadily escalating standards at RfA. We are
less concerned that a newly-appointed admin will prematurely block a vandal
without any warnings tomorrow, than that he will, in 12 months, block a
well-established user for the wrong reasons after a heated debate at ANI.
In other words, the problem is that RfA is being asked to make a judgment
that should not be made at RfA.
What we need, then, is not a way to desysop more easily, but rather a way to
delineate highly-charged and controversial administrator actions, and the
administrators qualified to perform them, from uncontroversial administrator
actions, and the administrators qualified to perform them. I will not
presume to provide a full criteria for what separates controversial from
uncontroversial administrator actions, but I would suggest something along
the lines of the following. Controversial: Arbitration enforcement actions,
blocks of established users for any reason other than suspicion of account
compromise, close of AfDs where the consensus is not clear (this of course
becomes itself a murky distinction, but could be well enough set apart),
reversal of the actions of another administrator except when those actions
are plainly abusive. Non-controversial: All others.
As for deciding which administrators are qualified to make decisions in the
most controversial areas, I would suggest that we already have a group of
people, the bureaucrats, in whose judgement the community has expressed
particularly high confidence. I would propose that the bureaucrats become
the group who are expected to undertake the controversial administrator
actions; this would almost certainly entail some expansion of the current
bureaucrat pool, but personally I like the idea of tying the controversial
administrator actions to the ability to promote administrators - it
underlines their seriousness, and at present, the bureaucrats do not have
many functions. If, however ,the community is unwilling to combine the two
groups, another group, say "sub-bureaucrats" could be created, but I must
emphasize the importance of a bright-line distinction between those
administrators trusted to perform highly controversial tasks and those not
trusted to do so. Obviously, the ordinary administrators would still have
the technical ability to intervene in the highly controversial areas, but
doing so would obviously entail serious consequences or desysopping.
This brings up a final point: the issue of administrators with insufficient
knowledge to appropriately follow policy on, for example, speedy deletion.
I firmly believe that if we separate the political and non-political aspects
of adminship, this becomes less of an issue. While an administrator taking
the wrong course in a controversial area is akin to a janitor, who is
empowered to decide what to throw out, deciding to throw away your important
papers because he doubts their importance, the mistakes of lack of policy
knowledge and inexperience are more like a janitor who, because he doesnt'
know any better, throws away the recycling and attempts to recycle the
rubbish. The second category of mistake is more easily rectified. The old
idea, of some sort of mentoring for new administrators, does nothing about
the political aspects of adminship (making controversial decisions) which is
why it has failed in the past, but it is a perfect solution to the problem
of inexperience/ignorance. New administrators who do not have a full grasp
of the speedy deletion policy, or the blocking policy for vandals, or the
criteria for granting autoreviewer status would be encouraged, perhaps
through a formal process, to get up to speed on those areas by a more
experienced mentor. If we carry through this proposal, there is every
reason to believe that the crowd at RfA would be much more willing to
promote more candidates and the process would become much less grueling.
Our shortage of people to perform technical tasks could be easily reduced,
if not eliminated.
This proposal is not process creep or the introduction of unneeded
bureaucracy. It is also not an answer in search of a problem. There is
clear acknowledgement that we have a problem, and this solution is a
minimalist one. As I have proposed it, it simply takes advantage of an
existing process (RfB) and group of users (bureaucrats) and would require
only minimal amendments to policy, setting aside those areas of
administrator conduct that are highly controversial and requiring that only
bureaucrats act in those areas.
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