I’ve been an admin on Star Wars Fanon for almost five years now, long before I started working for Wikia. In that time, I’ve blocked my share of users. It took awhile for me to figure out best practices for this, but now I feel that I know what I should and shouldn’t do when it comes to blocking. In this post I am going to share the practices I follow and my advice for blocking on your wiki.
Sometimes the instinct is to come down hard on a user who has broken a rule, but the right thing to do is to find a good balance between helping that user learn how to be better and enforcing policies. There are three stages, in my view, that someone should go through when it comes to blocking. Those stages are: helping, warning, and then blocking the user.
Helping the user
So, you’re an admin who’s looking around your wiki’s Wiki Activity page or Recent Changes, minding your own business, and then bam! You come across a page that hasn’t been formatted properly, or has a lot of spelling and grammar errors, or something else that might break a rule on your wiki. Whatever it may be, you obviously need to say something to the user who made the edit you’re seeing, but what do you say?
One of the core principles on collaborative projects like wikis is the idea of “assume good faith.” This means that, outside of obvious exceptions, that you assume every user is trying to help the wiki and do something good when they edit. There’s another assumption that goes along with that: assume innocent ignorance. You don’t want to get into the habit of thinking that someone purposely broke a rule or they purposely didn’t read a rule. Sometimes, they may just not understand.
Go into any discussion with a user who broke a local policy by assuming they didn’t mean to do it, and they just didn’t understand something. So start by politely explaining to them what they didn’t do correctly, and then offer advice on how to fix that. One thing I like to do on Star Wars Fanon is clean up edits that didn’t exactly follow the rules. That way, not only am I just telling someone what needs to be improved, but I can actually link to the edit difference in the history page and show them what changed between their version of the page and mine. Showing instead of telling can work wonders.
Keep in mind that this can take time. Not everyone will learn and understand how to edit on wikis at the same pace, so you want to make sure to avoid arbitrary timelines of when you think someone should have already figured it out. You also don’t want to have the mindset of “I figured it out quickly, so you should too.” This can lead to blocking people who could become great contributors.
Warning the user
That said, you don’t have to give someone leeway forever. You should take a good amount of time to help, but there will come a point where you will want to move past the helping stage and become a bit more formal about how you’re dealing with the user. At that point, you move on to the warning stage.
When you warn a user, you want to make sure you get your point across strongly and clearly, but also politely, especially if you’ve been helping that user. You don’t want to freak the person out by suddenly moving from helpful friend to iron-fisted authority figure once you decide to warn them. Here’s a good example of a warning you could give to someone:
- Hi, UserName. You’ve been making a lot of edits here lately, and we’re happy about that, but we’ve also been trying to help you out for awhile. I’m sure you’ve been working hard to try to improve, but we do have to give you an official warning about what you’re doing incorrectly.
You would then provide an explanation about what they haven’t been doing correctly. After that, you could say something like:
- Please note that we will continue to help if you ask for our help, but we do need to make sure our wiki’s rules are being enforced. Future violations of the rules may result in you being given a temporary block by an administrator. We don’t want it to come to that, so please be sure to take some time to read over the rules again and talk to an administrator or any other user about how you can improve. Thanks!
That’s a friendly but firm warning about what the user needs to improve on, and hopefully that combined with all of the great help you’ve given them gets the point across. If there is a specific rule they are violating, I would also recommend linking specifically to it.
Blocking the user
Unfortunately, helping and warning doesn’t always get you where you’d prefer to be with that user. Sometimes, you have to block them. It’s never fun, no one wants to do it, but it happens.
So what’s the best way to go about it? It’s always a good idea to start off with a smaller block, because initially you want to hope that the first block is one last way to get your point across and to help the user improve. A short block of 1 to 3 days usually works well for this. If the user comes back and things still aren’t working out, it’s best to slowly work your way up and hope you don’t have to keep going further.
Each time you block a user, you should also be sure to leave an explanation on their talk page or wall letting them know what the block was for, how long the block lasts, and how they can contact you if they want to appeal it. For appealing it, it’s best to check the option on the block screen that allows them to post on their own talk page, that way they have some way to contact you if it’s appropriate.
Remember to keep these messages polite and respectful as well. Even a banned user should be treated with respect, especially since at times bitter blocked users could become future trolls and vandals. Respect can cut down on that possibility.
In the case of vandals, spammers, and clear trolls, you will need to take a different approach. In those cases, you don’t want to engage with those users. Follow the simple method of “revert, block, ignore” when it comes to them. What that means is you revert whatever bad edits they’ve made, block the vandal/spammer/troll, and then ignore them. Further engagement, such as leaving a message on their talk page, only gives them the attention that they want.
In closing, the best thing to remember to do is to be helpful, friendly, and polite, even when you’re banning someone. Assume that their intent on the wiki is good, and assume that any rule breaking is as a result of good faith ignorance, not malicious intent. If you can follow these tips, you’ll find that your experience as an admin in dealing with rule breaking and blocks will be much easier, and you’ll very likely get a few great contributors out of it too!
Plus, if you ever need any advice about how to deal with a user like this, you can always post in our Founder and Admin forum, our Community Central Forum, or send the staff a message at Special:Contact. Everyone would be happy to help!