Critical issues presentations/Locking the Doors of a House without Walls: Idiots, Rules, and Powerlessness

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Submission no. 34
Title of the submission

Locking the Doors of a House without Walls: Idiots, Rules, and Powerlessness

Author of the submission
  • Moritz Braun
Country of origin




  • Rule violation
  • Arbitration committee
  • Deletion policy
  • Banning
  • Blocking
  • Filters

Dealing with users with a long track record of rule violations takes up a lot of ressources of the community members, admins, and other governing bodies in Wikimedia projects. Ostracizing habitual offenders is often the last means used in this process, but it is rarely ever the end of the story. Problematic users return under new accounts and IPs, circumventing most of the legal and technical barriers posed by the community. The more these users ignore rules and sanctions, the harder it becomes to bring them under control.

The reasons for this, I will argue, lie in the commitment of most Wikimedia projects to a separation of authors and contents and to anonymity and open content. By making contributors wave some of their intellectual property rights, it becomes harder for the projects to control or restrict authors by turning to their edits, pictures, or articles. The problem is further deepened by an unequal distribution of commitment and time resources among rule violaters on the one and policing community members on the other side. Since Wikimedia project are coceptualized as essentially open, there are hardly any options for effectively shutting problematic users out.

Turning to two major arbitration committee cases from German Wikipedia that tried to contain highly productive users who kept ignoring quality standards, I will try to explore the limits of retroactive solutions and their causes - legal, technical, and political. A comparison with the English approach to the problem will offer effective alternatives, but it will also comment on the price the projects will have to pay for them.


Not accepted