Wikipedia:Unblock perspectives

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If an editor has been blocked, and their unblock request isn't going well, the community might begin to give up and consider whether the user can be unblocked at all, or whether to extend the block to a longer block or even a ban.

That's not something the community wants or enjoys, but people are human and patience doesn't last forever. Various users who habitually "act up" are demonstrating they aren't really here to write an encyclopedia or that they temperamentally cannot work well within community consensus about appropriateness of edits and behavior toward other editors on Wikipedia.

But this is not true of all editors who have gotten into some trouble. Some users initially find it hard to understand what's needed in a discussion about their conduct, and when they don't understand, they try to argue their way out or just react with melodramatic butt-hurt. Conditioned by habits formed on social media and online debate forums and not yet unlearned in their Wikipedia interactions, they act in a way that's well-intended ("I just want to get back to editing") and which feels reasonable to them ("I need to defend myself"), but which just makes everything worse for them.

If that's you, and you have been blocked, and it's going badly, and people are starting to sound like they are giving up on you, and you truly want to behave but everything you say with the aim of putting it right just makes it worse, then this essay is for you.

Talk-page use when blocked[edit]

The guidelines on use of one's user talk page while blocked are a secondary issue; their aim is to focus people on why they are blocked, and to prevent further disruption while the original block is sorted out. There's no point using a talk page to co-ordinate contributions if it's not likely there'll be future contributions. It's not worth going there if you are blocked and it's going downhill, because people are probably posting to try and get across to you a more serious message: that right now, the feeling is pretty much "figure it out, or leave".

What the community wants to see[edit]

What people posting will want is a simple yes/no decision by you: Do you agree to follow the community's view on the policies you've transgressed, when you edit Wikipedia in future, or not. That's about as unsubtle as it gets, and again, it's not a debate point, it's a yes/no answer. If you can't or won't, then we're done.

That question doesn't need a long debate-style or "yes, but ..." reply. Most people won't take up the finer lines of argument on that point, especially if they are admins in a position to accept or reject your unblock request. People will feel that the explanations you need to understand and conditions you must agree to have already been given, even if you didn't "get it" at first. They expect you to understand by now. They need your unequivocal answer to the central yes/no question. And they want to see clear indications that you know why you were blocked, are clear that it mustn't happen again, and know how to avoid a repeat.

The community's mindset[edit]

The experience of many admins on Wikipedia is that the community is very quick to set aside the past when it's learned from. Users who can say "Sorry, I now know what I mustn't do, and I won't do it again", usually get unblocked. Those that can't or who repeat their past, may not. Only you can choose how you come across to others, or what you say. But in the case of some blocks, the usual ways that blocked users show "I understand what I did that crossed the line, I have learned from it and I won't do these things if I'm unblocked; is it okay to edit again in a while?", aren't happening.

Your decision is needed[edit]

If you've come to this page, and that's you, then you need to make a single personal decision here, and you need to explicitly say what you decide, not just gather information and debate around it. You will probably have had a lot of explanation. You can take whatever time you need to read the relevant policies and links again if it helps. You should understand what's gone wrong, well enough to decide what your intended conduct will be if unblocked. If you have any comments or thoughts on the policies/guidelines, discuss them after unblock; it will do more harm than good right now.

If you can follow the community's ways, just say "Yes, I agree to follow XYZ", and be explicit what you agree to do, or refrain from doing, that has caused past issues. If you aren't sure but you can at least avoid the issue ("I promise not to edit X type of material/topic or add it to Wikipedia") that might work too. You might have to sit out the rest of the block, but the matter will be resolved once it's done. If you can't or won't or aren't sure you can keep to it, then this may not be right for you, even after many years of editing.

That is probably your most direct route to eventual unblocking. It's provided as my own thought and information only. Most other things distract - and anything that looks like a distraction will add weight to not unblocking.

How the community will (usually) respond[edit]

Where there have been serious issues (as seen by others), or the discussion has veered close to "can this person be permitted to edit at all", the community often wants to reassure itself that you really do "get it". You can expect some level of probing of what exactly you understand of your actions and of what's needed, and of the relevant policies – and be assured it's sometimes intense but not hostile. It's not about "pleading guilty". It is mainly to check whether you know enough to successfully be serious about any stated intent, and understanding what's needed, so we don't end up here again if you are unblocked. That is all that people need to feel sure about.

Similarly, you may be asked to wait out any ongoing block even after agreeing. And again, that's not "punishment"; its aim is to distinguish those who have self-restraint and accept the community's view, from those whose stated future self-control will only be skin-deep such that they'll end up blocked again. (If they haven't the patience to hold back when asked on a block, how on earth will they change whatever caused the issue in the first place?).

In short, the community will look for an unblock request that confirms how much of any change can be relied on, what you've learned, and whether any commitment will be kept. For example, if in future you aren't sure, have you got the idea to ask before editing a dubious point, to accept a distasteful consensus or concern (or at worst handle it appropriately by seeking advice at a suitable venue), to take on board your peers' concerns – and to take it as meaningful and discuss it calmly, if someone else considers that your edit might not be suitable. Can you? Will you?

What if I don't understand what I did wrong, or might do it again?[edit]

If you don't understand some issues enough to be sure about them, the first question is whether or not you can accept they are policy anyhow. Only then is it relevant to ask whether can you take steps to avoid violating them.

Long philosophical debates may not be welcomed (people have limited resources and time!), but if specific things you don't understand might be a problem, say what you're unsure on, and say directly what you will do to avoid such issues. Examples: You might ask others first and accept their opinions, if unsure; or post on the talk page instead; or ask if there is a willing admin that you can email "Is this okay ...?" to avoid accidental policy violations on the public pages; or just avoid edits where the issues arise.

If you can think of a route that might work, the community will often try to support it. Be honest. And if it's hard, say so.

One particular warning: Do not engage in a cyclical game of "I still don't understand, please explain again". No one is required to "satisfy" you by re-re-re-phrasing until you get a version you like. This kind of "just not quite getting it" time-waste is intensely frustrating for admins and others, and may result in an indefinite block or ban, and years of rejected appeals.

The end[edit]

This essay is for info, so you have a heads up, and to ensure you understand the aggregate mind-set of the community in these unblock discussions.

An unblock is a chance to show you can do it.

If it's granted, don't waste it.

See also[edit]