Tag teaming (sometimes also called a "Travelling Circus" or "Factionalism") is a controversial[note 1] form of meatpuppetry in which editors coordinate their actions to circumvent the normal process of consensus. As with meatpuppetry, editors may be accused of coordinating their actions to sidestep policies and guidelines (such as 3RR and NPOV). Unlike "meatpuppetry", the phrase may be applied to otherwise legitimate editors. The phrase comes from professional wrestling "tag teams", in which teams of two or more wrestlers take turns in the ring, and one brings in his teammate by tagging him.
Wikipedia encourages and depends on cooperative editing to improve articles, and most editors who work together are not a tag team. Assume good faith, and keep in mind that in almost all cases it is better to address other editors' reasoning than it is to accuse them of being on a team.
Unsubstantiated accusations of tag teaming are uncivil. Care should be taken to frame assertions in an appropriate way, citing evidence in the appropriate venues, following our dispute resolution process.
Tag team versus consensus-based editingEdit
In consensus-based editing, a number of editors, sometimes with differing viewpoints, work together to craft an article that is fully compliant with Wikipedia's core content policies, such as neutrality (WP:NPOV), no original research (WP:NOR) and verifiability (WP:V). Editors may revert article changes that violate Wikipedia's core content policies; this is not tag-teaming. A tag team is formed when two or more editors coordinate their edits in a way that is disruptive to an article or to the project.
There is no Wikipedia policy or guideline regarding tag teaming. Tag teaming that clearly falls under the narrow definition in this essay generally violates other guidelines and policies such as disruption or canvassing (which are guidelines). A group of editors acting in unison does NOT in itself constitute tag teaming.
Tag team characteristicsEdit
Signs that may point to tag-teaming include:
- Working together to circumvent the three-revert rule
- WP:NINJA editing – terse comments, little talk page justification
- Consensus-blocking, continually challenging outside opinions, and acting as if they own an article. Tag team members will often revert changes, even if they are made based on talkpage consensus, and instead insist that consensus isn't clear yet, and more talking needs to happen on the talk page. This plays into a tag team's tendentious, disruptive editing style and preserves a preferred version of an article. When discussion is attempted, tag team members will often respond with circular argumentation and a continual ignoring of points made by those they oppose. Even if voices from the wider community come in to show a differing community consensus, tag-teamers may refuse to "let the matter drop" at article talkpages. When the community's attention has been diverted to other matters, tag teams may continue to bring up the same matters again and again, to try and create the appearance of a new consensus.
- However: Simple refusal to compromise is not necessarily evidence of tag teaming, especially where Wikipedia's core policies are involved. If the apparent consensus favors content that obviously violates Wikipedia policies, such as those applying to biographical material on living persons, then the information should nonetheless be removed.
- Reluctance to incorporate new sourced perspectives in an article. Tag teamers will often attempt to get an article the way they want it, and then insist that nothing new should be added from then on, because it "violates consensus."
- Reluctance to work towards compromise, or to follow Wikipedia dispute resolution processes. Tag teams are usually reluctant to request opinions from the wider community, as that would upset the appearance of consensus that they are attempting to portray on a particular article.
- However: Wikipedia is not a bureaucracy. Repeatedly bringing the same (or superficially different) circumstances into dispute resolution forums can be unhelpful, and may be considered abuse of process.
- Meatpuppetry. Tag team members will often write affirmations of support for other tag team members in order to make it appear that a community consensus exists. This often manifests as disparate users, who do not normally participate in that topic area, showing up to parrot support or opposition for a particular proposal made by the tag team. The goal is to make it appear that consensus has happened when in fact it has not. Then, if/when other users notice the proposal and take sides opposed to the tag team, the tag team members may respond by claiming an extant consensus.
- However: Many editors watch certain pages without participating in the discussions or editing the associated articles. When those editors see an issue arising, they may begin participating in the discussion; this does not make those editors meatpuppets.
- Harassment and intimidation tactics. Members of a tag team may resort to ad hominem arguments against dissenting editors, or even against the authors of reliable sources.
- However: Consensus-based editors who are acting in good faith are only human – they may lash out when provoked. Simple incivility is not proof of tag-teaming.
Goals of tag teamsEdit
Potential goals of tag teams may include:
- Pushing a certain point of view in disregard of the neutral point of view policy either by giving too little or too much exposure to a specific viewpoint as determined by applicable Wikipedia policies, or by imposing or blocking edits that advance or suppress particular points of view. This may involve editing in concert to whitewash an article by excluding all criticisms, giving undue weight to a minority viewpoint, or excluding everything except uniformly positive or uniformly negative information.
- Revenge or personal vendetta, driven by a real or imagined grievance can be a powerful motivation. Once an editor or administrator is identified as an enemy, tag-teamers may stalk that editor's contributions or user pages, either to annoy them, to try and undermine their credibility, or to keep them distracted from the tag team's sphere of control. If an editor is fending off attacks on their prized featured article, they will have less time to spend on one of the tag team's closely guarded articles.
- Support of a team member. Tag team members may support anything that another member does, without question. Some team members may have absolutely no knowledge of the actual topic being discussed, they are just interested in supporting their friend against perceived adversaries.
A related problem is ownership of articles. In theory, no one editor or group of editors owns an individual Wikipedia article. In practice, an article on an obscure topic will often be on the watchlists of only a small handful of editors who revert on sight any changes proposed by newcomers while insisting quite forcefully that their version is "consensus".
If the newcomer persists in editing the page, group members might accuse them of edit warring or disrupting Wikipedia to illustrate a point, target them with spurious complaints to administrators, threaten them with blocks or bans, or bluntly tell them (sometimes even in the edit summary of a revert) to drop the stick. As the benefit of the doubt is normally extended by administrators to users who have made valid contributions in the past, often little is done initially when two or three users act to chase a new contributor away from modifying "their" article. A small group thereby could succeed, largely unnoticed, in intimidating a new editor into avoiding one specific encyclopaedic subject or into leaving Wikipedia entirely.
The best defence in these cases is to seek a broader consensus. Check the edit history for others who had proposed changes to the same or similar topics, perhaps only to be reverted, and ask for their input (but avoid canvassing). Seek a third opinion from an outside or neutral source, get peer review to get an outside look at the content of the page instead of focussing on the behaviour of individual editors. Encourage others who may have an interest in the topic to add the article to their watchlists and offer their own input. Don't edit war as an army of one, but don't assume that two or three people asserting ownership of one obscure topic speak for all Wikipedians. An outside editor might be able to propose an entirely different alternative which would serve as a compromise while advancing the primary goal, which is to build an encyclopaedia.
Accusations of tag teamingEdit
It is always better to comment on content rather than on contributors, so calling someone a member of a "tag team" should be avoided as it is uncivil. Use of the term on article talk pages should be descriptive only. For example, it might be acceptable to offer an opinion that proper development of the article seems to be being impeded by multiple editors working in tandem. This frames concerns in terms of a general trend in editing activity, rather than as accusations against specific editors. It is generally not necessary to use the term "tag teaming" in order to deal with a dispute, though it can be an effective shorthand when describing the situation in a neutral forum such as a dispute resolution noticeboard.
Suspected tag teaming should be dealt with by sticking to consensus and other relevant Wikipedia policies and guidelines, and by going through the normal dispute resolution processes. Where at all possible, assume good faith and start from the assumption that there is not a tag team.
False accusations of tag-teamingEdit
It is often difficult to tell the difference between tag-teaming and consensus-based editing. Consequently, some editors that are failing to gain consensus for their preferred changes will inappropriately accuse every editor that opposes them of being part of a "tag team".
What should you do if accused of being a member of a tag team? The accusation may be a form of baiting that attempts to provoke you into reacting in an uncivil or otherwise undesirable way. Therefore, it is important that you:
- Stay calm
- Stay civil
- Avoid personal attacks
- Keep discussions based on the content of the article, and not on the contributors.
- Stay fair. A common problem on Wikipedia is when editors point out policy infractions from opposing editors, but ignore or condone the same infractions from editors on "their side". This kind of behavior, rooted in a common cognitive bias, may be regarded as "tag-teamish", even if it isn't a specific tag team. So to avoid even a perception of being a tag team, ensure that policies and guidelines are being adhered to equally. If you see someone being uncivil even if they're on your side—make that especially if they're on your side—point it out to them, and ask for calm. This can be an excellent way to de-escalate the dispute, as the "friendly" editor may be more likely to listen to you if they see you as an ally, and the "opponent" editor may calm down if they see that policies are being enforced equally. This goes not just for incivility, but other policies as well. For example, if the "opponent" editor is being chastised for adding information without sources, then it's essential that all other editors are also held to the same standard of using sources.
Ultimately, don't let false charges intimidate you. Just stay calm and civil, abide carefully by all policies, and treat everyone fairly. In an ideal world, the truth of the matter should be apparent to outside observers.
It is often not possible to determine whether users are acting as a tag team or are truly engaged in consensus-based editing. However, it is particularly important to maintain a cool, calm attitude, since tag teams – and those who accuse others of behaving as a tag team – may try to generate emotional reactions to confuse the issue at hand.
No sure method can be recommended for identifying or dealing with a suspected tag team, but the following strategies have been proposed:
- Engage in good-faith discussion to determine whether or not participants are communicating fairly and effectively. Assume good faith, try to build consensus, and work through the normal dispute resolution process.
- In the case of a content dispute, strict application of core content policies such as WP:NPOV, WP:RS, WP:V, and WP:NOR is of paramount importance.
- Civility is an essential part of the Wikipedia code of behaviour and should be maintained.
- File a Request for comment, and ask for additional outside opinions at relevant noticeboards, such as the reliable sources noticeboard, to determine a wider consensus. Ideally, you will be able to attract the opinions of reviewers who are familiar with the subject matter and will be able to discern mainstream, notable, and fringe points of view.
- Don't go after the team as a whole, but focus on specific policy violations by individual editors. Concerns about user conduct can be addressed in requests for comments, WP:AN/I and other such boards.
- Request the attention of third parties, perhaps by posting at the administrators' noticeboard.
- Check if the article is in an increased supervision area, by reviewing the categories at Wikipedia:General sanctions. Look also to see if any of the editors are under specific sanctions, at Wikipedia:Editing restrictions.
Note that if there are two, or more, groups of editors supporting specific versions of an article or group of articles, or even a group of editors claiming to be fighting a tag team, none, any or all of these groups may end up acting as a disruptive tag team, so be cautious. A group of editors opposing a tag team must be careful to stay within policy, and must make genuine good-faith efforts to build consensus and to seek outside opinions. The methods of tag teaming should never be used to combat perceived tag teaming; Wikipedia is not a battleground.
Accusations of tag teaming do not give any extra rights or privileges to revert, or to otherwise act outside of policy, when dealing with those editors or their edits.
Finally, consider the possibility that you may be mistaken. While it can be frustrating when one's edits are repeatedly resisted, what looks to you like a tag team may instead be editors who are more knowledgeable about the topic at hand, more familiar with the nuances of content policies, or otherwise working within the goals of Wikipedia.
Suggestions for third partiesEdit
- Determine to what extent additional subject knowledge may be necessary to resolve the dispute.
- Identify the key participants in an article or topic area.
- Examine accusations that are being made. It is particularly important that any accusations be accompanied with evidence. Review the diffs to ensure that they back up the accusations.
- Examine the situation in detail so as to build a complete picture. Just looking at a few diffs may not give sufficient context to understand the editing environment that led to the accusations. A superficial view of the situation may also play into the hands of those who bait others into lashing out.
- Check contribution histories, to see if any of the potential tag-teamers are sockpuppets or throwaway accounts.
- Tag-team editors can sometimes be identified because they spend very little time actually editing articles, and instead simply jump from dispute to dispute.
- Check block logs.
- Determine whether administrator action is required.
Suggestions for administratorsEdit
Sometimes the best way to deal with a tag team is to obtain the attention of an administrator. If an affected article is placed on probation or closer admin supervision, it will be more difficult for a tag team to be effective.
- Administrators should follow the suggestions for third parties above, especially in terms of analyzing evidence.
- Check to see if any of the editors or affected articles are within the scope of an increased supervision area, via the lists at Wikipedia: General sanctions and Wikipedia:Editing restrictions
- If admins observe any editors who have a history of making false accusations, those editors should be treated as disruptive, and warned, banned, or blocked as necessary.
- Check to see if policies are being enforced fairly. If a group of editors is insisting that the rules need to be enforced only on "opposing" editors, and not on editors on "their side", then this may be tag-teaming behavior. Thoroughly examine the history of the dispute to verify such claims and counter-claims. Policies must be enforced evenly.
- Leaderless resistance
- Wikipedia:Working group on ethnic and cultural edit wars/2008 report#Definition of tag team
- Wikipedia:Consensus (policy)
- Wikipedia:Sock puppetry#Meatpuppetry (policy)
- Wikipedia:Assume good faith (guideline)
- Wikipedia:Canvassing (guideline)
- Wikipedia:Disruptive editing (guideline)
- Wikipedia:Gaming the system (guideline)
- Wikipedia:Cabals (essay)
- Wikipedia:Civil POV pushing (essay)
- Wikipedia:Describing points of view (essay)
- Wikipedia:Griefing (essay)
- Wikipedia:Sham consensus (referencing Wikipedia:False consensus and Wikipedia:Wrongful consensus) (essays)
- Wikipedia:Single-purpose account (essay)
- Meta:What is a troll? (essay)
- Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Eastern European disputes#Externally coordinated editing
- Controversial as there is no consensus regarding the merits of this essay in namespace. Editors have voiced a concern that the "characteristics" of tag teams can easily be applied to editors who share a common practice of editing in accordance with policy, and that the essay can be used as a weapon against editors who are acting in accordance with Wikipedia's editing policies to cast aspersions on their good work. See Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/Wikipedia:Tag team.