Point of View (POV) railroading refers to the use of bullying tactics to discredit an editor with an opposing viewpoint or to eliminate them from a discussion. Tactics can include frustrating the editor, hostility that discourages them from participating, or creating a false narrative that misrepresents actual events or edits in order to discredit the editor. These tactics are used to win an argument or take control of an article or topic area by focusing on the editor rather than the edits and editing process.
A "false narrative" refers to the fabrication of a "story" about another editor in an attempt to discredit them, damage their reputation within the community, frustrate, or bait them. Unsubstantiated accusations of canvassing or conflict of interest, labeling an editor as a point-of-view pusher, or accusing them of being a sock puppet or meat puppet of a banned user are common false narratives. Editors may also misrepresent actual edits (including their own) or take diffs out of context to support a skewed version of events that supports their false narrative.
Editors may attack or discredit another editor using a distorted interpretation of Wikipedia's behavioral policies and guidelines. They may quote policies in misleading ways, by citing them out of context, with extreme interpretations and without relevant disclaimers and exceptions. In other cases, a "policy bomb"—known as "alphabet soup"—may be used to bombard an editor with accusations of violations so numerous and so vague that the targeted editor feels intimidated.
False narratives and canvassing can be used to recruit multiple editors who "pile-in" to support a viewpoint or editor, resulting in the opposing editor being outnumbered, and feeling intimidated, helpless or under attack. A group of editors with a similar viewpoint may create a clique in which they rely on each other to support a point-of-view and act together to eliminate editors who do not share their POV.
POV railroading also occurs on a one-to-one basis and may involve a condescending, patronizing, sarcastic and insulting tone. It may include the insertion of hidden text and repeatedly reverting edits without discussion or explanation (peremptory deletions). Baiting and goading opponents until they become angry and uncivil is another POV-railroading tactic.
Brand, discredit and ban
POV railroading may be performed in attempts to malign or destroy the reputation of targeted editors by labeling, shaming, branding and discrediting them in a progressively more prejudiced and misleading manner, until the targeted editor leaves a topical or discussion area out of frustration or tiredness, or is potentially blocked or banned.
Tactics can include continuously and exclusively referring to users in a negative manner, the continuous use of personal attacks that escalate in severity over time and the casting of WP:ASPERSIONS in a generalized manner, without providing any actual qualification for the claims, such as diffs, instead basing claims upon proof by assertion. Another tactic is to continuously mislabel the target as a disruptive editor in various venues, in deliberate attempts mischaracterize entirely normative, civil and functional actions as deviant.
POV railroading is sometimes performed to create and maintain an ongoing smear campaign against users in multiple areas of Wikipedia. Such attacks may be stated in a highly exaggerated and personalized manner, whereby the railroader attempts to manipulate public opinion against their target through appeals to emotion, rather than facts. Attacks are typically stated from an entirely subjective and biased point of view, are typically stated using intentional open-ended overgeneralizations, and are typically performed per severe ulterior motives.
A user engaging in POV railroading may alert other like-minded users to their cause both on- and off-wiki in attempts to recruit confederates. Furthermore, if blocked or banned, the target may be used as a scapegoat for problems in articles. If additional opponents show up, the POV railroader may accuse new editors of being sock-puppets or meat-puppets of the sanctioned editor.
POV railroading is an insidious form of bullying that discourages new editors and increases attrition amongst veteran editors. It amplifies Wikipedia's systemic bias (whether that bias be of a gender-based, ethnicity-based, region-based, country-based etc. nature) and creates content bias in article and topic areas. Lastly, it gives Wikipedia an undesirable reputation as a place where aggression and gaming the system are permitted, valued and rewarded.
Prevention and resolution
- WikiLove: Welcome new editors and assist them in their development and knowledge of Wikipedia's policies and subculture. Take a compassionate and patient attitude towards inexperienced editors.
- Equality: Keep in mind that on Wikipedia, all editors have fair and equal rights to edit articles. While some may have more knowledge or familiarity with a topic than others, this does not mean those with less knowledge or experience are at a lower level and are not entitled to their point of view. If we see an editor treating those who disagree with them in a condescending manner, we should offer reminders that we are all equal here.
- Disallow Edit warring: If an editor reverts an edit, especially when removing sourced content, they would do well to put an explanation on the article talk page or the user's talk page as a means to encourage discussion and discourage edit warring.
- Avoid policy "bombs": On talk page, cite and elaborate on specific sections or aspects of policy on talk pages rather than dropping an "alphabet soup" of policy references (WP:COI, WP:N, WP:RS, etc.) without citing specifics. Encourage others on the talk page to do the same. If an editor makes a mistake or violates a policy, take the time to educate them through discussion rather than criticize or threatening them.
- Help in Talk page: If you see that an editor has been isolated on a talk page and is becoming agitated, feel free to enter the discussion and exert a calming influence. This will often break the battleground dynamic and reduce the tension. The behavior of bullies and POV railroaders almost always improves when other, more neutral parties are present.
- Do Careful assessment: If you are an administrator or editor active in dispute resolution and come across a conflict, keep an open mind on every case. Take time to examine the diffs carefully and in depth, and look at the talk page to see the context of those diffs. Make sure the alleged offender is not being bullied, goaded or taunted by more experienced editors who may be gaming the system.
- Getting help: If you feel you have been a victim of POV railroading or other forms of bullying on Wikipedia you may want to ask for advice at the Teahouse where helpful and supportive editors are known to congregate. You may also consider either requesting a mentor, or seeking help at one of the various dispute resolution forums.
- Gaming the system (guideline)
- WikiBullying (essay)
- Civil POV pushing (essay)
- Criticisms of society may be consistent with NPOV and reliability (essay)
- How to Ban a POV You Dislike (essay written in a sarcastic tone)
- Wikipedia:Overzealous deletion
- Tendentious editing
- Game theoretic models of Wikipedia behavior