This is an explanatory supplement to the Wikipedia:Disruptive editing and Wikipedia:Gaming the system behavioral guidelines.
Status quo stonewalling is disruptive behavior in opposition to a proposed change when substantive argument based in policy, guidelines and conventions are inadequate to legitimately oppose the change.
Status quo stonewalling is typified by an insistence on keeping a current version instead of adopting a proposed change, or reverting to the version prior to a disputed change (the status quo), and avoiding substantive discussion of the issues related to the change while engaging in behavior that is typical of disputes. Such behavior creates the appearance of a real substantive dispute about the change when none (or little) exists.
When a substantive objection to a change exists, stonewalling is not required. So stonewalling is typically used when those opposed to the change don't actually have a substantive objection to the proposed change, or when they know whatever argument they have can be easily refuted, or is contrary to consensus.
Editors seeking to defend a status quo situation should refrain from employing the stonewalling tactics listed here, and instead follow the advice at How to avoid status quo stonewalling.
What is status quo stonewalling?
Status quo stonewalling is disruptive behavior that is characterized by the use of tactics which obstruct, delay, prolong, or distract discussion from reaching consensus, usually when those opposing a proposal have few if any substantive arguments with which to support their position, and often when it appears that consensus supports, or is close to supporting, the change. While it's very difficult for one editor acting alone to succeed with stonewalling, if only 2 or 3 are involved, who don't even have to be coordinating their efforts, their ability to successfully build and maintain a stonewall retaining the status quo can be distressingly effective. With a few more editors it becomes even easier.
True consensus in a given situation is ideally measured and determined by the strength of the arguments presented, but often formal or informal polling is used as a substitute to determine consensus. So if enough people express objection to a change, that can be easily interpreted to be evidence of a lack of consensus in favor of the change. While that's probably usually an accurate assessment, if those opposed don't actually have substantive arguments supporting their objection, but those in favor of the objection do, there can actually be consensus in favor of the change when it appears that there isn't. Status quo stonewalling is about taking advantage of such a situation in order to prevent a change.
Can stonewalling be done in good faith?
The capacity of the human mind to engage in denial and rationalization can be impressive. As such, someone engaged in what may even seem like blatant stonewalling might not be fully aware of it. In fact, it's almost certain that the stonewaller feels justified in doing what they are doing for one reason or another. So, challenging as it might be, it's probably best to assume good faith and help them find a way to stop stonewalling without them losing face.
Status quo stonewalling tactics
Reverting with "discuss first" without discussing
Also known as BR
D (note that the D in BRD is struck out, symbolizing that crucial element of BRD is avoided by this tactic), probably the most common form of status quo stonewalling is when someone who supports a change makes the edit (or move), then someone who opposes the change reverts it with an edit summary that says something like "discuss first", or "no consensus", and then does not engage in any substantive discussion about the change despite inquiries regarding the revert having been made (if neither party shows interest in discussing, of course no discussion is fine). If someone objects to an edit because they believe it is opposed by consensus, then they should explain the reasons they, or consensus, holds whatever position it is. It's unreasonable to require the person making the change to speculate about what the objection might be, and require them to address it. Reverters should be clear about the reasons for the revert.
Now, if this has been repeatedly discussed and the reasons clearly established, of course the reasons don't have to be reiterated again; in such a case a revert like this would not be stonewalling.
For a strategy to deal with this behavior, see How to respond to a “no consensus” edit summary.
Arguing more discussion is needed, without discussing more
Reverting a change, or opposing a change, based solely on the argument that "more discussion is needed", "discussion is in progress", or something like that, without demonstrating any serious inclination to engage in substantive discussion about the change.
Arguing against discussion by alleging time wasting
Sometimes people argue against discussion on the grounds that discussion is a waste of time. This may be appropriate: see WP:DEADHORSE, WP:PERENNIAL, WP:FILIBUSTER, etc.; however, raising such concerns to limit a discussion that has not already become wearisome, wasteful, repetitious, or otherwise undeserving of being further prolonged is inappropriate. If there is a substantive argument in support of the status quo, make it, or endorse it if it has already been made, and move on.
Avoiding substantive discussion because of who is involved
Instead of explaining why the proposed change is opposed in substantive terms, those opposed instead complain about those who support the move, or their behavior (comments which, even if justified, don't belong on article and policy/guideline talk pages, but, rather, on user talk or dispute resolution pages).
Reverting or opposing on procedural grounds
When someone does not like a change but has no substantive reason to revert or oppose, sometimes they will justify their action on procedural reasons. Possible reasons given are:
A variation of avoiding substantive discussion because of who is involved is reverting a policy or guideline edit solely on the grounds that the edit favors the person who made the edit in some ongoing dispute.
The evaluation and discussion of the edit should be regarding whether there is consensus support or opposition to the edit, and/or whether there is good reason to support or oppose the edit, and what those reasons are. Justifying the revert solely on the grounds that it favors the editor in an ongoing dispute and avoiding any substantive discussion about the edit independent of that dispute is simply a lame excuse to retain the status quo.
If an issue related to the text that is the subject of change and revert is being discussed in an Arbcom or other case, that is sometimes used as a basis to "restore" the "original" wording until the case is resolved, which might take weeks or even months. But any objection to a change should be accompanied with a substantive explanation explaining why the change is believed to be against consensus or contrary to policy, guidelines, conventions or accepted practice.
A !vote of "no change needed"
In a poll, someone opposing might !vote Oppose with a non-substantive justification like "No need for change", or "current title is fine", etc. If no good reasons have been given for the proposed change, then say so. If some reasons have been given, then address them.
Arguing the status quo "does no harm"
Very little in Wikipedia can actually cause harm, so arguing something "does no harm", while almost certainly true, is not saying anything substantive.
Lacking any legitimate argument, status quo stonewallers will often resort to the straw man argument that the status quo "does no harm", which is based on the absurd premise that for a change to be justified, the status quo must be harmful. A variant of this assertion is that the proposed change is "unhelpful." Compare WP:OWNBEHAVIOR: "An editor reverts a change simply because the editor finds it 'unnecessary' without claiming that the change is detrimental."
Use of this argument in requested moves discussions is particularly laughable because no titles ever do any harm. In other words, the logical extension of the "no harm" argument is that no title should ever be moved, since no title ever does any harm. For example, there would be no harm in having any article at the title, This is an unreasonable title. As long as the reasonable title remained a redirect to the article, everyone would be able to find the article, and link to it, and there would be no harm. But if someone (presumably a vandal) did move an article there, the fact that it remaining there caused no harm would not be a good argument to leave it there! Defending the status quo with "it does no harm" is never a strong argument, and can suggest status quo stonewalling.
Ignoring good faith questions
As part of the normal process to develop consensus, there will typically be some discussion, until it gets to a question or issue on which the argument of the status quo stonewallers fails. At this point they drop the discussion to avoid answering. Or they claim the question has already been answered, without indicating where (with a link or quote) it was answered.
Some time later a discussion picks up again, which also ends at a similar point. A talk page with numerous discussions about a change, each stalled at a similar point like this, is a tell-tale sign of status quo stonewalling.
Accusing change proponents of disruptive, tendentious, or TLDR editing
In multiple stalled discussions, proponents of the change are likely to make patient and good faith repeated attempts to discuss the substantive points at issue. Trying different approaches, some posts might get long and repetitive. So another diverting/delaying tactic used at such a point is for the stonewallers to accuse the frustrated proponents of change of too much editing, either in the form of tendentious editing, or making TLDR or WP:DE/WP:IDHT posts. The stonewallers' argument is usually something along these lines: any apparent consensus in favor of the change is invalid because of the tendentiousness of the change proponents' editing, which has caused proponents of the status quo to no longer participate. As the TLDR essay notes, "As a label, [TLDR] is sometimes used as a tactic to thwart the kinds of discussion which are essential in collaborative editing." So is TE.
Allegations made against an editor alleged to have violated WP:DE by users who have a record of disagreeing with the editor should be given close scrutiny before being accepted.
Filibustering is the practice of making long meandering comments that may appear to be serious and substantive, but don't really say anything substantive, and the purpose of which is to delay or avoid some kind of decision or process.
For example, the comments might go on and on about hypothetical cases that are practically unlikely to occur. Another form is to bring up supposed issues in great detail, even though they were raised and addressed before. They could also involve straw man arguments, or red herrings which are likely to not be immediately recognized as such by the uninitiated. In addition to creating delay, a purpose of filibustering can be to wear others out, so that they leave, and thus no longer contribute in support of the change, helping to create the appearance that there is no consensus supporting the change.
Starting a new diverting discussion when existing discussion is favoring change
If it appears that an ongoing discussion is leaning towards favoring change, a common tactic is to start a new section/discussion. This move is based on the hope that editors who contributed to the first discussion will be too busy or put-off by all the wikidrama to also contribute to the new discussion, thus weakening apparent consensus in favor of the change in the new discussion. The excuse given for having a new discussion might be an alleged need for "more" or "broader" discussion, but anything plausible sounding is likely to be tried.
Finding excuses to ignore discussion results
There is no end to the excuses those opposing a change may use to argue the result of a discussion favoring the change should be dismissed. After all, any excuse to dismiss the result favoring change will serve their position for retaining the status quo, so the motivation for rationalization in favor of dismissal is strong.
For example, one discussion might be moving in favor of the change, so a stonewaller starts a second diverting discussion, then a change supporter summarizes the results of the first discussion in the second discussion, which moves on to favor the change as well, so the stonewallers claim the second discussion they started is invalid because it was biased by bringing in the results of the first discussion, thus successfully stonewalling two change-favoring discussions, and retaining the status quo against consensus.
Suggest a third option without actually proposing one
This tactic involves suggesting that neither the status quo nor the proposed change is satisfactory, and so a third option needs to be discussed, without ever proposing an actual third option. If an actual third option is proposed, this delay tactic will not work, since an actual third option can be discussed, and consensus about it likely established one way or the other, which either results in a change, or going back to considering the first proposed change, so the delay would be very temporary. Much more effective stonewalling is to argue endlessly that a third option is needed, without ever coming up with one.
Edit war lockdown
With two or three editors opposing the change, they have enough people to revert good faith efforts to effect the change in question in a manner that puts no one at risk for a 3RR violation, but creates an edit war situation that motivates an admin to lockdown the page, probably at the status quo version. Such an effort does not have to be coordinated, but can occur naturally as long as a few stonewalling opposers are watching the page in question. This tactic is especially effective on policy pages where admins seem to be less tolerant of multiple reverts, and more apt to restore the status quo version once they get involved.
Manipulating an admin into helping
Because many admins are predisposed to favor the status quo whenever there is a dispute, after creating sufficient smoke and noise with some of the tactics listed above, stonewallers can often be successful in convincing an admin that a legitimate dispute exists, and there is no consensus in favor of the change, when the dispute is actually non-substantive, and the apparent lack of consensus is actually the result of successful sandbagging. Duped in this manner, the admin is then likely to restore the status quo version (if necessary), and possibly even lock the page if any evidence of an edit war can be demonstrated. This tactic is particularly effective because it causes an admin who sees themself as being uninvolved to get involved in a manner that favors one side (the status quo stonewallers) over the others. Once so engaged, such an admin can prove to be useful to the stonewallers repeatedly.
Arguing a policy or guideline needs to change first when opposing a proposal that is based on ignoring that policy/guideline per IAR
This occurs when a proposal is made based on ignoring a policy/guideline per WP:IAR because the propriety and consensus support of that rule is being questioned, and those supporting the status quo ignore the reasons for invoking IAR, and simply declare that unless the rule itself is changed, it must be followed.
The fallacy in this argument is that our rules largely reflect practice, and practice must usually change before a change to the rules is warranted. That means that for a change to a rule that accurately reflects practice to occur, that rule must, at least initially, be ignored, to at least question the issue of whether that rule still has consensus support. This is why substantive contributions in such cases must at least address the reasons being given for ignoring or changing the rule in question. Simply declaring that the rule must be followed unless it is changed, without addressing, much less refuting, the arguments made to ignore the rule, is simply a form of WP:JDLI evasion in such cases.
Opposing a proposal based only on asserting that it's not supported by consensus
Consensus regarding a proposal is determined by evaluating the arguments made by all those participating. It's putting the cart before the horse to simply argue that consensus opposes the proposal.
Claiming consensus supports the status quo when it doesn't
When a discussion about a proposal results in "no consensus" (rather than "consensus opposes change"), the status quo is usually favored. Once this occurs it's common though incorrect to later argue that consensus favors the status quo.
Drive-by long-distance reverts
An article may change significantly due to hard work by those challenging the status quo over the course of several weeks. Often this involves getting the attention of a wider community through informal mechanisms such as NPOV/N or ANI. Sometimes an editor who was not involved in the changes suddenly comes along, complains about degradation, and reverts the article back to what was supposedly the "last stable version". This can lead to a local consensus to keep the reverted version. The method can work with valid concerns, but it can also be used to override the valid input of the wider community. In any case it will frustrate those who worked on the changes and who now have to start from the beginning. An ideal target for such a long-distance revert is a relatively recent version that passed FA or GA. Third parties tend to follow the argument that a GA version is always a good start, even though the standards are low and it takes only a single editor to pass an article.
Unreasonable sourcing demands
The type and quality of reliable sources required to support a statement depend on the nature of the statement and on whether it is contentious. Some editors try to block information that is necessary for a neutral article by insisting that it has to be supported by sources from a particular academic field that is not concerned with the issue. For example, biomedical information in an article about a chemical substance or a form of alternative medicine requires sources that satisfy the high standard of WP:MEDRS. Some editors try to prevent the inclusion of information on non-medical aspects such as history, statistics or legality by insisting that only medical publications, or even only medical reviews, can be used in the article. (This was even easier before MEDRS was corrected to state its scope as biomedical information in all articles, as opposed to all information in biomedical articles.)
Sometimes a statement is uncontroversial outside Wikipedia and therefore received only little notice in reliable sources. In such cases, an editor may choose to make the statement artificially controversial inside Wikipedia by denying it for no good reason. If this technique is successful, the existing reliable sources may no longer be sufficient.
Imposing a moratorium on proposals for change
Wikipedia normally allows any editor to propose changes on any subject at any time. A moratorium, which limits discussion of a particular proposal, runs counter to that and must never be applied hastily or without good reason. To limit the frequency of a debate that has become demonstrably repetitious and unproductive is a common reason to impose a moratorium (see the perennial proposals list), but sometimes a moratorium may be applied — or participants in a discussion may seek to apply one — when the subject has not yet reached that threshold. Doing so is inappropriate and is almost certainly stonewalling.
It is impossible to know whether a given situation is going to be resolved with further discussion, no matter how repetitious discussion about it up to a certain point has been. For this reason, and because discussion is essentially harmless and the normal way we develop consensus on WP, some believe moratoriums on proposals or discussion should never be applied, and are always forms of stonewalling.
How to avoid status quo stonewalling
The chief characteristic of legitimate status quo defending is substantive discussion regarding the change and how it compares to the status quo situation:
- If the status quo cannot be defended with strong arguments based in policy, guidelines, consensus and actual practice, don't try to defend it.
- Honor the D in BRD.
- If you revert a change, provide a clear substantive explanation of your objection to the change in the edit summary or, if additional space is necessary, on the talk page .
- Don't close your mind to the possibility of a compromise, or even changing your mind entirely.
- Answer good faith substantive questions about your position favoring the status quo over the proposed change. If the questions seem repetitive to you, don't just say so, take a few minutes to find where they were already asked and answered, and provide a link to it.
- If a discussion starts to move away from supporting the status quo, don't use diversionary tactics to try to prevent that from happening. Instead, engage editors in discussion, try to understand why they hold the opinions they hold, and try to persuade them about why the status quo is better (if they don't persuade you to favor the change, or a compromise).
- Keeping in mind that polling does not replace consensus-building, support the use of polling to determine whether there is substantial support for either the change or the status quo, even if the polling results in an outcome with which you disagree.
- If the same change seems to be repeatedly proposed, create an FAQ explaining the reasons supporting the status quo, and the reasons for opposing the frequently proposed change (e.g., The Sega Genesis naming dispute).
How to discourage status quo stonewalling
Discount or dismiss non-substantive !votes in discussion evaluations
If closing admins would discount if not dismiss entirely !votes lacking substantive justification in polls that they are closing, and be clear that they are doing so, then people would be discouraged from simply !voting against a proposal, without explaining why.
Refactor non-substantive diversionary comments in discussions
Comments that are non-substantive, especially if diversionary (attempt to divert discussion from substantive points about the proposed change in question), can be refactored, like with the Hide template. However, it's probably more effective and less combative to ask an uninvolved admin to make an edit like that rather than doing it as an editor involved in the dispute.
Advocate for the reverting of unexplained reverts
Reverts of good faith edits without adequate explanation should not be tolerated, and the most effective way to accomplish this is by reverting such reverts as soon as possible. If people are not willing to explain and defend their reverts of good faith edits, they should not be reverting, and the only way to discourage them is by reverting their reverts.
Since it's currently not accepted behavior on WP and likely to be seen as edit warring, it's probably best to advocate for it for now where appropriate, rather than actually revert such reverts.