What do you think of this Discussion Rules proposal?

+59 votes

Hi WikiTreers,

What do you think of this draft? Help:Discussion_Rules
Should it become an official WikiTree policy page?

Some of these rules are already being enforced. Badly. Mentor Intervention Requests frequently point to G2G posts as Honor Code violations. But pointing to general principles and tips on courtesy is a problem. It leaves Mentors and Mediators struggling to explain exactly why a certain message is inappropriate. And it leaves members feeling like the process is subjective. We want clear and explicit policies so that conflicts can be resolved fairly.

Some of them may seem (or be) too broad and encompassing. The idea was to make simple rules that can be objectively enforced, even if it means restricting some legitimate conversations. For example, there are certainly cases where sarcasm has been used without any hint of condescension, and cases where four messages by the same person in the same thread within one hour were all helpful. In general, I think what we risk losing is outweighed by the benefits of having objectively-enforceable rules like "no sarcasm". But maybe some of these could be worded better.

There is a risk that these rules could have a chilling effect on our community. We don't want people to overthink things and not communicate at all. I think a lot of this risk has to do with the enforcement. Moderators would need to somehow have a light touch while still being consistent and fair. (Note that there are "guidelines for moderators" on this draft but a lot of it would have to be worked out in practice.)

What do you think? To help organize the conversation, I am posting eight (!) answers of my own: one for overall agreement, one for overall disagreement, and one for disagreeing with each individual rule. Please vote up and comment on these, or post your own answer. Please do not comment on this top message. We'll hide comments at the top after they're viewed once.

By the way, citing examples from past conversations would be very helpful here, but it's probably only appropriate to use your own messages as examples.

Don't feel any need to reply here immediately. You may wish to think about these proposed rules as you are posting and reading messages. We won't take another step on this for at least two weeks (about July 15).



in The Tree House by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
retagged by Eowyn Walker

22 Answers

+76 votes

I agree with these Discussion Rules.

If you would only make minor changes, vote up this answer and comment with an explanation.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
First, thank you for the consultative approach!  

Second, I think these go a long way to meeting the need for clear guidelines for discussions and mentor intervention. On the other hand, I'm wondering if the author(s) may be feeling a little frustrated, because the language seems to be a little stronger in places than may be intended.

I've been thinking about ducks, as in what looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. In my experience, a policy can be expressed in various ways, and I'm not sure that 'rule' is the most appropriate term in this case. It seems to me that there are alternatives that might be more specific and clear, and do a better job of achieving the objectives.  

I understand a strict rule as something that is policed and enforced. For example, when I joined WT, it was a rule to sign the Honour Code - you simply couldn't join without that step.

In this case, I'm reading about exceptions that add shades of gray. I can see latitude to get away with breaking any one of them, in certain circumstances, or if you can do so without causing offence or a request for mentor intervention. Further, human nature being what it is, I've seen policies that have been labelled too strongly create resistance, or serve as a challenge to a game of chicken. Finally, the mentors provide a form of peer mediation, rather than police, and I'm reading an intent to support them in their current role, not to adjust it.
In total agreement with these proposed rules. Very well written, and address the issues that make so many G2G posts unpleasant to read. I pop in now and then, to see if there is a current question I can help with, avoiding most of the posts, especially if there are numerous answers, assuming  it has gone sour, like it so often does.  

Many calm, wise, and amusing voices, have gone missing from G2G, and on checking activity for some of those folks, see they are still contributing to WikiTree profiles, just not sharing their gentle words of wisdom on this forum.  I do hope that polite, constructive conversation will prevail.
I distinctly remember the discussions about GDPR Helen alludes to (below). I am sensitive to a difference of treatment between those who belong to the majority and those who do not and as a Continental, non-Anglophone European, completely agree about having to "walk on eggshells". Obviously Helen can explain it far better than me. However, unlike the majority here, I would expect a stricter guideline than what is currently provided by the Honor Code to reduce that difference, not make it worse.

I quickly learned to avoid the GDPR threads and other similar discussions, and as a matter of fact since then I have been less active in G2G. There was a before and an after these discussions for me, and I can safely say that I have never felt as welcome here as before, ever since. These GDPR threads are in fact a perfect example of the way G2G is a hostile environment. (for those who do not remember, or did not notice anything particular, Europeans were pointed to in several posts, as a group, as being responsible for the situation, at least one post calling for exclusion of all European members).

(Sorry if this does not make sense. It was originally posted as a reply in another thread).
I also fully support this effort.  I just hope all members will read the new guidelines.
Yes, I support these changes.  Thank you to the team for the thoughtful approach to constructive communications.
As someone who recently dealt with a very personal attack on G2G, I understand all too well how quickly things can get out of hand here, and how frequently things being said can be misunderstood. What seems like an obvious response to someone, to be kind and respectful, other people see as opportunities to crack jokes on the poster's behalf. We have people who make mistakes or are doing something that others believe needs improved upon, and rather than start a polite discussion with them, come to G2G to call them names-not addressing what they're doing but rather personally attacking them.

Overall, is G2G a friendly place to be? It most certainly can be. Unfortunately, it has also become a place where we're walking on eggshells to avoid being trolled. I have witnessed multiple instances of someone asking for help here and being ridiculed (I can see the hidden posts). I have witnessed people attacking others, then immediately hiding the comment so no one but the person being emailed sees it (or so they think) in order to try to attack others under the radar.

What these rules give everyone are concrete guidelines to follow. It isn't that they aren't already being followed by most of our members-they are, and I can absolutely understand how they seem over the top or unnecessary because they're already mostly observed. It is for the few who feel the need to constantly toe the line and continue to get away with doing so at others' expense because it hasn't until this point been written specifically that they can't do what they're doing.

As far as Moderators and enforcement, there are a lot of eyes able to look at whatever situations may arise and help make sure that there is room for differences in translation and misunderstandings. Some of my favorite WikiTreers to work with are non-Anglophones, and I vastly appreciate y'all's very direct communication style. Trust me in my saying, that will be accounted for. What we're seeing isn't something as slight as a misunderstood non-English speaker trying to explain something that doesn't translate well. What we're seeing is very obvious snark at others' expense, or outright rude comments, or obvious hijacking of threads in order to get attention for some topic that wasn't addressed exactly as the poster had hoped.

As mentioned before, if you haven't had any, or many, posts flagged and hidden, you most likely won't notice much difference.

Thank you, Chris, with the time you've put into drafting this so far. I look forward to future drafts following up on the helpful insight others have posted here. There are definitely some things I hadn't considered in my first read through and the comments here have been helpful.
Thank you for that comment Abby, I really hope that most of us who haven't had comments flagged and hidden will be able to continue as before. I am still wary though about what I perceive to be very rigid rules which I think could stifle discussion.

You mention that you can see hidden posts. I  think that this 'ability' should be made clear within any regulations  eventually decided on. I recently  hid a post. I  decided that discretion was the better part of valour and hid a post on a thread which could fairly easily be related to an individual member. Nevertheless,  I wanted to keep a record of my concern.  I was extremely surprised to get messages from leaders asking for more details; I hadn't  realised that hidden messages could still be read by anyone other than the creator.   Maybe I'm naive but it could be that  others also don't realise this and aren't hiding comments from  malevolence.
Hello Helen,

I think adding a line that the Team, Leaders, and Moderators can see hidden posts should be something that is easily added to any documentation. To be frank, we rarely think much of what we see-the vast majority of it (I am the Team member who most frequently "cleans out" the hidden posts) is either spam or oopses where someone posted something in the wrong spot then emptied and hid that post after they moved what they had said. There are some that are hidden and we never know why, but so long as it is the person who wrote that ends up hiding it, it generally isn't questioned. It's the every once in awhile ones that cause the issue, where we see someone bullying someone else, then hiding their own posts in order to try to slip under the radar. If that happens, we make sure MIRs are filed so there's documentation that that person is being inconsiderate and not acting in accordance with the Honor Code. Setting these guidelines should help Moderators help make that same call, if they see those comments and they haven't already been hidden. Or to help file MIRs when the bullied parties are afraid to.

When in doubt about any of this process, you can always, always ask someone. A Leader you trust or a quick message to info@ if that isn't something you're comfortable with and we can explain things, or most probably direct you to the help page that does. I know they can be a little hard to find every once in awhile. :-)

Helen (and I'm writing this as an explanation of my position; I am not trying to convince you) my issue is precisely that aggressive posting also stifles discussion. By aggressive I mean comments that lack courtesy and are unnecessarily confrontational as well as multiple, repeated  similar comments in the same conversation. I believe there are contributors who shy away from these types of discussions; and someone can have something of value to contribute, without wanting to engage in a brisk, and often fruitless, back-and-forth. 

I hope that the "3 posts rule" is not going to be used on active, but instructive threads, like the recent one about Lords of the Manor - in this thread though there was a flurry of posts in a relatively short time, each was thoughtful and brought something new. An intervention should only be warranted if the conversation became heated, or started running in circles. Or, another example, the comments added after my answer to the "Dutch Roots" thread - several quick comments, but separately all helpful. 

I was going to add this to my previous comment, but I decided to add another comment. Just the other day, I noticed a blunt comment on a Profile, asking when an error would be fixed. This made me a little angry, actually a lot angry, and I DWWA  and made a coffee. The simple courtesy of "always" addressing a person by their name, especially in Profile comments is not difficult. Just because we are "passionate" about our Hobby, does not mean "Good Manners" should fly out the window !!
+69 votes

I don't agree with adding a Discussion Rules page.

If you don't agree with this at all, e.g. if you would propose something completely different, or that we should rely on existing explanations and help pages, vote up this answer and comment here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Hi Louis, please try to keep the focus on this particular thread.  If you want to continue asking about this, this isn't the appropriate post to do it in. Thanks!
Eowyn, don't you see that that is a relevant, and enormous issue?  Because some of us think that with the new rules, any time we speak up in a forthright manner, we are going to be subject to discipline, and piling up "black marks," and possibly thrown off WikiTree, in spite of all the good work many of us have done up to now?
We don't know the exact details about how the violations will be recorded, as that wasn't the focus of the proposal -- the focus is on the rules.  Disagreeing is fine but continually showing you don't agree with the Honor Code is what will eventually lead to removal from the site (Honor Code point IV)

Also, this isn't new.  Members can currently be removed from the site for their lack of courtesy in G2G.  The rules just help to clarify what courtesy means in the context of G2G and other discussion areas.
Eowyn!  I never said I didn't agree with the Honor Code!  

But does WikiTree want honest discourse, or a site that never offends anyone, no matter what compromises must be made to achieve that (and by the way, it is impossible)?
One's agreement with the Honor Code can be shown by their words and actions.
There's a middle ground in there somewhere, Julie, and that's what we are looking to achieve.

After watching this thread, which I must say was supposed to be simply for people to reply why they don't support the discussion rules proposal...I am almost ready to change my vote.

We should be able to vote our opinion without having to defend ourselves meticulously. 

Perhaps the rules proposed above should have a "do not argue for arguing's sake" rule. I can definitely see the purpose of not going off topic in the discussion rules frown

But if those "black marks" are forever staying in your "leader's account" and there is no way to remove them, then this is a part of the discussion that is on topic. And after seeing how people are told here "you have told your opinion often enough" and "agreement to Honor Code is shown by words and actions" (btw, I don't see where Julie K. violates the Honor Code), then you push me more and more in the direction: "I will scroll through G2G twice or thrice a day, see what is interesting to me, try to help to answer exact questions and otherwise post in Weekend Chat and this is it." You are crashing the community, don't you see it? Good contributors suspend their account, leave the site and their expertise will be missing. And THIS is no good development. I am reminded more and more of the other forum where I eventually left.

Hi Eowyn,

Since you reprimanded me, I feel that you don't understand the way I perceive this proposal as such I will atempt to explain this in English as best I can.

The author invited comments in this thread by referring to the whole Discussion Rules Page and not just the six rules. There was in my view a very good reason for this. It is because there are new procedural elements contained above the six rules.

Let me explain what I perceive as new procedural elements and why it is new.

When a new member joins WikiTree there are a few condition pages we agree to in a process. The first is the Terms of Service Agreement  page and the Acceptable Use Policy page. We are also made aware of the Privacy Policy Then comes our Honor Code if we are to proceed with WikiTree and from the Honor Code page is the Courtesy Page for which this new Discussion Rules Page is added as a desire to establish clear and explicit policies.

Now that we have established our source pages, my challange to you is to show me exactly where we agree to Violations or "Black Marks" to be permanently recorded against our accounts in these source pages. This is very new concept being introduced by the wording "Violations should be recorded" to which we agree by signing the Honor code and agree to its subsequent updates.

I will gladly appologise and withdraw my posts if I am in the wrong.

I had not added yet to the tumult of comments, whatever I could have said against those rules have been better written by many others. Just wanted to mention I've put my WikiTree activity more or less in standby since this discussion has started, waiting for the announced  "next step", and my decision to stay or quit is pending to the adoption of those rules.
+35 votes

I don't agree with "No Off-Topic Discussion".

Would you change something significant about how this rule is worded, or do you disagree with it entirely? Vote up this answer and comment with an explanation here.

Note that part of this rule is dependent on our definition of a "chat post" in G2G, where the rule would not apply as strictly. If you have ideas or comments on that definition, post here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
As a guideline, yes, but this is a community and on topic discussions stray.  Forbidding that takes the community out of it.
L J makes a great point. The addition in the word “contemporary”. seems prudent. I support this suggestion.
While I'm not significantly opposed to the new rules (most of them seem fairly straightforward), the concept of removing more personal interactions and non-genealogical posts and moving towards a more professional approach like Dragnet ("Just the facts, Ma'am") doesn't appeal to me. However, I have a few suggestions that could work.

1) Consider requiring an account to post to G2G - for one, this will cut down on some of the spam, although it won't stop the "fake accounts" that get created out there.


2) Create a private section of G2G that perhaps does require an account where discussions off-topic can occur. Moderators can certainly move conversations there if they accidentally are posted to the main boards, and it would be something that wouldn't show up on the primary view.

I'm all for trying to keep the genealogical conversations clear and separate from the non-genealogical ones, but to completely cut them out altogether has the potential to make the board sterile and not fun anymore.

The other issue is the "no politics or religion". I'm an unapologetic Christian, so it's a significant part of my life and while I don't push my religion on others, nor do I try to sway them over to my faith (unless they ask first, but I'd rather they tell me they want more than for me to shove it in their face), however, I see nothing wrong if someone asks, "What did you do this weekend?" and my response is "Went to church" - or "Attended a church meeting". I do agree that it's not appropriate to spend large posts detailing political or religious leanings, likes and dislikes, or go overboard on any of these areas, but I fear stating "none" will be taking this too far. If this rule goes into place, I fear I'll have to be Joe Friday on the few posts I'll be willing to participate in, and leave it to "Just the Facts".
To clarify my position re politics/religion.I don't think such topics should be prohibited. The way we interpret history, who we record and what we record about them isn't value free. It is predicated on our beliefs and understanding. Why do some  members of wikitree seek connections with royalty or magna carta barons? Is  the predominant genealogy as  recorded here classist and  racist?  In  view of recent events,  do we actively seek out and record the involvement and profit gained by individuals in the slave trade or by the exploitation of others? These topics should, in my opinion not be taboo, unless if course  all we want to record are bare facts of birth, marriage and death.

GDPR was an unusual instance. Something that affected Wikitree but where  the current prevailing views on one side of the Atlantic were contrary to those adopted by many on the other. I see no problem with people expressing disagreement. Nevertheless, adversarial, nationalistic comments shouldn't  have been permitted  . They were unkind and alienated people (and in retrospect should have been flagged because they were against the prevailing honour code)

I still  don't want to see lots of negative, 'thou shalt not rules'. I  believe they could stiffle participation. I would prefer simple positive rules, the golden rule being;  to behave towards  other members  in a kind and considerate way. If monitored, it  should preclude attacks on individuals or nationalities.
I'm not trying to derail the discussion (honestly) but, as someone from the UK, I also remember the GDPR discussions  and the frankly, to me, antagonistic response from some members on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  I almost flagged one post in that discussion and actually did flag a post in a recent discussion relating to a currently sensitive subject, which did not meet the courtesy requirements of the Honour Code.

As someone who asked a specific question about politics here, it seems appropriate to comment further. While I believed that common courtesy and the Honor Code would have covered this situation, I have observed that the flagging and moderation of comments depend upon the nationality of the member who posted (and of the moderator). While it is relatively clear what the US standard is with regards to partisan comments, it is not so clearcut when the poster is from outside the US. Similarly, off-topic discussion is sometimes considered acceptable, whereas "public service announcements" from another country would be frowned upon. (I hope my attempt at humour in my answer got the point across and wasn't taken as either personal criticism or as ridicule - that was not the intent.) I don't have a problem with anyone reporting or commenting neutrally on contemporary events e.g. "NZ has had 66 days without community transmission" or "Today is Waitangi Day" - which for a New Zealander could have "political" overtones if a statement was included about protests. In fact I love seeing what is happening in the rest of the world during the Weekend Chat. I also have no issue with, "I went to church yesterday to attend the baptism of my first grandchild" as that is not a religious message. However, if something is flagged, the moderator needs to consider the appropriateness of the post on the main board in an international genealogy forum. There is some leeway in the Weekend Chat, but again comments must not be controversial in any way.

You're missing the point. It's that anything do with politics or religion regardless of how slightly to the subject is going to be frowned upon. This proposal completely negates non-topic discussion.

This insofar raises a question mark over whether we are supposed to be talking about anything in our personal lives during these Weekend Chats. As far as I can see, if I were to go into hospital again, the ruling would be that no posting is allowed because it isn't genealogy related then it isn't allowed and the only thing that would flag anyone to it is that I'd have to place {{Absent}} on my profile. I'd neglected in the Weekend Chat to mention that I'd been at 2 funerals over the course of the weekend because they were both held on church property (the very mention of church offends people now). It's because of things like this where I no longer feel comfortable mentioning anything personal on here.

Richard , see the first post in this answer thread. Chris wrote, "Note that part of this rule is dependent on our definition of a "chat post" in G2G, where the rule would not apply as strictly. "  (my emphasis .)

I would have no hesitancy to mention in a weekly chat how our Quaker Meeting for worship had shifted to Zoom during the quarantine and how interesting it was to see everyone's faces instead of the backs of their heads. 

I'm specifically talking about the last line of the statement of this rule: Under no circumstance should politics, religion or any other potentially controversial topic be discussed unless it is directly related to genealogy on WikiTree

I have seen comments negatively constructed on other members talking about anything church related (after very lightly mentioning something I was doing/had done that week). 

I am very particular about this because there is very real need for hesitancy. 

Strike 1? Accuracy. There was a fiasco with a project which took about a year to get resolved due to usage of incorrect conventions and correcting project parameters.

Strike 2? Unspoken rules. One weekend chat, I had dared to make a comment stating what other citizens had made criticizing a political decision. Major backlash as a result and this
Now, this proposal could be argued as a warning before Strike 3 because of a post I made questioning the definition of an existing policy

If this is passed, all it takes is for me to say or do something, not pay attention to the forum for a couple of minutes, get subjected to a brimstone barrage and get overwhelmed trying to convey my point of view too little too late by which point I would then have to email the wikitree team to delete my account and associated living persons to this account.

With respect Jillaine, I just can't afford to trust that statement that you have referenced. Because how strict is strict? And which person is going to jump for the gun before the story is heard?

Thanks for clarifying. I understand your concern.
+17 votes

I don't agree with "No Personal Criticism".

Would you change something significant about how this rule is worded, or do you disagree with it entirely? Vote up this answer and comment with an explanation here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
"Personal criticism" is ill-defined. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, and yes, it can still be personal. For example, "Chris, I think you could have worded things differently. Here is an example of how." This could be construed as a personal criticism, but yet it is still a constructive criticism, as I have provided a potential solution.

If anything I can argue that this rule could be changed to "no ad hominem attacks", which is probably more of what you are after.

The wording change makes it much more explicit as to what is disallowed. We don't want people attacking other people in a personal way. The word "criticism" is too soft a word and has multiple definitions, some of which can be in a valid discussion.
Often what seems (to me) a mild criticism gets taken personally.  There is no way a moderator can control whether comments get taken personally or not.

In Toastmasters we are trained to frame our evaluations in reference to what "I" heard, not what "you" did or didn't do.
You need to define this a bit more. Constructive criticism can be helpful as it has helped me in the past to become a better writer, editor etc. If you are a jerk, then, no. Other than that, people need to not take things to heart.
Laura said it best "Treat everyone with respect and how you would want to be treated yourself."

It is difficult to separate this from Rule 6 - ridicule, sarcasm and condescension and how things can easily be misconstrued as personal criticism when not intended as such, especially with language barriers. Although I can't seem to find it now, Chris F replied somewhere in this thread with two different examples of suggesting that someone add sources to profiles -- one was something like "Your profiles need sources" which sounds like criticism and the other like "Adding sources to profiles will help in your genealogy research, did you know that there are these ways to find sources xxxx. Would you like some help finding sources?"
"No ad hominem attacks".  What does 'ad hominem' mean? How many WikiTreers do you imagine know what it means? How confusing is this? (and I'm not just talking about those whose first language is not English)
@Ros, some of us non-native English speakers actually have some acquaintance with Latin. Just mentioning. No offence taken, and none intended.

Edit: Typo

I just Googled it and now I know what it means.  

"Ad hominem" (Latin) an objection that relates to the person making an assertion, not the assertion itself.  Such arguments are considered improper.  

In Dutch we know the phrase "Play on the man" translated literally for this subject, because non Dutch speakers probably do not understand the literal translation, you can find a Latin phrase that can easily be looked up so other people from all languages can understand it.  

I agree on what this rule means.  In discussions you should not "play on the man". 

In my opinion, to include this as a ban in official policy is going too far. This idea was probably born from past experiences as much regulation arises.  If this were to happen frequently, I think a rule would be appropriate.  I regularly read g2g discussion, come across it occasionally but not often.

I think it would be better to include the topic flags in the G2G help text, where someone who feels unfairly treated by another person, in any way, can submit this to third parties for assessment.  When flagging, a motivation could be given and an indication with the flag who did this.  So that you avoid or can recognize that there is a "hunt" on a less loved person.

All you really need is this:

  • Discuss the problem, not the person.
  • Argue facts, not personalities.
  • Comment on the content, not on the contributor.

Chris, I'm going back and reading the rules very carefully, and I've found something I don't understand. Toward the end of the explanation of this rule, (no personal criticism) there is this: Communication Before Editing But, I've read that and that seems to be all about making changes on profiles and it says nothing about communicating on G2G. What am I missing?

+49 votes

I don't agree with "No Rapid Responses".

Would you change something significant about how this rule is worded, or do you disagree with it entirely? Vote up this answer and comment with an explanation here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Question -- why not gather as many documents as you can find in however long you wanted to research and then make one post with all of them?

I've seen posters in G2G get upset because they will post a question, somebody will start posting rapid responses with one document per post, those documents are *for the wrong person* because they wanted to post as quickly as possible, the original poster now has a dozen responses with useless information, and everyone else that comes across the post assumes the question has been answered due to the amount of activity on it.
This will prevent people from posting sources from other sites.
Jamie, if someone posts to G2G asking for information that they themselves have not been able to find (or bothered to look for), then it seems a little ungrateful to me for them to resent the posts.  As for others then skipping the thread due to other answers, that can always happen.  It particularly happens, I think, when some other person swoops in and prematurely awards a star, which often happens.  But those problems are not going to be solved by this proposal.

And by the way, there are other reasons for someone to respond with one document per post, including word limits and their own work methods, which may not involve saving up multiple sources to try and combine in one post.  People who ask for information on G2G ought to be happy to have their questions given attention, rather than complain about results which are sometimes wrong.
I agree with all of the responses here!
I quite agree with Julie K's most recent previous comment.
Rapid responses are necessary - to hold interest and deal with the question as quickly as possible before moving on to other things.  One search may lead to another, ideas may pop up.  There is a narrow time window where the post is visible - even narrower with the more zoomed in G2G view.
As written this has a number of issues, as identified by everyone above. There is the character limit, which forces multiple responses to add several source citations as well as the "oh look, I found another.." I have seen many extremely valuable chat type conversations focused on profiles/sources that would be a shame to hide from the general community via private messages or on individual profiles.

That said, there is no rule or guidance about actually looking at a linked profile and not rapidly responding with several sources that either don't apply or already exist on the profile. Similarly, continuing with such responses when a post is made that the source has been seen or doesn't apply.

The 3 guidelines here could easily apply to no criticism, sarcasm, etc...

I don't agree with this this. The number of three posts within the hour seems entirely arbitrary. And it is the only absolute statement in this whole set of new rules. Everything else is shades of a matter of opinion (rudeness, sarcasm, condescension).
Why are multiple responses counted as a problem? It is the content, not how many responses there are, that these rules should address.

Agree with majority of responses -- especially problems with editing.
This rule can delay consultation.  Sometimes there is a quick exchange of views during a meeting to organize something or, for example, when looking for and finding sources.  Imagine saying something only 3 times per hour in a meeting.  So I don't think that's a good idea.
+26 votes

I don't agree with "No Venting or Ranting".

Would you change something significant about how this rule is worded, or do you disagree with it entirely? Vote up this answer and comment with an explanation here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
Isabelle, It is really hard to react to something that we don't see or feel is happening.   If there are one or two people who are causing an issue deal directly with them on that issue.  But I don't see that many people ranting on G2G.  There are some who at times let their passions out... but these seem to be the exception not the rule.   Once again... if you can't tell us what happened how can we agree to what is sounding like overt censorship?
@SJBaty - Experiences differ. If the proposed rules are applied consistently and neutrally, it won't be a question of self-imposed abstaining, it will be actual censoring - posts will be deleted, conversation will be stifled. I can think of one thread recently where a non-member took issue with perceived WT policy. The responses were educational for the entire community, but not without controversy or pointed words. Under the proposed rules, the entire thread, as well as individual posts apparently were, might have been deleted based on any number of grounds. That would have been a pity in my view.  In reality, I don't think the new rules, if adopted, will be moderated aggressively or consistently for all the reasons in this thread, so they are unlikely to change my behaviour much. So, on the other hand, I don't much see the point. I find it difficult to believe if a poster is so disruptive they are blowing up the board and shutting down participation there aren't already rules to deal with it.

Thank you SJ and Isabelle. I know it is difficult for some to see why the rules are necessary, but maybe that should be a clue in itself. If you are actively participating in the G2G, aren't seeing a lot of issues, and haven't had posts hidden by moderators - you most likely will not see any changes after the above help page is created. There have been more frequent issues lately in the forum and our Moderators, Mentors, and Mediators have put extra volunteer time in trying to clean things up so that others aren't effected by it. From the sounds of many of the comments here, they have done an excellent job. The proposed changes give those already monitoring our tree a page to send someone to that is causing issues. Right now, all they have is the Honor Code which doesn't address many of the things they have recently dealt with.

My mother would say "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I think I would go more with a comment made elsewhere in this thread that I want to treat others as I want to be treated. If everyone thought the same the proposal wouldn't be necessary.

Ok, I agree with this statement:  Do not be a contrarian, curmudgeon, or "devil's advocate" because you enjoy debate.

However, I don't agree with no ranting altogether. I've ranted <cough, cough>, about sources, but it was very much on topic and created a lengthy, (mostly) well answered question.

I agree with what Laura Bozzay said above:  Everyone of us has at some time gotten tired of something and sounded off.  Is that appropriate on WikiTree?  I think it depends on what the purpose is... to affect positive change?  To just complain?  To ask for help?  Who decides what is a rant?

Who decides what is a rant?

Lisa, I think that Mindy answered this question quite accurately when she said:

If you are actively participating in the G2G, aren't seeing a lot of issues, and haven't had posts hidden by moderators - you most likely will not see any changes after the above help page is created.

Agree with above comments, that a vent or rant is sometimes appropriate but that repeated introduction of the same topic or argumentative responses on the same thread are not appropriate. Yes, I can think of the examples allured to above.

The guideline to Do not use ALL CAPS, lots of bold text, etc. (i.e., don't SHOUT at us all the time) is more encompassing, and moves into Rule 6 Sarcasm, etc.
I had to look it up and see the explanation off this topic, because I didn't understand it.
Yes, this could be re-worded to "Express no Emotion".

Venting is the release and expression of emotion i , e.g. person X has been marvellous and helped me so much that I really have to post here and say what a Wonderful Wikitreer they are.

I suspect that it is intended to mean only anger; then it is already covered by "Don't Wikitree When Angry".  Perhaps that should also be altered to "Don't Wikitree When Angry, Frustrated, or Upset"

@Mindy Silva. "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Yes my mother said the same and it really is the only "rule" needed!

...and make it "Don't WikiTree when Angry, Frustrated, Upset, or Offended" to make absolutely sure people realise it applies to them as well. ;)

+28 votes

I don't agree with "No Ridicule, Sarcasm or Condescension".

Would you change something significant about how this rule is worded, or do you disagree with it entirely? Vote up this answer and comment with an explanation here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
The word "sarcasm" seems to be the problem, for me and for others.  Sarcasm can be funny, or it can be derogatory.  Excluding it entirely would seem to take some of the more light-hearted comments and fun out of discussion.  Would the same intent of this rule be accomplished by just removing the word "sarcasm"?

I sometimes see on the Forum, people Attributing words to other users; words which they did not say, and then "answering" that instead of the original post.  This is sometimes done when somebody cannot simply refute or prove a statement so they "twist" what has been posted. an example would be " So, X, what you are saying is....." .  Sometimes this seems to be done to belittle or ridicule the original poster. 

Could we add "No Attribution" to this rule, please, or even make it a rule of its own ?

When the little smilies-on-G2G were implemented, I thought "great! now people will realise when I am joking!"  However, I soon discovered (to my horror) that these smilies are not included in the email notification you get - so my jokes were quite possibly read as nastiness.

Is there any way we can include them in emails-from-G2G, please?
Thank You Joe Farler.
Joe, please help me understand. I understand what you're saying about how sometimes people turn the topic away from the original but that seems more associated with the "no off topic" rule.  How would you word a "no attribution" rule? Thanks.
I didn't say anything about topic or going off topic, that would have been posted under the going off topic post. This is about twisting the meaning of the original post in order to reply as if something else was said or meant by it.

This is about Attributing words to somebody which they did not say.  Somebody posts "X'.  Somebody replies along the lines of "So what you are saying is X, Y and Z, and Z is clearly wrong"

Just as a quick idea about wording, something along these lines, perhaps. 

Rule 1) No Attribution

It is important to preserve the meaning of a member’s post. Please do not reply with your own interpretation of their post. Above all do not attribute words which they did not say as this could easily change the way their message is perceived.

If you need clarification of their meaning - ask them for it in a courteous way.

An example of how attribution has been seen to work on G2G is:

Somebody posts "X'.  Somebody replies along the lines of "So what you are saying is X, Y and Z, and Z is clearly wrong"

Okay, we're just seeing things differently. (To me, adding Y and Z to a post about X is off-topic.) No problem. But still, how would you word the no-attribution rule?
Oops. We were writing at the same time.  Thanks, Joe, for the further explanation.

I agree with you that simply adding Y and Z to the discussion would be going off- topic.  I am talking about adding Y and Z about the same topic,  by saying that that is what the original poster meant. Subtly different.  One adds and goes off topic; the other twists the original meaning and intent.

+20 votes

I don't agree with "No Discussion of Living People".

This is a current rule and is considered important for various legal and practical reasons. However, if you think it should be worded differently, vote up this answer and comment here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
You probably want to make explicit reference to Notables, otherwise people might believe that Notables are exceptions, which, as I currently understand it, they are not. I.e., we can't mention a notable until they die. Right?
What about mention of living notables in the weekend chat? For instance, a few Weekend chats ago, I mentioned listening to/watching videos of the very much alive Jakub Jozef Orlinski. Would that be off-limits?
I am not in favour of making this rule more difficult and more draconian than it already is.

I think it impossible to not mention living people, but a mention is NOT posting personal details about them, nor is it discussing their personal lives.  We already have the caution at the bottom of the page, to be careful "when distributing private information", but what is already public (for a public figure) isn't private (see next point).   

With regard to notables, they are "out there" in the public gaze, in movies/tv shows/on twitter/facebook/instagram/whatever INVITING people to discuss them.  How is it so bad if we mention them?  A mention is not discussing their private lives.

Am I to never again mention that I have a family and that I miss them like the world has already ended?  That it really, really hurts that the last time I was able to hug my children was more than two years ago, that is has been six years since I hugged my grandchildren.  Fine, if that is the absolute rule, even in "chatty" discussions in the Tree House, I will refrain . . . but that also means nobody will ever get to know me, the person behind the research. (I have  shared more about myself with non-Wikitreers who  have contacted me because of profiles I created and/or manage, than I have with any more than, maybe, three Wikitreers.)

If someone slips and mentions a living relative, or a  living notable, or something in the news, will the mountain fall on them?  Will the (NOT my expression, but one I have seen used on facebook (Wikitree)) "Wikitree police" jump on them and ban them for a minor infraction?  There are already people who are disaffected by the rules of Wikitree, and think there are (or should be) ways around said rules.

PLEASE don't drive more people away, or disaffect more people, by making rules so strict and strictly enforced that nobody wants to be here.

(Post # 3, but it has been more than 1 hour since I last commented.)
I upvoted for the reason that a lot of people do not understand that even "notables" like past presidents who are living have unlisted profiles.   There are a lot of very innocent questions and discussions around this subject.   Also, as the relationship finder does not work with unlisted profiles, people have a tendency to discuss that on the profile or G2G.  Bottom line, I think we can make an exception about living notables?

I down-voted this one because of what seems a critical lack of definition. Exceptions notwithstanding regarding notables, as Melanie and Robin mentioned, to me the biggest issue here revolves around whether or not we are identifying living people, not the mere mention of them.

Much of what I respond to on G2G revolves around an area of modest expertise: DNA. Questions in that area can become quite complex when multiple or unknown relationships are involved...and when discussing people who have taken a DNA test for genealogy we're talking about people who were alive at least in 2000, and I would hazard that, by volume, over 90% of test-takers are alive today.

Unless this rule is modified to appropriately indicate acceptable anonymization of living individuals, I believe it will eliminate some 80% of all DNA-related questions and comments.

I agree that there is no need to specify "my 2nd cousin Jane Doe," but when we try, for example, to begin discussing complex relationships by replacing all involved with an abstract identifier (e.g., Person A, Person B), it makes an already complicated subject even more difficult to follow. If a questioner uses a term that doesn't reveal an identity (e.g., "my 2nd cousin," "my niece," "an unknown match named Jane") I think that should be sufficient and that the discussion would be most intelligible if the questioner's terms are maintained.

Too, if this goes into effect as-is, a rewrite of WikiTree's DNA "confirmation" policies and guidelines seems as if it would be required; https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:DNA_Confirmation, as well as an edit of all profiles current bearing those confirmation statements. These policies currently require the mention of DNA matches who are most probably living people. The WikiTree ID (which would reveal a surname) is required even if the individual does not have a public family tree; and if the match is not a WikiTree member, "initials (or another anonymous identifier)" are to be used.

I believe the phrase, "initials (or another anonymous identifier)," or similar, should be specified in the new rule as acceptable means of including mention of living individuals in a discussion.

We will always get new folk asking how to find living relatives. Let us be friendly to them and point them toward sources.  State the Wikitree policy of not discussing the living, but encourage them to look in the right places to build on the information they may have.
So under this rule, would references to the still-living author of the Puritan Great Migration series be disallowed? As in "[censored] does not include him in the PGM directory"?
This is an outgrowth of the EU privacy rules isn't it?  We need to be very careful with this as it relates to children.  But some living people are by who and what they are in the public eye and have waived that consideration for those parts of their life they have chosen to make public.  Example:  An actor or actress would be upset if you did no name them as a star of something they performed in.  By performing they waive that part of their right to privacy.  Conversely their private life is off limits.  I can see where it is harder to moderate this and simpler to just say none of it.  But is that realistic?   And if you are doing that then also say no one can post info looking for bio parents or siblings because those have the potential of being living people.  And that raises a lot of issues about how we handle DNA postings on WikiTree.  This needs more work I think.
Edison, this answer says "I disagree" with the new rule.  I think if you downvote it, you're saying you agree with the rule which seems to be contrary to your post.
Perhaps we should make an exception to living notables such as celebs and past presidents. Geni does the same thing. Their profiles are public. If someone is alive and is a celeb, their profiles can be edited. In our case, we can add a green lock and have the Notables project moderate the profile.

Well, fudgesicle, SJ. I'm sure my inept click will be offset by someone else.

And Laura just made me realize something else: it isn't just established actors or "notables." I regularly reference living people, by name. Frequently. Because--unless I know the author(s) to be deceased--I wouldn't be able to properly cite a research paper, book, lecture, video, or just about any creative work unless I do. I wouldn't be able to reference the inestimable Elizabeth Shown Mills by name, as we do in WikiTree's own Help page for sourcing: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Sources. I wouldn't be able to point people to the work of genealogists like Jim Bartlett, Blaine Bettinger, Kitty Cooper, Roberta Estes, Debbie Kennett, Leah Larkin, and many many more unless it's written something like, "A person wrote about this in a recent blog post. You can see what this person wrote at this link. This person found--from this person's personal research--that..."

But the proposed rule, as written, states uncategorically, "Do not discuss living people in comments," which specifically includes G2G. So how would we properly attribute a resource or piece of information? In just about every reference style guide, if the author is known, the author's name comes first in any citation.

I'd relax this rule for notables. They can't have a reasonable expectation of genealogical privacy. The silliest example for me as a Brit is the Queen and other members of the royal family.
I understand that Other Countries might have this problem, but most of our politicians have already had there trees done for them. And these are public records.
In addition to a Notables exception, there needs to be something like a source/collaborating researcher exception.  Living people are often sources that need discussion or need to be referred to in discussing one side or another of a genealogical issue.  We all get research material from other living people.  We also need to be able to mention living people who may be interested in the discussion.  

We also need a WikiTree member exception or we could not mention other members we are working with on a project or one place study or one name study for example.

This should be reworded to only exclude private information about living people who are neither notable nor WikiTree members.

Well, fudgesicle, SJ. I'm sure my inept click will be offset by someone else.

If you click the upvote button, your downvote magically disappears and is replaced by the fabled upvote wink

+31 votes
With respect to G2G, in my view, such rules would likely be enforced in a manner that stifles legitimate discussion about genealogical principles and Wikitree policy. This is a crowdsourced genealogical site, the purpose of which is, over time and through collaborative effort, excellent family history. A group mentoring reinforcing this purpose occurs through G2G, and frank discussion in an authentic sometimes passionate voice ultimately contributes more to this goal than "friendliness," although in my experience most posts are polite. Of course, this is my opinion - but I believe we all should be mentally reading that into every response. I haven't been through the mentoring or mediation wars on this site, but in my experience moderating other open forums, three rules are critical - a poster as a person is never on-topic, only the subject matter of their post; no name calling; opinion is not fact. The proposed rules seem to me much more than necessary or responsive.    

I would also suggest that if these are aimed more at public comments on profiles, the better solution might be requiring discussion to be through messaging rather than on the profile itself. I admit, this is not a situation I have encountered much. I still think the three principles described above would be more encouraging of the principles of this site.
by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 6 (67.3k points)
I do not like the idea of pushing more genealogical discussions into private messaging.  On a Wiki, content discussions should be carried out on the website, where all contributors can access the information. Yes, private discussions are entirely appropriate when the topic is a living person, someone's close family, a family secret, or a similarly private matter. However, we should not be encouraging even more private messages like the ones I get way too often (often regarding Open profiles managed by a project for which I am a Project Leader) that communicate purely genealogical information (maybe an additional source to cite) or that ask a question about the person's life (maybe asking whether a man served in a particular war).
+5 votes

In this era of great incivility in the public arena, rules seem a reasonable way to reduce the extremes. We pray there must be a way.


However, If you establish rules, there must be enforcers to interpret and require compliance.


Can we agree with them?


“If all the fools in this world should die, lordly God how lonely I should be.” – Mark Twain


Restrict personal expression (1st Amendment)?


It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” - Mark Twain


Make everyone happy?


If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” – Benjamin Franklin

The cost?


“Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day. Wisdom consists in not exceeding the time limit.” – Dale Carnegie


This is a critical time for WikiTree leadership to act wisely; may you be guided by the lessons of history.

by Clyde Perkins G2G3 (3.9k points)
reshown by Jillaine Smith
Clyde: There is one thing that I would disagree with you. It's established that the US 1st amendment (freedom of speech) can be restricted in certain reasonable ways, and still not be violation of personal freedom. Also remember that WikiTree is a private platform, and can reasonably limit the kinds of comments that people post. Other sites do this too, and have done so for a long time.

Eric, thanks for your response.

Note that I only asked questions because my opinions may be wrong.

However, after living for a decade in a country where the penalty is death for violations of censorship, it seems to me that it's hard to agree on the meaning of "reasonable."



+14 votes

Rule One: No Off-Topic Discussion:  Define off-topic.  One may be answering a question about a person with info about the era they were in.  Would this be considered ''off-topic''?  I do agree that going off on a personal tangent disrelated to the question should not be allowed, but definitions of what constitutes such is truly a grab-bag of possibilities.  Unenforceable without mega time spent by moderators.

Rule Two: No Personal Criticism  The terminology needs to be corrected.  Criticism appears to be being viewed as strictly negative, whereas there are various examples throughout this discussion of constructive criticism.  Make it no personal attacks or insults and leave it at that.  Oh, and what are Ad Hominem attacks?  My Latin is rusty.

Rule Three: No Discussion of Living People  Er,,, let's see, if I say that I was just with my brothers, nieces and nephew and grand-nephews/nieces at my mother's funeral, would this be infringing on this rule?  Even though it's all my family?  How about the discussion on who is related to our past Prime Minister, whose son now sits in the same seat as his father?  Said son being very much alive, although the father is deceased.

Rule Four: No Rapid Responses  Now this one gets broken instantly by various people participating in this discussion.  And since you set up a muliple-answer system for it, right there you are inviting answers to 6 points, which may be answered by the same person in a short time period.  Definitely not a good plan.  I often collaborate with our friends in France project on research from their end.  One gentleman is extremely generous in his research, above and beyond the call of duty, but he posts his successive findings of records in sequencial comments after his initial answer, not by editing his original answer.  Which actually makes more sense, as the separate comments deal with separate records and sometimes persons.  You want to stop that sort of contribution?  Nix.

Rule Five: No Venting or Ranting  Again, one needs some definitions here.  I have sometimes had to deal with questions or answers in G2G coming from someone who got himself banned some time ago, but still persists in posting in G2G.  I recognize his style very easily.  The last time he did this I said something like ''it ill behooves you to be asking ...'' whatever it was.  Would this then be construed as ranting or venting or other negative response?  Really don't see the point of this.  <Rant over> as some others have said before in responses to this question.

Rule Six: No Ridicule, Sarcasm or Condescension  This one is redundant really, see rule 1

Overall, I will echo what has been said by many before me.  What problem are you trying to solve?  Language issues have been mentioned by several.  Being fluently bilingual from childhood, I can well see their point.  Have also done translation in the past, and the old Italian motto for translators applies:  Traduttore Traditore.  Don't impute ill intent without just cause.
by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (285k points)
Excellent Danielle, I totally agree.
I don't think I've heard that motto. But, maybe a variant of it. Usually it's "Think before you speak."

Chris, the best translation of it is Treacherous translator.  Translating is a fine art, and since there are nuances in one language that may not exist in the other language, it is sometimes extremely difficult to convey the exact meaning.

For instance, in English there exist the terms Like and Love.  In French, there is Aimer.  (Period) wink  So to translate the word like, one uses euphemisms or other tricks, like ''j'aime bien'', but there again, that can be taken to mean like, like it well enough, or love it well......

Rule One: No Off-Topic Discussion: Define off-topic. One may be answering a question about a person with info about the era they were in. Would this be considered ''off-topic''?

If I am understanding your comment, then No, this would not be considered off topic. Providing historical information about an era that relates to a post/question is a genealogical important consideration. For example, if someone asks about the appropriate Military Rank for a profile, and you notice the timeframe is during World War I and there are certain considerations that should be explored during that era - that would not be off topic at all.

Rule Two: No Personal Criticism: The terminology needs to be corrected.  Criticism appears to be being viewed as strictly negative, whereas there are various examples throughout this discussion of constructive criticism. 

I think the paraphrased version covers this. The focus is to not directly attack a person, but rather to discuss the issue at hand. So while constructive criticism of an idea/topic can be beneficial, it is much harder (and should be avoided) trying to provide constructive criticism directly about a person or group. Even constructive criticism can hurt, so it best to remove the person from it entirely, which I believe this rule is intending to do.

Also see the wording on Rule Five (second sentence) which allows and recognizes constructive disagreements.

... if I say that I was just with my brothers, nieces and nephew and grand-nephews/nieces at my mother's funeral, would this be infringing on this rule?

The rule states that "All WikiTree profiles of living people, except account profiles for members, are kept strictly private (Unlisted)." This means the focus here is on discussions around living profiles on WikiTree. A brief mention of "my sister" is not a violation as I see it, nor would this scenario; however, linking to a profile of a living notable and posting their name is another matter entirely since this would be a way around the privacy rules and restrictions.

Rule Four: No Rapid Responses: Now this one gets broken instantly by various people participating in this discussion.

I happen to disagree with this. I don't believe the intent is as far-reaching as everyone is making it out to be. See my comment here... Maybe this rule needs to be clarified to make it easier to understand?

Overall, I will echo what has been said by many before me.  What problem are you trying to solve?

The problem was addressed in Chris' post: "Some of these rules are already being enforced. Badly. Mentor Intervention Requests frequently point to G2G posts as Honor Code violations. But pointing to general principles and tips on courtesy is a problem. It leaves Mentors and Mediators struggling to explain exactly why a certain message is inappropriate. And it leaves members feeling like the process is subjective. We want clear and explicit policies so that conflicts can be resolved fairly."

Make it no personal attacks or insults and leave it at that.  is what I offered as a solution to the ambiguity of the current wording 

@ Dani. Thanks.

@ Steve: Perhaps a solution would be to get more active mods?

Chris, have you seen the list of current Moderators? I would say we have a fairly diverse and active group already, and I am sure this my expand in the future as well.

+13 votes

I am thoroughly ambivalent about this proposal.

On the one hand, I love WikiTree, and one of the many reasons that I love it so much is that it has (in my experience, anyway1), been mercifully free of the flamefests which have infested so many other online fora.

I can also appreciate that having "the rules" (whatever they are) spelled out so that everybody can see them is a good thing. 

No, that's not strong enough. Rules are essential. I'm old enough that I've lost count of the times when I have encountered somebody who argues that rules aren't necessary, that we should be free to be flexible and adapt to the situation, and so on. In every case, the person who argued that was a person in authority. I eventually came to the conclusion that the main function of rules is to protect those who are not in a position of authority from the whims of those who are. (Where there are rules, they apply to everybody. Where there aren't, however much those in power may talk about freedom and flexibility, what it really boils down to "You have to do what I say.")

And, at least for those rules which have been in place all along (or at least since I joined), I have no problem with them. (If I had, I wouldn't have joined.) So I have no problem with banning discussion of living people, because that's been a rule since I've been here. I also have no problem with a rule against ad hominem attacks. (To me, that's a basic rule of any rational discourse, because making an ad hominem attack is what people do when they know that they can't actually refute the other person's argument.)

  1. Yes, I did read and note the comments from moderators that most of us aren't subjected to the nastiest stuff, because it gets flagged and hidden.
by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (340k points)

There are other rules in this proposal, though, which give me progressively more sense of unease as I read them.

Take venting or ranting. I saw a movie recently where one of the characters said something along the lines of "Never present a problem without presenting a solution along with it." He was talking, in the context of working in an office, about how to get along with a very demanding boss, but it struck me as sound advice for a wide variety of situations. It's too easy to get into a negative attitude and whine about something I don't like without doing or suggesting anything that might make the situation better. I might feel better (at least temporarily) for getting it off my chest, but only at the cost of dumping all that negativity on other people who don't deserve it, and, at the same time, I haven't done anything to improve the situation. So it's good advice and everything, but do we really need to make it a rule? Venting may be unpleasant to endure, but is it going to kill WikiTree? It seems to me that, with any proposed rule, we have to ask ourselves, not just whether it's reasonable, but whether it's necessary.

(And, yes, I recognise that I have been guilty of ranting about things like the lousy handwriting of census enumerators, which we can't do anything about. In fact, if all of these suggested rules were enforced, I'd be run out of WikiTree on a rail in no time1.)

I'm even more concerned with the "No Rapid Response" rule. Sometimes, the answer to a question really is as simple as "Read this help page." You don't need to spend 15 minutes ruminating all the permutations and ramifications. Just point them to the help page, and move on. (Although I can say that I would like to encourage people to put in links to the relevant help pages. I think saying something like "This help page can help you understand how to do that." is far more useful than simply saying, "Do this.", because it helps people to understand that WikiTree has a ton of useful information in the help pages, and they can find a lot of answers for themselves if they check them out. But, again, I would hesitate to make it a rule.)

One suggested rule that would get me in big trouble, should it become an official rule, is the one about "No Off-Topic Discussion". 

I was born off-topic. I love just following a conversation wherever it leads. I even have a term for it: chasing rabbits. It's not like it's impossible for me to stay on topic, but I equate being strictly on-topic with work or otherwise no-fun situations, and to be honest, I'm not on WikiTree because I'm obsessed with knowing everything there is to know about my family, but because it's fun. So being in a "fun" environment but having to stick to a "no-fun" mode of discourse would be... dissonant.

(I am reminded of one poor guy who posted a question in G2G a couple of years ago. Apparently, I wasn't the only one in a silly mood that day, because a bunch of us piled into the thread, shamelessly highjacked it, and got very silly with it. The thread went on like that for a few days. The guy might well have gotten frustrated [although his question did get answered], although I hope he could recognise that we were all just having some fun, and not actually making fun of him. That's one of my favourite memories from being here, actually.)

I don't think I'm alone in this. Virtually every online forum that I've ever been on (at least, those which even had a topic) has had an "off topic" section. It seems to me that it's a pretty strongly and widely felt need. So perhaps a better solution would be to add an "Off Topic" category, and steer off-topic discussion (such as the weekend chat) in that direction, rather than banning off-topic posts entirely.

I also feel compelled to say that, as much as I hate/loathe/despise political, um, "debates", I don't really think that we could do genealogy on politicians without ever once mentioning that those people were, you know, political. I'm much more open to discussing religion (as long as it's not at the level of "you're stupid for believing that!"), but I do recognise that there are those who don't even want to hear the faintest mention of it. But unless we're going to change our focus from including everybody in one big family tree to including everybody except politicians and religious figures, I question whether an outright ban on those topics is really going to help us in our quest.

  1. heard you, in the back, muttering, "And that would be a good thing, too."

But it's the proposed "No Ridicule, Sarcasm, or Condescension" rule that would get me in the biggest trouble, for a couple of reasons.

First, and I'm sure that this will come as a shock to nobody whomsoever, I'm an incorrigible jokester. Even at work, when I'm supposed to be drafting serious announcements telling people how to secure their electronic devices, I frequently get feedback like, "I love your announcements, they're so funny!", and then I groan and say, "Oh, no. I did it again."

There is also the problem that so many people don't understand the nature of sarcasm. I remember taking some kind of psychological test1 a few years ago, and I was supposed to rate how much I agreed with a statement which went something like, "I will be sarcastic with someone if I think they deserve it." The very wording of the question assumed that sarcasm is always a form of attack. To me, sarcasm is saying the opposite of what you mean for comic effect. (In our family, a frequent occurrence of this is when my wife cooks something and asks me if it's okay. Since she's a particularly good cook, my usual response is to say something like "You wouldn't like like it. I'll just take one for the team and eat it all so you don't have to." I'm being sarcastic, but not attacking her. Quite the opposite: by saying that I'll eat it all myself, my real meaning is that it's very good.)

But the real problem is that people's perception of being the subject of ridicule, sarcasm, or condescension is very subjective. I've had any number of times when I've had to say to somebody something along the lines of "The information you need to solve that problem is in this step on that page in large, bold, red print." I have to be extremely careful to limit my answer to the indicative mood, without the slightest hint of imperative (still less judgement), because it is so common for them, once they realise that the answer they needed was in the instructions all along (and prominently, at that), to feel stupid for missing it. And, unfortunately, it's not a very long step from feeling stupid to feeling like somebody else called you stupid, whether they actually did or not.

Peter Ustinov is quoted as saying, "It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously." That's one of my favourite quotes, and I try to live by it. So when I'm joking around, what I'm really trying to say is, "If you don't agree with everything I say, that's not a problem. I am under no illusions that I am anything like an important person. So if what I say makes sense to you, go for it, but if it doesn't, then don't worry about it." 

Unfortunately, what one person intends isn't always what the other person perceives. For my whole life, people have misinterpreted my meaning and/or intentions. Sometimes, that has been because I didn't think through what I said thoroughly enough. But a scary number of times, somebody has jumped to a conclusion so completely diverged from what I intended, said, did, or even thought (and sometimes from reality) that I could only conclude that they weren't actually reacting to me at all, but rather to some process going on inside their own heads that I couldn't even begin to guess at. And trying to explain what I really meant or intended has never gotten me anywhere with those people. I was tried and found guilty (in their minds, anyway) with no chance of appeal. ("My mind is made up. Don't try to confuse me with the facts.")

So, to be honest, I'm seriously frightened by the mere possibility of giving veto power over what can and can't be said here to people who see themselves as being insulted. Probably that's why this post is so needlessly long. But, at least I'm not breaking the "No Rapid Response" rule...

  1. I flunked, of course. I may not be stupid, but I'm definitely crazy. wink

Hey, Greg! I like what you said here. 

I'm not sure what to make of your paragraph above the footnote there, though. The thing about people with veto power feeling insulted? Were you meaning members who complain because they feel insulted? Or were you talking about Moderators, Mediators, Leaders, etc, feeling insulted? I feel comfortable saying that's not a motive for the introduction of these rules.

Also, the paragraph right before that: I'm right there with you!! laugh

It's my nature to see the glass as half full, so when someone implies a negative motive behind anything I say, I'm always surprised.

Finally, I feel like a lot of people are reading too much into these rules. I think the Moderators, Mediators, Leaders, Team, etc., have been pretty reasonable about things in the forum, and I don't see that changing. The proposed rules just put into "writing" what we already look for.

And now I'm sure someone is going to come along and read something negative into that, too. wink

(Hey ... maybe we need to have more emojis ... they're so good at conveying meaning)

Greg, thank you so much for taking the time to convey SO MUCH of what I myself wanted to say but wasn't quite able to put into words. Please imagine me triple underlining nearly every word.

Julie, about people reading to much into the rules: the rules specifically say they are strict and that they are meant to help moderators be objective and have less need for personal judgement calls. Therefore, I do not find "don't worry, the moderators are reasonable" to be reassuring. I feel that this has the opposite effect intended; it makes it feel like we are even more dependent upon the good graces of the moderators.

So it's good advice and everything, but do we really need to make it a rule? Venting may be unpleasant to endure, but is it going to kill WikiTree? 

Absolutely and Yes, it could. The intent here is more for the situation where "most of us aren't subjected to the nastiest stuff, because it gets flagged and hidden." Other posts that may be seen as rants by some, but are not flagged and/or hidden are obviously not recognized as rants. In short, I don't see much changing for this, it just helps explain the situations that truly are negative rants.

As an example, if a person routinely comments on every single thread related to a certain topic, using the same repeated responses to try and get their point across - even though they have posted it tons of times already - then that would be considering ranting/venting. The key to this is where it says "disagreement cannot be expressed freely and frequently." In short, state your piece and be done with it. Don't say it 1,000 times in 1,000 different ways on every thread you come across.

The rest of your points I think have been covered at lengths in other threads.

so the term hobby-horsing comes to mind, know one person who used to do that on a certain topic, always the round-and-round we go, finally mentored to the point where he/she/it no longer did this.


"Were you meaning members who complain because they feel insulted?"

Yes, that's who I was talking about. 

+17 votes

This was a very eye-opening thread! My deranged and rambling thoughts follow, but they won’t be very specific because I am such a global, right-brained thinker. I’m posting a general answer that does not fall under agreement or disagreement.

I am (presently) the host of the Weekend Chat (a neat fit for someone who is gregarious and loquacious as I can be), and I do appreciate the participation of so many members. I especially enjoy getting to know my fellow members via the Chat when they share what is going on in their lives and what they are working on in WikiTree. I see this on G2G also, when someone will share a research incident that may have happened years ago and which may appear to be off topic but supports the “I’ve been there, too” mindset. I see this when someone will make a remark that would be just for a laugh, one that I got and appreciated.

Over my two+ years as a member, I have enjoyed the kind responses and witty ripostes on the G2G Forum. I began to know people on the G2G Forum long before I began to host the Chat, those who were helpful (too many to count), those who were crusty Jack Klugmans (not naming names, but I love you anyway, especially if you make me laugh), and those few who are so brittle and to the point that I think my glasses might break. 

I've become pretty good at knowing a response will usually be helpful by who the "answerer" is, and which ones won't be for the same reason. I also read many of those threads that may have nothing to do with my research, just because I learn so much from my fellow WikiTreers.

I remember a prof once saying in class long ago (don’t ask HOW long ago) that every time a new law is enacted a new class of criminals is created. Applying this to G2G, would, all of a sudden, a new class of forum violators be created? I recall in The Lord of the Rings when Frodo and his companions returned to the Shire, how cowed the inhabitants were by Sharky’s new rules. If this occurred here, I believe it would be rather sad. I hope I would be wrong in this instance.

Would sharing a personal research find be out of bounds? It doesn’t ask for help or offer any assistance to other members. Would a witty remark meant to see the silly in something, to create a laugh, be flagged? How about when members post photos; does that serve a genealogical purpose?

If these proposed rules are implemented, I can think of one way for at least new members to see the rules before participation. I know for some forums, it is necessary for new participants to read the rules of the forum before joining in. I had this happen today when I joined X Marks the Scot (a forum for kilt enthusiasts like me). I had to register, click an agreement to the rules, and wait until I received an email of approval, all within a few minutes.

I know the above will not be popular, though this process is widely used elsewhere. It would be another hoop for new members to hop through, and we are trying to make things easier for participants, not harder. For example, the new process for becoming a member is MUCH easier than it used to be.

I believe that just about anything is survivable, just as we have done with other new policies that have been implemented. This is not to downplay the many concerns members have expressed in this thread; I agree with many of them. I have an unease about some of the rules myself. And, while I don’t have answers, I do hope that as rules are implemented it won’t dampen our camaraderie. G2G would become so very dry if that were to happen. We really are cousins (even when the Relationship Finder can’t make the connection), a big family, and the restrictions some of the rules would lessen that, I believe, yet hope not.

by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (1.8m points)
+8 votes

I'll be adding to this post throughout the day as I may have come up with some alternatives to some of the rules. Some of you might know that I used to moderate several forums on the Internet where drama was really commonplace and the threats were way worse than the issues members here face. Way worse.

That being said, here are some things I came up with:

1. On the Twitter genealogy  hashtag #genchat, we have an open mic night every once in a while. The Tree House serves that same function as does the Weekend Chat. It serves a purpose. To get to know people better. The rules can apply there. Just tell people not to be jerks. But, don't constrict them. Have people be on topic in the genealogy portion of the forum, sure, But, don't constrict 'em elsewhere.

2. Several rules are no brainers. Don't be a jerk. But, to not allow simple things like segues and sarcasm? That's a bit totalitarian in my opinion. Instead, have a rule saying "Don't be a jerk" and keep it that simple. Three strikes and you are out.

More to follow. Stay tuned!
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (326k points)
Chris, you should define "jerk."  I don't think that's a no-brainer at all.  It's as ambiguous as all the other proposals.

Edit:  OK, I went to merriam-webster.com.  

First definition:  An annoyingly stupid or foolish person.  Are we going to ban stupidity?  How?  To what degree?  Impose an IQ test for G2G contributors?

Second definition:  An unlikable person.  So now a popularity test too?
Well, I wasn't gonna say a curse word. But, basically I was thinking someone who does something like:

1. Insults people based on race, gender, sexual identity, religion etc.

2. Assaults people online.

3. Acts like a creeper. Might want to look that one up. =)

It's not so much a popularity test. It's more if someone goes out of their way to treat others around here badly. Know how people say "Don't WikiTree angry"? Well, this would be a user who Wikitrees angry and would generally be unpleasant.

Basically, we should reprimand those who insult others based on the things I talked about. It's a no-brainer. But, it's something to talk about. We shouldn't ban everyone based on one infraction, though.

Sorry I was vague. It was early when I posted. If you have more questions, let me know.

Thank you for replying, Chris.  Language in these things is important.  I totally agree that slurs based on personal identity of any sort should not be allowed.  But I've never even seen one on WikiTree!  Everyone knows better than that!  I don't know exactly what "assaults people online" means.  And no!  I'm not going to look up "creeper."  People shouldn't have to consult dictionaries in order to understand policy.

Please don't, Julie. Please don't. It'll just make you sad.

Language is important. I have a hard time telling sarcasm in text myself. But, I wouldn't ban someone for being sarcastic. That's a bit too much like big brother, you know.

I'm glad everyone on WikiTree knows better than that. But, it is something we should discuss. This site, even though it is a genealogy site, is on the Internet. And as part of it there can be people who wander in to cause drama.

Assaulting people online would be stuff like doxxing or cyberstalking them for example. There are some really bad people out there. I am so grateful we have none of that here. You honestly have no idea how grateful I am!!

As it is, the Internet is a double edged sword. For all the good it does, there is a dark side to it. So, the best thing, I think would be to treat people how you'd like to be treated. =D

And no problem about replying. We're having a great discussion. Some topics online can be discussed peacefully. Some, can't like religion, politics etc.

In any case, I am glad we have a more relaxed environment here. I can't really think of any more rule suggestions. So far the posts here have been great. =D
Just because you don't see the insults, slurs, threats, etc. doesn't mean it isn't happening. Those things usually get flagged and hidden very quickly.

You would think not doing those things would be common sense, but often when these people are talked to they disagree that what they said was a problem!
+18 votes

There's only one rule needed: Be kind

I do not believe in legislating anything on here. I think people should be free to post as they wish as long as.. they're kind to each other.

If you do not like something that's posted, don't reply to the post. Personal responsibility.  

Who comes to a family research forum, or what would you call this.. to start arguments? 

I suppose people can be irritated with changes on profiles they do not agree with. There should be someone impartial to decide if the change was valid or not, but these people should not police people's way of communicating.

by Antonia Reuvers G2G6 Mach 1 (15.2k points)

Antonia, you are so very right--all it takes is for each of us to just be kind. After I read your response here, I went over to Facebook and this came up on my feed....

"Never say mean words out of anger. Your anger will pass but your mean words can scar a person for life. So use kind words or be silent." LessonsLearnedinLife.com

My mother said it shorter, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Wise words, but I do have a concern...(and this is not directed toward you or what you wrote, Antonia, but something I have been tossing around in my mind ever since Chris first posted his proposal, so it's just part of the general discussion.)

I've always tried to practice kindness in my "real" life, on other social media, and here on WikiTree, but I have been accused, in the public forum, of writing things which others perceived as not being kind. The accusation of not being kind, in my opinion, is also scarring to the one being accused when no unkindness was intended. 

I wonder if these rules of discussion are implemented, will they not only lead to more kindness but could they also lead to more accusations of unkindness when none was intended?

I’m a very emphatic person, and I do not ever do or say things to hurt anyone on purpose. But my own mother and sister sometimes completely misinterpret things I say and even more so things I write as they have this idea that I am being sarcastic because of a lifetime of conflicts. I had a conflict with a neighbor that interpreted my actions as hostile because he himself is an aggressive person and expects other people acting the same. I get that people wanna create some sort of utopia here, but it will never happen because communication is hard and you can be misunderstood for no reason what so ever.

What is being written is not always what is being read. There’s no way around that.

Antonia I agree with you. That's it, I keep it short because this  thread is, so to speak, 3 miles long. smiley

Thank you Antonia!
I feel your pain Antonia, I too am often misunderstood, and it has caused me no end of pain and frustration.
+7 votes
I have been on Wiki for about 2 yrs and have experienced frustration in learning how the site works. Signing up for projects, finding answers to style of profiles, even adding a co manager or pasting a banner, is somewhat cumbersome and newer people would benefit with better links to answers and clearer instructions w good samples of how to do something.
by David Leighr G2G6 (9.6k points)
Absolutely with you on that but I don’t think it has much to do with setting up laws for people to follow.
+15 votes
The rules to maintain civility are fine, but there is a minefield awaiting those who choose to 'police' these rules.  With respect, echoes of Big Brother, the weakness being the interpretation of what is said being offensive or busting the rules.   In some rules it is easy and clear cut, in other not so.  Do not allow G2G to became a space where good genuine genealogists get fingered subjectively for breaches of the rules.  Flagging posts by all and sundry could be counter productive.  

Recently, some good member came on board G2G - the member was, I guess, a touch angry and composed himself in all capitals.  I merely asked why the member was shouting (on the assumption that one uses capitals to 'shout' in social media) and offered to help.  For that I appear to have been admonished (the post was deleted - no doubt after flagging).   This was a genuinely concerned response, but clearly someone took it the wrong way.  So be careful out there, be nice, and we can all get along.
by Andrew Field G2G6 Mach 2 (24.1k points)
I agree with you.  When someone reacts angrily, there is usually a reason for this, sometimes frustration accumulated for years.  The person should be given the opportunity to explain why he or she is angry.  Approach such a person willingly and respectfully and you will generally receive a nuanced answer.  Direct flagging works the opposite and frustration only increases.
+6 votes
It would be instructive to know how the current thread with 10 down votes would be moderated differently under the proposed rules as compared with the current guidelines.
by Ellen Curnes G2G6 Mach 6 (67.3k points)
It probably wouldn't be moderated differently.

The proposed rules address issues that have consistently caused problems in G2G. It's not that these things were OK to do before -- most of these would fall under part IV of the Honor Code. But being "courteous" means different things to different people, so that's why it's good to have written guidelines so users can be more mindful about how they interact with other users on G2G, and moderators can know what potentially problematic behavior to look out for so they can try to stop things before they escalate into more serious issues.
+10 votes
I support this proposal. Anything we can do to clarify how we talk to each other across the continents is desirable in my opinion. If some tweaking needs to be done later, we, as an informed community, can do that. As I understand it, the rules or guidelines are meant to give us a framework for discussion and encourage us to write, re-read what we've written, edit, do it again, always trying to remove ambiguous wording or words that are loaded or inflammatory and can be hurtful or misunderstood. We should never get personal when we disagree--an idea is just that and can be disagreed with as long as we do it with as much skill and tact as we are able.
by Jacqueline Girouard G2G6 Mach 5 (56.7k points)
+16 votes

I am rather surprised by many of the comments/answers here. 

There are many thoughtful answers from people who have taken the time to absorb the proposed rules as a whole. They have considered the overall health of our forum and the atmosphere that is created when there are no definitive rules of conduct. 

Having grown up in a house with six children, I was subject to the ground rules set by my parents. I was also subject to rules of conduct in the military and in every job I've ever held. They were all based on safety, courtesy, and respect for others who shared the same spaces that I did.  Just about every online forum I've ever been a member of, including at ravelry, a website for knitters and crocheters, has rules. If I had been presented with rules of conduct for WikiTree's forum when I joined, I would not have been surprised and I would have thought nothing of it. 

For the most part, our g2g forum is relaxed, informative, and helpful. Every now and then, there is a more controversial post, and sometimes there is a post that seems completely benign until some sort of wisecrack is dropped. This is why rules are needed; to deal with things that get out of hand. I am a leader, mentor, and g2g moderator, but I do not lie in wait for a WikiTree member to make some sort of mistake in g2g (or anywhere else in WikiTree.) But if I do see something happening that is out of bounds, I will act upon it. Can I tell the difference every single time? Probably not, but this is why we have other moderators and team members to consult. I'm pretty sure that these things will not be an everyday occurance. I'm a pretty good judge of "what's going on here" having mothered 2 kids and 2 step-kids, supervised a busy Navy message center, taught Sunday school, volunteered with scouts and school classrooms, etc. At my age (63 in a few days), I believe I have "seen it all."  

Thank you for these rules, Chris, and thank you all for your time.

by Natalie Trott G2G6 Pilot (650k points)
edited by Natalie Trott

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