What do you think of this new Discussion Rules proposal? [closed]

+66 votes

Hi WikiTreers,

On June 30 we discussed the first draft of a Discussion Rules proposal. (If anyone is interested, here is the first draft.)

Here's a new draft:

There's a separate page about applying the rules:

I propose that we implement the rules on a two-month trial basis. During this trial period we would fully apply the rules and the consequences for ignoring them would be the same as after the trial period. But we would keep a conversation open here in G2G for discussing them. In addition to the rules themselves and any problems they are causing, we would be discussing how they are applied/enforced. I think the application is a really important part of this, but I don't think it can be fully worked out in advance.

At the end of the trial period we would open a new discussion on whether to keep or revise Help:Discussion_Rules and Help:Application_of_Discussion_Rules.

What do you think? To facilitate the discussion I am posting three answers: One for agreement, one for agreement with stipulations, and one for disagreement. Please vote up and comment on your preference. Also feel free to post your own answer, but please do not post a comment at the top here. Any comments here will be hidden after they are read.



in The Tree House by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
closed by Chris Whitten

15 Answers

+112 votes

Yes, I agree with this proposal and the plan for a two-month trial period.

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

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)

It's a pity that we need to write and implement rules like this at all; but people are people ... Both the discussion rules and the supporting implementation guidance seem thorough and well-written, and there are some very thoughtful points made.

I have just a mild concern about the suggestion that one "Consider including a smiley face :-)". I have nothing against emoticons; but, if what is being said is potentially hurtful, a smiley face doesn't make it all better. It can be like saying, "No offence, but ...", and then proceeding to say something offensive. That paragraph might be worth a second look.

2 Flags:  re: #1 Off topic

B. a couple points here:

  1. You introduced a change to the Discussion Rules when you asked for BA to be included. SJ and I both responded why we feel they do not fit in this proposal. That is not considered "off topic".
  2. These rules have not been formally adopted to serve as the basis for flagging posts.
Steve, there is more to be said on this best answer topic -- you and SJ are missing at least several relevant points, and I intend to address that.  I was composing a post for a new thread, but are you saying it's appropriate to continue the discussion right here?  I'll be happy to do that, but I'll be one torqued-off camper if my post is hidden for being off-topic.
Dennis, At this point it may be better to take off into another thread and just link back to this thread (or specific comments) as needed; unless you intended on a semi-short and direct response to the inclusion of BA into the Discussion Rules.
I'll start a new thread, but I'm not quite ready yet.
I support the new Draft, as written and I agree a trial period is a good idea.
After a few weeks of activity on the G2G forum I have to say that only the Speed rule will sometimes hinder a nice discussion. It is put down better now than in the first draft.

The bad experiences, although few, still come from people with the wrong expectation (they expect the perfect answer within an hour and nothing else, so don't dare to try to help with thinking out loud/along) or the ones that start sending private messages and thus take their point outside the public scope and invade my personal space with stiff e-mails. I am not sure if any rule can prevent that from happening though.
This is very thoughtful and well written. Thank you for this.

I suggest recommending that discussions of "accidental violations" be held in the forum (as opposed to private message). That is, unless doing so could be seen as unkind or embarrassing. In most cases the discussion would be a learning experience that could benefit others.

Also, it's definitely true that not everyone writes what they meant to say - no matter what their first language is. Don't know if this needs to be stated explicitly in the rules. It's kind of like a first principle in communication on the internet.

Thank you for working out this new draft.  Having a trial period, with open discussion of the ifs-ands-&-buts of the implementation is an especially welcome idea.  Much will depend on the Moderators' interpretation(s) and implementation.

Four suggestions I would support:

  1. Someone flagging a comment should have to do it publicly, with a stated reason;
  2. The ensuing discussion should be treated by all parties as a learning experience, not a criticism;
  3. More attention needs to be given to the reader's obligation to listen intelligently, rather than place the entire onus on the writer's obligation to communicate clearly;
  4. The rules should be required reading for anyone who asks a question or comments in G2G - perhaps a sticker, like we have for the Honor Code, could appear on the G2G Profile page.
+12 votes

I agree with stipulations.

If you agree with adding new discussion rules but want to see a new proposal with significant changes, vote up this answer and add your suggestions here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
This version of the rules is far superior to the earlier draft, and the tone of it is certainly much more consistent with other WikiTree guidelines. I appreciate all the work that has been done to improve it, and I have no issues with what is written here.

One thing that caught my eye is the comment in the Application document saying that many members won't be aware of these rules until they are called on a possible violation.   Hmmm, probably true, and the thought occurs that there may be occasions when the moderators might also want to point out the rules to those sensitive readers who complain about how offensive and insensitive the rest of us are. So what I'd like to propose is an addition to the rules that provides at least a little bit of balance to all those "thou shalt nots." I have in mind something on the order of a disclaimer saying "We have these specific rules about conduct in the forum that are meant to keep it a polite, helpful, friendly environment. But readers should understand that G2G is a public forum with worldwide participation, and those who post to it cover the whole spectrum of writing styles and forms of expression and sensitivities. Some members may be more abrupt or direct than others, or may express disagreement with an idea in a way that seems insensitive to you. So those who choose to participate in G2G should be aware of the possibility of encountering styles of communication that differ from their own, but are still within the letter and spirit of the rules."

It may be inconceivable to some, but I could envision a scenario where even a moderator might decide that someone has become carried away with calling the G2G police about a perceived violation of rules that is just insignificant. Just my $0.02.
I diddo all of your 2 cents, Dennis! I messaged Pip this morning host of weekend chat, which is always personal and often off topic of geanealogy.  And humor abounds in the discussion, sometimes done with a bit of sarcasm, but always good natured and friendly from everything I have ever read. I guess better just close that down ? All things in life are subject to interpretation, who is the ultimate interpreter? And which offense is actually offensive, or just someone's interpretation of such.

 I have to admire the efforts being put into this whole concept and have to agree that those who flag messages should be required to pin to that flag / message the "violation" as it is outlined in the Rules For Discussion.  And suggest that if they do not specify the violation, that the flag be removed.'

  Further, if they do flag, they are required to notify the PM who posted that message, whether it is comment or answer or the question itself. And the PM who laid the complaint needs to be out in the open, also.  No one should be exempt.  Even the PM who unchecked being notified of responses must also receive a message about the violation, or perceived violation, and notice of who laid the complaint. 

One whole idea underlying this seems to be if you say it, you own it, whether for praise or condemnation. You are held accountable or any violation--  or perceived violation -- and you will be notified and you will know who made the complaint. 

I suggest this openness of who lays the complaint to tutor those who do lay complaints to avert over zealous application. At the same time, it is deemed wise to tutor people who participate in g2g about what is acceptable. 

I look forward to seeing how all this plays out over the balance of 2020. 

First of all, I was really torn between posting here or the one above.   After a lot of reading and re-reading I chose this one because of what took place today in the IT hearings.  To me it pointed out the stark contrast of how two people can see the same thing and have vastly different reactions.  

I liked the softening of the tone and the idea of a trial period.  It is obvious you spent a lot of time fine tuning this draft taking a lot of the sentiments expressed in the first version into consideration.   So thank you for listening!

There are words that different cultures use that have vastly different meanings or tonality.  What to one person is a non inflammatory description to another may be taken as an affront.   How will the rules be applied so we don't deteriorate into a world of word police on G2G?   Are we to expect some allowance for the different phrasings used by different cultures, age groups, and regional acceptability?  Style and tone when moderated can be taken as censorship and I don't think that is your intent.  I ask this because as we grow internationally we have to realize that we have cultures where word policing is taken as a threat.  Language is imperfect and fraught with problems.  

Language and style are often generational.  If you see that a higher number of members of a specific demographic are being flagged or needing moderation, will you take into consideration that what you may have is a cultural bias at work and not an intent to create a problem?  I ask this because we have a diverse community and sometimes we have members in a specific demographic group that may be viewed as rude, abrupt, too direct, or other unkind labels.  When in reality they are simply expressing themselves in what in their age group or culture is socially acceptable. 

These language issues can lead to disagreements.  Are good debates that explore all sides of an issue OK or are they going to be viewed as controversial?   Is controversy always bad?   I am thinking about the two issues which come up a lot...   naming conventions that do not fit the first, middle, and last name fields and locations.  I recognize that WT has made decisions based on human programming resources and database constraints not to add more fields.  But discussion meant to explore other options of how to use existing fields might be useful as we bring on more and more international projects.  The new uses of existing fields by the Scotland project is an example.  I believe several other projects have done something similar in using the existing fields differently from what the field is labeled.  An example might be a discussion to rename the name fields to something less constraining to multiple cultures.

I noticed several responses referred to the Weekend Chat as not being allowed under the rules.   Now, my reading of the rules seemed to set that aside as a "chat" where off topic and banter is allowed.  Can you please verify that my understanding is correct?  Answered by Eowyn to a question Pip posted specific to the Weekend Chat below)

Thanks again for taking the time to listen and soften the approach.  My concerns are more about making sure there is enough flexibility in application of the rules to allow for a free exchange of ideas that reflect cultural tolerance.  

Nicely explained Laurasmiley

I would remove the word "unintentionally" from this portion:

If any topic unintentionally causes a controversy and it does not need to be discussed as part of our genealogy collaboration the message(s) should be edited, removed, or hidden.

Unfortunately, some posts are intentionally controversial.

I think "unintentionally" needs to remain in that statement.  For those "intentionally controversial" posts, it is obvious.  It is the unintentionally controversial poster that needs to be protected. 

I mean no offense by anything I have said, but apologise in case offense is taken.

The rules state profiles and G2G discussions.  I think Google groups should also be stated as being included.  They are an extension of G2G because they are associated with wikitree projects, etc.

Controversy eliminated or averted or suppressed seems to be the goal -- and in that case, if that is the goal, if that is the desired end result , then whether it may have been intentional or it may have been unintentional is not relevant. 

Can anyone, with certainty, presume to judge whether it was intentional or unintentional? Almost anyone, on the other hand, can judge whether the effect of what was said was Controversy.  We have seen Controversy in neighborhoods, among family and among friends and on Television etc so we are most of us familiar with the signs of Controversy. But not necessarily the signs of Intent. 

Wikitree is all about collaboration. I would like see unintentionally left in as there is a world of difference between controversy and disagreement. I would hate to see people become so inhibited that they don't collaborate, because they feel like the forum is over-policed. There are certain subjects that we all know are not appropriate, and it's easy enough to tell whether it's legitimate for the purpose of genealogical research or someone's personal agenda. To confirm the intent it might be better send a private message to address the issue even if it was posted publicly. If someone feels there is an intent to embarrass them or pile-on for a simple unintended mistake, you may lose valuable input.
+21 votes

No, I do not agree with this proposal.

If you don't agree with this at all, vote up this answer and comment here.

by Chris Whitten G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
Still don't agree. Despite the rewording of Rule 1, it still prevents anyone from talking about areas that they want to share with the community in the Weekend Chat's. Because you have two sets of rules which get overruled with this proposal (Weekend Chat, The Treehouse, this proposal)

"Preclude all mentions of church and state?" Ummm okay... At what point will we try to make these help pages easy enough for people to read without having to refer to a dictionary and a search engine to figure what was referenced (such as piece mentioned)?

And let's acknowledge that this is because of me, yes?
Rule 1 is much too vague to qualify as a rule. Not does there appear to be supporting policy which the "rule" enforces. As it stands, is predictably and avoidably problematic.

Note: To avoid hijacking of this answer, I created a separate answer.
Taken literally, I cannot help more than three individuals on G2G in an hour.  Secondly, I often answer, do further research and expand on my response (edit responses).  I've lost too messages while doing further research and had to re-create the reply.  I am unlikely to participate in G2G at all if these rules are instituted, but one fewer pilot will make little difference to the community.

Edited to add:  In responding to the Biobuilders' challenge it often takes four tries to post the message appropriately (message too large; word processor coding may or may not show up and need to be deleted, 50+ links need to be added and you don't want to finish 48 and have a problem (interim saves)).  If I am called-out for this even once, I will leave Wikitree entirely.  I refuse to do all this work and have it hidden.

Edited to add to the right answer.
Kathy, I'm not sure how the problems you've seen in creating a post apply to these rule changes. It seems that's more of a technical issue than a policy issue.

Also, the 3-messages-per-hour policy is for things that are potentially controversial. A typical genealogy question wouldn't fall into that category.
Absolutely Chris, this is improved. I just posted about some chats where we talk freely about a wide range of topics.  Humor is my main concern, I for one have trouble not being slightly humorous. How do I know if others are getting my humor and the use of small sarcasm is rather built in, usually against myself of course. Humor and especially  what is considered sarcasm is super subjective.  If implementation, many of us will just refrain from most G2G I think for fear of a over sensitive person turning something into a case .
Actually, the way I interpreted the 3 answer rule (perhaps better as "guideline") would be towards a single person on a single thread. And I don't think it's intended as a "you can't" but as a "you should be considerate towards" by allowing someone an opportunity to respond, where a response would seem appropriate. Something along these lines wouldn't seem to apply where you're providing 1 response per source you've uncovered, where responses are not really necessary.

At least that's how I see that rule being applied/interpreted. Maybe I'm seeing it wrong.
It is better than the first draft, but I still don't like it.

For example the "Don't change the other's topic." As I said in the other discussion, it can happen that a little aspect of a point needs an answer. So then the discussion changes to that aspect. Is that already "derailing"? That stays completely unclear. #

The "Don't criticize anyone" is also hmmm. I am often very clear in my opinions about some ideas and get in RL criticized for my directness. So what will happen if I criticize the ideas of someone in a very direct way (as that is the way I am) but the other one cannot cope with my directness and considers it against him/herself? What is the mechanism to check if there was a personal attack or if it was something against the ideas? Will there be a mechanism "after so and so much complaints there has to be a mentoring process?" If that is the case, I will reduce my time on G2G even more than I already did in the past few weeks.

The "check your speed" is also something I disagree with. There are sometimes discussions concerning genealogy or especially WikiTree policies that develop that fast, that you HAVE TO BE fast to get the reply to the person the answer is directed to.  You seem to assume that someone who answers fast answers thoughtless. But that is not always the case. And as others have said, sometimes you edit your post, find more information, you do get another idea where someone could look or whatever.

No, I don't agree with this

This will be my only post to this thread, as I am otherwise on an agreed break from G2G.

 The revised rules appear to be a step in the right direction.  The rules and their application are now on two separate pages and the scary warnings are gone--for example:  "These rules are strict...beyond most cultural norms...we expect many accidental violations..."  The prohibition against rapid posting has been modified to apply to heated discussions only.  The prohibition on mentioning living people is, sensibly, refined to allow mention of authors' names, for example.

 I was especially pleased to see the statement "There is no need to intervene, report or track most accidental violations."

 Some specific recommendations:

 • Add to "Guidance for Members" on the Application page the statement Dennis Barton has proposed above ("...G2G is a public forum with worldwide participation..."), and add to that a statement such as the one suggested by Robin Lee:  "Remember that not all WikiTree members speak English as their first language; nuances in different languages may be the source of a misunderstanding.  Seek to understand the situation."

 • It should be required, and the requirement enforced, that any time a post is hidden, the person who posted must be informed that the post was removed, and why (as Melanie Paul has noted here).  In fact, that is in the existing guidelines for Moderators:  "If the post is from an active member...send them an email or private message about why you hid the comment."  I can state from personal experience that that is not always (or even usually) done.

 •  Rule 2, "Don't Criticize Anyone" is far too broad.  It should be sufficient to say "Don't insult, accuse, or attack anyone."  Isn't there a place for constructive criticism, such as profile reviews that people request on G2G from time to time?

•  On the Application page, sample messages should be refined.  I fear the example message "This is an important issue but I worry that it could cause an unnecessary controversy" might be read as trying to stifle all controversy and debate.

 •  There should be training for, and oversight of, the Moderators (and others who exercise their power in editing G2G) to ensure fair and reasonable application of the rules.

 I'm afraid these rules are still going to have a chilling effect on G2G. 

Edited to fix typo.

Rule 1 is going to need special banners when this rule can be bypassed. (such as weekend chat) Otherwise it is a signal to many here to "shut up". I doubt this is it's intent.

Rule 2 has blocked constructive criticism as well. A more apt rule would be "no malicious and willful character attacks". But then again even this is subjective.

Rule 3 makes sense except for Celebrities. This seriously puts a damper on "Notables".

Rule 4 and 5 would make sense if there was a "do it here" section. Even friends argue but WikiTree makes sure everyone CAN'T so instead it festers until someone goes unhinged.

I have 2 statements I go by.

"I have the right to offend. You have the right to be offended. You do not have the right to silence me because of your offendedness." (except now on WikiTree)

and "If you think I insulted you, I didn't. If I insult you I will leave no doubt."

Being "PC" (politically correct) is killing humanity due to the actions of the perpetually offended. They say "Laughter is the best medicine" but many are deliberately trying to destroy that to spread misery. We shouldn't need more rules, we need the return of common courtesy.

"I have the right to offend. You have the right to be offended. You do not have the right to silence me because of your offendedness."

Steven I'm going to disagree with you on two points.  First on the above comment: you don't have the right to offend by being discourteous.  You have that right if you're on a street corner professing your politics, if you're writing on your own blog, or if you're writting an editiorial for your local newspaper.  If you're in my living room and you insult me, I can ask you to leave.  If you insult people in the living room of a virtual community, you can be asked to leave.  

There is nothing "politically correct" about it, at Wikitree it is part of the Honor Code.

IV.  We know misunderstandings are inevitable. We try to minimize them by being courteous to everyone, even those who don't act accordingly.

Someone asking you to leave their living room because you insulted them is not the same thing as silencing you.

Being "PC" (politically correct) is killing humanity due to the actions of the perpetually offended.

I have seen many times in the last two months that there will be a "chilling effect" in the G2G forum if new rules are enacted.  I will argue that the chiling effect is already here and has been for some time.  I have several cousins who have shared with me that they stopped frequenting G2G becuse they were tired of the bickering and political arguments.  One longtime member and former leader pointed me to a G2G thread from two years ago and indicated that this was their "I'm done" moment.  Discourtesy allowed may be the difference between folks leaving or staying.

I don't come to Wikitree to argue and to be insulted.  I come to do genealogy.  This isn't a political website, it ins't a news site, it is a genealogy site.  I believe that if we stick to genealogy and leave the rest at Facebook or Reddit we will have a smoother time of it.

In closing, I'll repeat Mindy's comments from the last discussion:

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.

You know, SJ, I suspect we could trot out analogies all day long to support whatever position it is we're trying to support.  I will spot you the point that you may ask a visitor in your living room to leave, for whatever reason you wish.  If I'm an innocent bystander in you living room, and am not sure what offense was committed by the ejected party, I may wonder about your motives.  If I see that happening regularly, I think I might conclude that your living room is not really a very friendly place to be, in spite of your assurances that you want it to be the friendliest living room on the street, and that's why you need to police everyone's behavior.  If I (and my friends that I talk to outside your living room) perceive that we must walk on eggshells in your living room, or that your perception of discourtesy and offense to others seems a little erratic or uneven, we may exercise our right to just decline to visit your living room any more.  You may or may not have noticed that some of this is already happening in your virtual living room.
What Dennis said. And you will note I never once said that rights don't have consequences. Even in your Living Room I have the right to be an idiot. Then of course you have the right to ask me to leave. But I wasn't making the statement to cover willful rudeness. If I make a joke about a deer being "Supper on the hoof", most get the reference to hunting. But a PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals) member or a vegan may still find offense. Both are fine until you try to punish me for something that you chose to call offensive. People are getting fired over jokes and that ain't kewl.

I agree with Steven, it seems the "offense" imposed upon the "offender" these days unfortunately would never have been an offensive statement only a short few years ago.  It would have been just a joke, or a viewpoint that you had the right to have.!  Now you either don't say a word to people you don't know well.  Or, you nervously go over and over, and over a pre-thought-out speech before you speak or type to see if someone anywhere might  find offense with something anything..........   And invariably  someone somewhere will find something to point out.  Our world is not becoming global , it's becoming closed off and smaller, ........tribalized.  Not in the sense of anything to do with any tribe, so don't PC the statement.  Just in the sense of we have begun stick to our own group of known friends and family afraid to venture away from our "tribe".  And so yes, most will shy from G2G automatically anyway, and then with all words and speech examined, might as well just be known that the participation rate will become pretty small.

+12 votes

This is much better than the 1st draft.  Thank you, Chris.

I have only one question re: #3.  I often link to WikiTree pages to show people where they can find particular information, specifically the Surnames page for an individual when discussing their own autosomal DNA.  My assumption has always been that if it is a link to a public WikiTree page, it is ok. If that assumption is correct, I would like to see a comment in this section that linking to WikiTree publicly available pages is ok, perhaps after the statement, "WikiTree profiles of living people, except profiles for members, are kept strictly private (Unlisted). However, all G2G posts and profile comments, even comments on private profiles, are public. Therefore, do not discuss living people's genealogy or other personal information in comments."

by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (618k points)
Thank you, Chris, and others for making good changes and explanations in this 2nd edition.  I also support the idea of a 2-month "trial run" period.  I agree with both Robin Lee and Kitty about 1) those for whom English is not a 1st language - need some mention/explanation 2) Kitty's comment about not discussing Living People who have profiles here unless they are WikiTree members.
Hi Kitty. Can you (or Chet) explain more what you're asking for here? You're talking about public replies to people who ask questions about their own genealogy? That is fine (and should be covered by the "You can discuss yourself, and others can participate in a discussion about you that you initiated" exception). Or are you talking about something else?

A little different. Sometimes the conversation is more general such as a discussion about DNA. I often give a link to the person's Surname list (https://www.wikitree.com/treewidget/Whitten-1/10) as an example of their own autosomal matches, less often to their DNA ancestors (https://www.wikitree.com/treewidget/Whitten-1/89).  In this case, we are not discussing your DNA, but I have linked to your DNA pages as examples.

What I am proposing is that a link to any public WikiTree page be an exception with the assumption that if it is public on WikiTree, it has been approved for use in the G2G comments.

Hi Kitty. Using URLs is never a problem. I wouldn't want to encourage talking about what is on the page, though, unless you are speaking to someone about their own genealogy.
I am not sure I understand.  I think URLs in general are a problem such as links to WWII draft records or links to marriage records for possibly living people.  That is why I prefer a blanket Public WikiTree links are ok. The permissions have already been approved by the Profile Manager.  If there is a concern, the privacy settings can be changed by the Profile Manager.

But, it is your ballgame.  What ever you think is best because you know the background details and I don't.
+11 votes

Rule 1 Stay On Topic (Avoid unnecessary controversy)  

"avoid controversial topics that are unnecessary for genealogy collaboration. In particular, avoid contemporary politics and religion." 

It's not clear to me what is considered "contemporary politics". I understand that might mean WikiTree is not a platform to push a candidate, try to influence an election, discuss political performance, or to seek support for, or rant about, an issue that is personaly being pursued. Really, no matter where in the world they have contemporary relevance.

Human created events such as war and treaties, voting rights, laws and regulation, and civil liberties are by definition political. They are also critical, to understanding the times and influences our ancestors lived in and under.

Many WikiTree members write profiles that include historical stories and events that shaped our lives and times. If we restrict profiles to personal events, we lose the context of the times.

Many of those political events have carried over to "contemporary politics", making discussion of those events of limits. If they are off limits on G2G, they should be off limits in profiles.

To me that means it is time to remove badges for military service (what is more political than war?), notables, achievement in political office, business achievement, and group membership (country and religion). And equally develop "rules" for the "G2G Photos".

While I suspect that my interpretation may not be the intent, I think more clarification on "contemporary politics and religion" means, would avoid "unnecessary conflict".

by Peter Geary G2G6 Mach 5 (51.8k points)

Peter, I do not see where the rules are saying that discussion of historical politics, relevant to the profiles of our ancestors, is being discouraged.  Nor would I translate any of these rules to mean that we need to remove historical markers or text that describe the political activity of our ancestors.

THAT said, I can imagine that we, as a community, may have to discuss issues related to, for example, racism, especially in the United States.  The history of this country, and the profiles of some number of our ancestors, is closely tied to the enslavement of other human beings; this history remains "alive" today and is being expressed on today's streets throughout the world, actually.  Today's expression of this history is calling on us to be mindful of how we describe history, what words we use to refer to enslaved people, what policy decisions get made about naming conventions, etc. It's going on right now, literally. 

Yes, we need to be cautious and respectful in those conversations.  But some of these conversations will undoubtedly feel political in the context of these rules.  It is in that grey area where the implementation will be tested.

For example, we may, as an exercise, want to run this 2017 post through the new rules:



Thanks for the comment.

To my thinking, what separates WikiTree from alternatives are the profiles that include life and times.

I think the 'gray areas' require clarification in rule 1 before implementation. As it stands, "contemporary politics and religion"  leaves too much for interpretation, both for those who wish to follow the rules, and those who try to enforce them. A 2-month-trial may or may not flush out a better definition, equally rule 1, more than any other rule, may have a lasting chilling effect.

Regarding words and policy about naming in profiles:

Given that I had what I believed thoughtful question about word use deleted as being "too political", I can't comment beyond saying that it is an issue WikiTree must get in front of, before it is too far behind to recover. I believe that every organization, especially social media platforms, need to have well developed policy to protect themselves and their users.

Personally, Rule 1 has already had a chilling effect on both my G2G participation, and editing bio's beyond simply cutting and pasting citations. I look forward to well defined guidelines and boundaries.

In my opinion, rule 1 as it stands, is predictably and avoidably problematic.
I agree this is a bit vague. I wonder how it would be applied to the recent conversation about the appropriate acronym for Find-a-Grave, for instance. Then there's words that show up in old documents and even census forms that would not be appropriate to use today. Is it okay to put those words in a bio, in context, or to quote it in G2G?

For example, we may, as an exercise, want to run this 2017 post through the new rules:


I suggest a new thread if this is to be discussed in greater depth.

That post would not pass the new rules.  I don't think that this post would pass just based on the Honor Code:

IV. We know misunderstandings are inevitable. We try to minimize them by being courteous to everyone, even those who don't act accordingly.

The post is condescending and the attached document is inflamatory and, as some have described, racist.  People come to Wikitree to do genealogy, not to be lectured that they need to be reeducated based solely on the color of their skin. The author knows nothing about all of the people in the described group nor of their values.  To assign a value to a group of people based on their race is the exact definition of racism.

Looking at it according to the Help:Discussion Rules (draft) page:

Point 1. "Avoid unnecessary controversy"

From the attached text:

This guide assumes that readers are comfortable deconstructing race, talking about racism, and examining participation in racialized systems of oppression. Race needs to be named, and “color-blindness” is an unhelpful remedy to entrenched societal racism. If you are put off by the terms “white,” “privilege,” “racism,” or the general premise of this document, then this guide is not for you --- at least not for right now. Instead, you may want to seek out general resources on racism, white privilege, and growing as anti-racist allies. Go explore your questions. Deal with whatever emotions come up. And when you come back to integrate what you’ve learned about race into your genealogical work, this resource list will be here for you.

By the author's own admission, this text is contoversial.

The idea of "entrenched societal racism" is subjective and a topic that is far from resolved in the political forum and in the academic world.

From the post:

I created the following document for people who identify as white who want to learn how to act in anti-racist ways while doing genealogy:

This implies that an entire group of people are engaged in racist behavior.

This and the next quote below would violate the new rule #2: Do not insult, accuse, or criticize any person or group of people in a public message.

White privilege is endemic to doing genealogy in the United States in the 21st century...

en•de•mic ĕn-dĕm′ĭk

  • adj.

    Prevalent in or limited to a particular locality, region, or people.

  • adj.

    Native to or limited to a certain region.

  • adj.

    Common in or inherent to an enterprise or situation.

"White privelege" is also subjective and disputed (both in academia and politically).  The term is politically derisive and has no place in a forum governed by the honor code.

The text has a quote that reads:

"White people, no one is asking you to apologize for your ancestors. We are asking you to dismantle the systems they built and you maintain."

The quote just accused all "white people" (if such a group can be defined) of maintaing systemic racism.

Help:Discussion Rules (draft)
2. Don't criticize anyone. 

Do not insult, accuse, or criticize any person or group of people in a public message.

And SJ's response indicates the difficulty of implementing this rule. SJ reads the original post one way, and I read it completely differently as I've expressed in that thread.

Jillaine, it is exactly the opposite and I have to respectfully disagree with you.  The post has already been controversial judging by the flags it has received and that it has been hidden and then reshown.  Moderation of posts like this can be subjective.  Under the new rules posts that violte the proposed discussion rules would be disallowed.

The post violates the new proposed rules in several ways and if a post like this were to be created after the new rules were to go into effect, the result would be to hide the post or ask the author to re-word it.

In addition to my previous comment, I forgot to mention that this post would also violate the new rule #1 in that it discusses contemporary politics: "... avoid controversial topics that are unnecessary for genealogy collaboration. In particular, avoid contemporary politics..."  

The proposed rules lay out guidance for how to handle posts that violate the new proposed rules:

"If any topic unintentionally causes a controversy and it does not need to be discussed as part of our genealogy collaboration the message(s) should be edited, removed, or hidden."

If the information in the post is necessary for genealogical collaboration, the author would need to find a way to post it without insulting a large portion of the population by accusing them of maintaining systemic racism or suggesting that they are themselves racist.

My opinion remains that as it stands, "rule 1" is predictably and avoidably problematic. Way too much interpretation is required both for the posting users and the moderators. To me, this means that things will be made up as we go. We risk that folks on all sides will rationalize in defense of their interpretation.

Rule 5, (No Venting or Ranting) covers part of the issue that I think is trying to be addressed. In this context, Rule 1 seems to be a specific content example of Rule 1.

Honest, I just don' know what 'contemporary politics' or 'necessary for genealogical collaboration' means. In the main, I have my own ideas, but in the detail, not so much I can claim I understand. To develop that understanding, I would need to hear what others think, and have that discussion.

My biggest challenge in understanding comes from two areas.

1. To me, as it is written, rule 1 is not clear enough to follow. WikiTree profiles include the recording and celebration of many events that today incites many folks. Does discussing those events (dates, participants, badges, notables, etc), even in a historical make context, pass 'rule 1'?

2. While I recognize that the rules are intended for G2G, outside the honour code, I can find no similar rules for profiles. Which, by and large, are not moderated. (Please correct me if I am wrong). In absence of similar profile guidelines, the G2G rules appear to be the default.

I don't have an understanding of why the rules are being proposed at this exact time. I do believe that "rule 1" is predictably and avoidably problematic, with WikiTree implications that go far beyond G2G, making it seem to me like there is a rush to get something done.

I do agree, WikiTree needs policies, including warnings that some viewers may find some of the content offensive.

It's not an unsolvable issue. I just don't see 'rule 1' as being helpful, and perhaps causes more harm than good.

Full disclosure: I have been cited for violating "Rule 1" on a deleted question asking for clarification of word use.

SJ, I get that you and I disagree on this subject. And that's the problem. You and I are both g2g moderators. You see it one way and I see it completely differently. (And I see both agreement and disagreement by others on that thread.) And I doubt either one of us is going to convince the other. (And we shouldn't use this thread to do so.) 

But what is related to this thread is about enforcement and implementation of the rules: How can we, as g2g moderators, then decide on it when we have really quite polar opposite opinions about it? 

I believe, in the earlier thread about the rules, Eowyn said that it would be this kind of issue that would need to be worked out on the otherwise largely inactive moderators google group.

The racism thread refers to a document that undoubtedly  uses stark and perhaps  polemical language but is that wrong? 

White privilege as a  concept is far from new and at least in my part of the world acknowledged, if not acted upon , within governmental reports.(anecdote time, I remember, probably in the 1980s, an 11 year old black pupil of mine was stopped, searched , told he was lying about his age, taken to a police station, locked in a cell alone until his parents arrived. He was a kind, loving and polite child.  It frightened him  'why didn't they believe me miss? he cried ' . What to answer?, I knew this sort of thing didn't happen to my son or my friend's sons, didn't even fear it could happen. Why do you think this was? )

   I think discusions about who and what we focus on are important to the greater inclusivity of this site. Genealogy does not occur in a vacuum. It  is an historical discipline and inevitably historical events  will  be evaluated and re-evaluated. ( In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean blue. He 'discovered America' or  he got lost, came back with booty and introduced European diseases to the peoples he and his men encountered?) 

On wikitree.

 Why are Magna Carta barons and our connections to this band lauded ?  ( as far as I am concerned their great charter gave them rights but excluded the vast majority of the population who were  serfs.)

 Why do we seek to document every Member of the British parliament with n'er a mention of the way their wealth had been generated? 

Why do we have a profile for Florence Nightingale ( a woman without descendants)but not one for Mary(Grant) Seacole? ( at least one I could find. My bet is that her name didn't come up when we were children. ( unless we were a UK school from about  the 1990s onwards) 

Why does a 19th c British emigrant to 'South Africa' have only 2 wives?  This man had half a dozen more wives albeit without the sanction of the Church of England. He begat many children .There  are  now mulitudes of descendants  who are inextricably intertwined with the political history of that country http://www.apc.uct.ac.za/apc/projects/ancestral-stories/descendents-founders-durban-fynns-today

compare with the man's history in an otherwise well documented family genealogy https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/records/item/358798-redirection7

On wikitree,  we perpetuate the colonial myth, even if we don't want to. Big problem is how to do it, wives with no surnames, no dates though recorded in official documentation.

These issues are about genealogy but are also political. We should be adult enough to discuss any such  subjects without ad hominem attacks. Censoring subject matter  simply because it is considered  political  ( where? by whom?) is a policy of shove it under the carpet; a  weak response to maintain the status quo


Thanks for a fantastic and candid post, and for having the courage to include specific examples. You gave me lots to think about. Thank you.

WikiTree is not the first group (organization?) that will have to put policies in place and rules with moderators to help navigate them. We can learn from others who are well ahead of WikiTree (there has go to be some), and seek the counsel and advice of groups in the population that are working, sometimes successfully, too many times not, to be heard.

It remains my view that an implementable solution can be found. However, while G2G is great for raising issues, I am doubtful that the text-based forum is fit-for-purpose in finding those solutions.

Yet, unfortunately, for the vast majority of WikiTree members, this forum is the only WikiTree platform only available, and rule 1 shuts that option down. Worse still, WikiTree membership likely does not include (perhaps even excludes) many of those whose input we all would benefit from.  

To achieve the goal of "one tree", I see it as a need that not only do we listen to those who thoughts and experiences are so different,  but that we go one step further, and make sure all feel welcome as we all celebrate our ancestry and heritage. Controversy can be very beneficial.

IMHO, the forum 'rules', should be restricted to how to respectfully and earnestly have those discussions, and not the content. (there are of course spammers that seek any platform to sell a magic product, the vast majority of whom are well identified by a number of monitoring groups).


On a side note: In discussion with a main stream media expert, I asked for, and was given simple, yet effective advice, on how to avoid offending: Use an adjective, instead of just a noun.

For example: Don't say "Grays make such a mess." Do say "The gray cat made such a mess."


Please let me know, if there is a better WikiTree tool or method to have these conversations.
Thank you Helen for an excellent comment and for reminding us that the persons we choose to profile and how we profile them can in themselves be political choices.

One can choose to view any statement or action through a political lens, and allow that filter to attribute to others attitudes and motivations they don't hold.  These days it seems more and more people, both inside and outside WikiTree, make that choice.  Inside WikiTree, excessive political focus can easily lead to Point IV transgressions, through failing to assume good intentions, or through adopting a condescending 'if only you were better informed' attitude.  We should all try to remember that in these divided times, about half the people we encounter hold the opposite political views.

I feel that part of the problem that is being discussed is that we seem to have forgotten the purpose of WikiTree. We write the stories of our ancestors. We investigate the past and we cannot change it. We cannot go back and rewrite how records were kept. Many events or practices that happened in recorded history would be judged as unacceptable today, but they still happened.

One of my ancestors is described on a census as the town beggar; definitely not politically correct by today's standards, my grt grandfather's wife and children were completely ostracized by the rest of the family because he chose to convert to Catholicism. This had a huge impact on them, especially after he died and his wife had to beg for financial support.

My grandmother born 1895 was very upset that her son married someone with Irish ancestry.

Another ancestor probably took advantage of the independent nail makers in his town as he required them to buy their supplies from him, this benefited him only as his prices were inflated for this purpose.    

Another 2 x grt grandfather left Ireland because of the famine, yes, the British were to a large extent responsible for the wide spread impact on the Irish population, but we cannot go back and make them behave differently.

In the not too distant past, 1966, I was picked on at school because I was an immigrant to Canada. In 1984 a former boss asked why he should promote me as I was 'a red headed divorcee and a single parent' yes I was furious but I said nothing as I had 2 children to feed, clothe and house.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion on past events and practices whether they were good, bad or intolerable. Discussions of such practices should not be considered controversial.

To assign blame ex post facto to people who are alive today for historical practices that happened before they were born makes no sense and is I feel unacceptable.

Having heated discussions (as my mother would have said) or arguments about past events or practices does not change anything that happened.

The only thing we can do 'Is teach our children well' and make sure such abhorrent practices do not happen again.

If we edit our stories to make them conform to today's sensibilities, we will be writing fiction.
+9 votes

I'm fine with the proposal.  In the application section I tried this link expecting to get some kind of description of the 'three-message rule' .  It seemed to take me to an unrelated topic.

Just a note: since there's a disagreement here we should all observe the three-message rule on <https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Help:Discussion_Rules#4>.

Edit from SJ Baty: changed font color of link for visibility.

by Duff Bailey G2G1 (1.0k points)
edited by SJ Baty

It's the last paragraph :

If there is any chance that a discussion may become heated (even though you yourself do not feel emotional about it) slow things down with the three-message rule: don't post more than three separate responses within one hour. This will give others a chance to think about what you have written in a more cool and considered way.


Note that is says "If there is any chance that a discussion may become heated", not "you may only post three times in one hour" as the first draft did. 

+19 votes
I agree with the proposal. Just one thought, it would be nice to have this as a link on the Honor Code page that all members sign. I recently experienced several people join for the express purpose of making a comment on a profile and I don't think they realized that comments on profiles here are not like comments on posts elsewhere and things got heated pretty quickly. It would be nice that something is shown on the honor code page just to let them know we are different that other sites. Just my 2 cents. Thanks!
by Pattie Plummer-Everett G2G6 Mach 1 (12.4k points)
I agree completely! It would be very helpful to have the rules accessible on the Honor Code page.
+13 votes
I agree with the proposal. My two favorite topics are politics and religion but I will TRY to restrain myself here.
by Betty Fox G2G6 Pilot (176k points)
+12 votes
I agree 100%.
by Carol Sullivan G2G6 Mach 3 (34.2k points)
+12 votes
Thanks Chris......As a new member, I read the "Discussion Rules Draft" (helps me learn and support the best interests of WikiTree and the members).......and then I read the members comments (learned more)......however I am not voting, at present, instead, will continue to practice, learn and accept advice.......risky person that I am.    Jack   .....where's a smiley face when I need one?.....more learning...........
by John Thompson G2G6 Pilot (324k points)
+15 votes

I have seen several mentions of the Weekend Chat, of which presently I am a host. I wonder if all of these rules will be necessary for the Chat. Members are required to be courteous, etc., but very often responses come rather quickly, and generally the wide-open for any topics per the announcement each week. Pick any Chat and you will see the same announcement with these words at the end:

"Weekend Chat is for everyone. It's a place to catch up on what people are up to and to share what you've been doing.  New members can say hello, introduce themselves, ask questions, and meet each other.  Our seasoned members can share progress or successes from their projects, give tips and advice, or chime in on hot topics.

"Post as many answers and comments as you wish. It doesn't hurt anyone to post a lot and enjoy the multitude of topics."

It seems that some of the rules for G2G discussion might not apply to the Chat. Just looking for clarification as no one has responded to concerns that mention the Chat.


by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.6m points)
Hi Pip, the Weekend Chat should be fine. :)

Rule 1 talks about "chat" posts and the Tree House regarding how those areas are for most any topic. We just want to try and avoid controversial topics.

The 3-message rule is intended if there is controversy brewing in a thread to hopefully slow it down and prevent it from escalation. People posting in the Weekend Chat shouldn't need to use that (I would hope! )
Thanks, Eowyn. I agree! And, I appreciate your response.

Rule 1 didn't mention the Chat specifically, and that is why I was asking for clarification.
Thanks for getting this clarification Pip!    We certainly can get off topic in the Chat,  but personally that's what I'm hoping for!

Yes I agree Peggy, when I am able to participate, the fun,  often humourous conversation about whatever, makes it the reason I checked insmiley .  I also thank you for the clarification question , Pip. And thank you for the guidance answer Eowyn. All rules have a small list of exception I believe .

+9 votes
I am not a big user of G2G so don't feel strongly on this topic.  For the most part I've thought G2G was pretty civilized.  Still, I have seen off-topic responses and hurt feelings, and I understand there is stuff handled by g2g moderators that I may not be aware of, so am ok with trying something to see if we can improve things.
by Paul Gierszewski G2G6 Mach 8 (84.6k points)

Ditto. I relate to Paul ... and without back-story, I'm not sure how voting will impact other users and if it will inadvertently increase bias and redundancy or not. 

# 1 is a common standard ... but if a user doesn't craft a title in a way that gets them the feedback they're looking for and they have no idea what the categories/tags mean, then the problem exists from the start. And due to the superb SEO of G2G ... that thread is boosted online. So it's a catch-22.

#2 "Criticize" ... prob. too ambiguous. 

For example ... "No trolling" or "no personal attacks" are more specific, and tend to get out of the way of "constructive criticism".

# 3. Absolutely. It's an important standard and G2G is programmed to boost threads in search engines, so yeah ...

# 4. Unclear... had no idea what it meant and I was forced  to take another click which revealed that the system might be bogged down. While the community can assist... it's  a tech issue. 

# 5. Yes but sometimes No. Some rants fall under # 2 but then there's some G2G rants that are helpful and some are even great for WikiTree's own R&D. 

+10 votes

I like the revised rules, with one exception, not using sarcasm. Not to say that it shouldn't be a rule, but I'm afraid I (and many others) often use sarcasm. I'd like to think I'm aware enough to be able to tell when it's not acceptable, but I worry that I won't! frown The rest of the revisions are well done, and should do well on the trial period.  Go Chris! smiley

by Lisa Linn G2G6 Mach 8 (87.8k points)
Couldn't we use sarcasm tags, à la <sarcasm>Insert sarcastic comments here</sarcasm>?  And that's not a sarcastic suggestion.
Excellent idea! I wonder how that could work? Maybe insert that possibility on the format bar. It would be better if it was there than if you had to type it out every time, and then people would know it's there to use.
+6 votes

The rules sound good to me as they are. As far as emoticons go, I can do without them. But that's just me wink

by Dave Shaffer G2G6 (8.2k points)
+11 votes
While WikiTree is making new rules for G2G, or codifying existing standards, I would like to add one that doesn't seem to fit under any of the five categories:  Tell the Truth in Your Question.  For example, a question that falsely states 'I have no other information' violates Honor Code Point II directly.  In addition, such a question is discourteous in that it induces members to waste time chasing information already known to the questioner.  I believe that making this standard clear and explicit would add great value to G2G.
by Living Tardy G2G6 Pilot (749k points)

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