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A malcontent has snuck into a community and established a base. Perhaps the malcontent is a troll, deliberately trying to cause trouble. Perhaps the malcontent is a useful contributor having problems adjusting to CommunityExpectations. The CommunityDoesNotAgree, at least not universally. If not dealt with somehow, the malcontent threatens to tear the community apart.

Therefore, apply a temporary CommunityExile on the malcontent of 24 hours. The malcontent has the next move:

The community may still disagree over whether the temporary exile should have been applied, but that decision is in the past, and is made irrelevant by events, and will therefore rapidly die off. For free, the temporary exile gives emotions time to cool, on all sides. The exile could be absolute, but it could also follow the style of AutomaticSandbox.

Compare TrialByFire?


Absolute requirements. Don't leave home without them.

Because the CommunityMustAgree about the exiling process, even though they initially disagree about whether the person involved should be exiled, you really need decent FairProcess and OpenProcess. Thus, when the temporary exile is applied, the authority should post or point to some unambiguous statement like "failing to abide by the terms of this one day suspension, including by creating a new account, will result in the immediate application of a one week suspension".

HTwoGTwo uses this as the basis for pretty much all their exiles. This works for them because (a) the exile process was designed with community involvement, so the community agrees with it; (b) the BBC is the undisputed authority and owner of the community, and regularly exercises that authority in a variety of ways. See the transgressions section of h2g2:HouseRules? and also h2g2:HouseRules?-Transgressions.

If you don't have these, any attempt to apply the TrialByExile pattern will likely make things worse. In these cases, any attempt to apply TrialByExile will divide the community, rather than uniting it.


Beware that the price you pay for uniting the community may be the creation of a monster. Beware that if you got into this mess once, you may get into it again, so try to identify the roots of the conflict. Beware that the need to uphold a strong CommunityExpectation that the exiling process must be respected voids the opportunity to ForgiveAndForget, reduces flexibility, and has other downsides comparable to other LegalSolutions.

Who fails the trial?

In a voluntary, non-work related community such as WikiPedia, why wouldn't someone just wait 24 hours? They can't be that addicted.

Yes, it's easy to just wait 24 hours. That's what makes the CommunityExpectation against breaching the temporary exile strong. And yet some people won't wait, because:

These people are precisely the ones that you don't want in your community.

The above text is PrimarilyPublicDomain

It seems to me like it's an antipattern. The community has already created an emotional bond with the individual under trial, hence the trial. The bond isn't a positive one, but it's tangible enough. Notice how you later talk about how the exile is a transformative process on each party's emotions. A trial is punishment in and of itself: don't PunishReputation, instead DissuadeInteraction -- SunirShah

There certainly is a bond, but the bond is the cause of the trial, not the consequence. It's easy to say that you shouldn't get into that position in the first place, but sometimes you form a bond by accident or misjudgement, and sometimes you form a bond with someone who changes (or maybe you change). In a large community, such bonds are an unwelcome fact of life.

Simple DissuadeReputation is an alternative, of course. But while TrialByExile is unpleasant, hence the medieval feel of its name, it's not an attempt to PunishReputation. Rather, it's an attempt by the community to evaluate the user, and it offers the user a chance to evaluate the community. If the trial is failed, then the user can excercise her RightToLeave, and the community can be united in practicing DissuadeReputation or CommunityExile according to whether it's hard or soft. --MartinHarper

I think you're equivocating the term "evaluation" with the word "trying". Evaluations are informative instruments; they are by themselves value neutral (*), although that usually means they are constructive. Trials are are judgmental instruments, and thus are selective. Selection against is an over destructive action, whereas selection in favour is an overt constructive action. It would be difficult after the trial to revoke your verdict as that would invalidate the expense of having gone through the trial, hence the trial is dichotomizing. BuildInTolerance.

(*) Please let's not get deconstructionist here. We all know that evaluations are not value neutral, but I'm trying to indicate relative degrees, not absolutes.

But sometimes an emotional bond does form. Let's take an extreme case where our lovable longtime Meatball contributors turn insane. Now suppose we wanted to decide whether to eject Alex for his allegedly snotty choice of a name for OddMuse? The first question is how did the conflict elevate to that point in the first place? Then the next question is what would be the consequences if he stayed. Clearly the person, say Scott, who decided to challenge Alex will be locked at the other end of the teeter-totter; Scott's reputation is on the line during the trial. If the community elects to keep Alex, then the microscope turns onto Scott. Why are Scott's values so flagrantly in opposition to our own that he would create such a violent disturbance?

Strangely, that's a much easier case to resolve because we all know each other. The much harder case is to judge "criminal" acts against TheCollective. The founding of FermentWiki is one example. That's an even better example because the CommunityDoesNotAgree, my initial reaction was also terrible, and the process of reconciliation has been thwarted--especially since it was merely the continuation of a longer series of problems. Those issues tend to generate a lot of text, and hopefully at the low-level these "crimes" really are, really ultimately just serve as experience to help us all grow.

I recognize that is a weak answer, and I could write some more about how effective our strategy of ForgiveAndForget has been, especially in view that I keep using it as a case example (unethically, perhaps). This is an interesting topic. Should be enough now to start a page? -- SunirShah

Ok, I'll concede that TrialByExile has an element of punishment, and in some cases is solely about punishment. Certainly it is a tool of GodKings: it doesn't matter that the decision can't be reversed, because the GodKing is essentially untouchable. I think it's important that the exile period must be large enough to be inconvenient, but small enough to be tolerable. 24 hours is sufficient.

There's a parallel to the UseRealNames gauntlet described at WhyUseRealNames. I find that policy mildly irritating, but I'm willing to submit to it, so I pass the ordeal. If I rejected it and posted as MyRedDice?, then I would fail the ordeal, and there would be consequences. Now, I know that there are other purposes to UseRealNames, but one of them is to weed out those who will submit to CommunityExpectations from those who will not. Similarly, where TrialByExile is applied there must be an CommunityExpectation that users must abide by the terms of their exile, even if the GodKing has made a horrible mistake. --MartinHarper

That parallel to UseRealNames is true in a way, but the analogy breaks down when you consider intent. While UseRealNames is a barrier to entry, TrialByExile is a tool to break people already involved. Moreover, the UseRealNames policy has an escape hatch for those who do not want to UseRealNames. TrialByExile is essentially absolute, failing the existance of SockPuppets. And, as a matter of obviousness, TrialByExile will encourage people to subvert (fuck!) the system by creating things as SockPuppets out of sheer discontented and malevolent spite. Anger begets anger. Violence begets violence.

And as you point out, it has a medieval character to it. It's not difficult to find stories of the exiled deciding to overthrow their oppressors as the only acceptable recourse. If they had another less violent option of reproach, the vast majority in those stories would likely have taken it. Revolutions are bad, and the way to avoid revolutions is the application of FairProcess. That means opening communication lines, not closing it down hard.

Then again, the preferred method of dealing with "malcontents" is to ignore the person away (DissuadeReputation), which is closing communications. This leaves me at a quandary. I'll have to think about this some more. -- SunirShah

There are escape hatches for the malcontent: one is time - wait 24 hours, and you can escape. Another is OutOfBand? communication with either the GodKing, or with your friends from the community. Another is to exercise your RightToLeave.

The medieval nature of the ordeal not withstanding, and accepting that it has hideous problems, I think it's the best solution I've seen for the problem. The fundamental challenge is that the CommunityDoesNotAgree - DissuadeReputation won't get you past that - if anything, it threatens to make the problem worse. --MartinHarper

I don't understand. In a voluntary, non-work related community such as WikiPedia, why wouldn't someone just wait 24 hours? They can't be that addicted.

I'm wondering, is it maybe something more like that 1) the target doesn't know in advance that all they have to do is wait 24 hrs, or 2) there can be situations where there is disagreement whether the person "initiating" TrialByExile against the target has the authority (i.e. Scott: "Alex, you're exiled for 24 hrs". Alex: "You can't do that! You know I've never liked TrialByExile anyway. CommunityDoesNotAgree!". Bayle: "Whoops, looks like you failed, Alex. Bye!")

If it's (1), this isn't OpenProcess, and if it's (2), that's even worse (because it was debatable whether the TrialByExile was even in effect at the time of the infraction).

-- BayleShanks

Answer to first point moved to document - "who fails the trial"

Your second point, regarding disagreement over the necessary authority, is really a key requirement: you couldn't apply TrialByExile on MeatballWiki, because there's no undisputed authority.

Martin: "I think Alex is causing too much trouble - he should go."
Bayle: "Agreed."
Scott: "Me too. Alex, you're exiled for 24 hrs".
Alex's sock puppet: "You can't do that! You know I've never liked TrialByExile anyway. CommunityDoesNotAgree!".
Bayle: "Whoops, looks like you failed, Alex. Bye!")
Martin: "Hang on, Scott's not BenevolentDictator here! He can't do that."
Scott: "Why not? I'm a CommunityMember, and I have a right to call these things."
Alex's sock puppet: "Martin's right: this wasn't FairProcess at all."
Bayle: "Go away Alex - you're a CommunityExile now."
Martin: "No he's not!"

So, previously you have a united community agreeing that Alex should leave, but because of the flawed application of TrialByExile by someone who's not an undisputed authority, you've ended up dividing that community, and Alex gets to remain under cover of the general confusion. --MartinHarper

My incredibly naive reaction to all this is "if someone's posting stupid stuff, just ignore them until they stop"; why all the big hoo-ha and tons of elaborate rituals and patterns and anti-patterns and labels and trials and stuff? Just ignore them. Is that really so hard that all this other elaborate stuff is easier? Sure, it can be an effort to ignore someone, but it seems unlikely that it's more effort than all this other stuff.

(If they're actually attacking on a non-verbal level, DoSing the server or setting a 'bot to erase pages or something, that's a different story; but I have the feeling that most of the above is worrying about people who "attack" just by virtue of the words that they post.)

Yours for simple solutions, *8) --DavidChess

David, you must really make the experience of being part of a community that is under some form of attack. There may be various form of defense, better and worse, TrialByExile is probably worse ... but, ignoring won't work. Let's assume that you are the founder. If you ignore it, you signal silent agreement, you in fact accept what he is doing. If you ignore it, you who knows how to react correctly, how to interpret the rules of the community, others won't ignore it, who are less able to do so. They will only make things go worse and you will have to react. Whatever you do, there is no ignoring. -- HelmutLeitner

Well, I have in fact been part of a community "under attack", multiple times in the twenty or so years that I've been involved in online communities; that experience is where my advice to ignore the stupid behavior comes from: I've found it usually the most effective strategy. But you're right, of course, that it isn't always the right solution. Sometimes the solution is to ignore the stupid part, and act as though the person has said a rational and polite reconstruction of what they actually said; that is, engage the ideas that they'r putting forward, but ignore the obnoxious tone in which they were said. Bystanders will have no trouble getting the message of the behavior that you're modelling! I've never seen a community where elaborate rituals involving 24-hour exiles and trials and so on actually worked. But maybe I just haven't happened upon any, or maybe it's a new idea that will turn out to be stellar once implemented. *8) Worth a try, I suppose. --DavidChess

I think this page is worthless, pure speculation. It would never work in practice, but I ignored it. :-) If by "ignore" you mean "partially ignore" then I fully agree. Half of the "art of online communication" seems to be about "what to ignore". -- HelmutLeitner

Quoting from the DocumentMode: HTwoGTwo uses this as the basis for pretty much all their exiles. This works for them because (a) the exile process was designed with community involvement, so the community agrees with it; (b) the BBC is the undisputed authority and owner of the community, and regularly exercises that authority in a variety of ways. See the transgressions section of h2g2:HouseRules? and also h2g2:HouseRules?-Transgressions.

Sending people to coventry is sometimes effective, and sometimes not, as discussed briefly on PeerPressure, and more extensively (but inaccurately, IMO) at DissuadeReputation and DissuadeInteraction. The essential problems are:

I wasn't so much suggesting a community action to send the "miscreant" to an official Coventry, as I was that anyone who doesn't want to engage with the troll should simply not engage with the troll. Again, that may be naive; on the other hand my experience is that it seems to work pretty well. (It also doesn't require a community consensus on just who's a troll; one person's troll is another person's interesting source of alternative views. Maybe one of my problems with this sort of "official trial" idea is that it seems to require a scary-to-me amount of GroupThink and consensus on who deserves to be tried / exiled, or alternately an enormous amount of trust in the "authority" if e's allowed to impose the exile at will. Maybe it would help if the community had a posted-in-advance list of behaviors that result in exile? Perhaps that's an unstated part of the original idea, that should be stated. Under what conditions can the trial be called? Just whenever someone (the authority?) wants? Or...?) -- DavidChess

I should move this all to DissuadeInteraction or DissuadeReputation. Ho hum. --MartinHarper

I'm half-inclined to take back most of my words above *8) having thought of various examples where ignoring in the sense I meant it is clearly wrong. If someone were to start every post by obscenely insulting the previous speaker, say, you don't just ignore that, you scold them every time they do it, and if they keep it up you ban them. Maybe a trial by exile would be a good part of that process (if, say, some community members thought the insults were harmless joshing). I was thinking more of cases where the troll is just being (intentionally or accidentally) clueless on some subject, refusing to go along with a party line, misusing apostrophes, and so on. But that's only a subset of possible destructive behaviors. So feel free to refactor anything that I said above, up to and including just deleting the whole section! (I won't delete it myself, though, as there's probably some content in the discussion that would be useful to a dedicated refactoring.) -- DavidChess

So now I have a somewhat subtler worry about this pattern. What happens if someone's behavior is such that the community does not agree that it's bad, but enough people and/or the leader feel that way that the TrialByExile is imposed. The person passes the trial, and doesn't post anything for 24 hours or whatever. Then they return, and continue doing whatever the original controversial behavior was. How has the situation improved? What do you do now? It's still the case that the community does not agree that the behavior is obnoxious, and the people who are against taking further action against the (um) suspect now have additional evidence that the person is good ("hey, he passed the trial by exile; what more proof do you need that he's okay?"), but it seems unlikely that the people who do object to the behavior will now give it a free pass. So what happens next? (cf. Sunir's worry above that the trial only increases the community's disagreement.) This seems like a pretty serious flaw? -- DavidChess

Well, most of these disagreements occur not because the community disagrees over whether some piece of behaviour is bad, but because they disagree over how serious it is, whether it should be punished and how severely, what the best response is, and so forth. But, as you say, sometimes there is disagreement even over whether the behaviour is a problem, and this is a more serious problem, and is harder to solve. If the community doesn't even agree that a crime has taken place, then you're pretty screwed up already. Maybe time to think about a StartAgain.

In my experience, the temporary exile (being one that actually occurs, rather than an attemped "LifetimeBan" that is just sock-puppeted out of existence), coupled with the exile passing the ordeal, is sufficient to effectively "wipe the slate" and grant a brief "honeymoon period", even in the eyes of hir harshest critics (as ever, provided that the exiling process has near-universal community support). That allows ForgiveAndForget, because we've got some closure. We hope the exile will be transformative justice and the exile will reform. However, even if sie doesn't, the exile means that we can look at fresh behaviour afresh, rather than continually re-airing every grievance from the last X years, so there has at least been some benefit.

So, when the exile returns, AssumeGoodFaith that sie will try to behaviour better in the future: most will. However, if sie continues to be a thorn in the community's side, then you will have to take further action, perhaps simply repeating the same process. HTwoGTwo used a sliding scale of exiles of increasing length, building up to a LifetimeBan, but I'm not sure that is ideal. I agree that TrialByExile is not always the end of all strife, but I don't see this particular outcome as a serious flaw, because I think it does improve the situation. --MartinHarper


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