|This page in a nutshell: Test edits are typically performed by new users either to "test the system", to see if their changes will save, or to see what impact their change will make to a page. If you're not sure as to whether or not an edit is vandalism or simply a test edit, it's always best to assume good faith.|
Patrolling the recent changes of articles is a big task that many editors dedicate a significant amount of time towards. Nonconstructive or disruptive edits come in very wide ranges of ambiguity and difficulty; some edits are blatant vandalism and are easily identified even by novice editors, while others can be difficult even for experienced patrollers to identify or properly handle; they cross into "grey areas" or could be interpreted one way or another, and they might either be sneaky vandalism or a harmless experiment made by a new user who is just unaware of Wikipedia's policies. A common question that most recent changes patrollers (namely, those who patrol for vandalism) will find themselves occasionally asking is, "is this edit vandalism, or an editing test?" This essay will help you identify the difference between the two.
The reason it's important to understand the difference between the two is because it affects how we should handle the situation. Remember that vandalism is "any addition, removal, or change of content, in a deliberate attempt to damage Wikipedia". While editing tests are certainly deliberate, the intention of editing tests are usually to "see what this will do" or "see if this works", and are usually not made with the intention of damaging Wikipedia. Reverting edit tests should be done manually or with the undo function, or by using a patrolling or reversion tool that expedites and simplifies the undo process for you. Using the rollback function to revert editing tests must come with an edit summary, since the rollback function is designed by default to be used only for the reversion of obvious vandalism. The warning or message that is left on the editor's talk page will be different as well, depending on the type of edit (among other things). While the warning templates are different and will assume good faith at first, they will both eventually assume that the user is making bad faith edits and vandalism. You don't want to make the mistake of warning someone for vandalism if they did not do so; it can come out as a bite if a sensitive newcomer takes offense to the mistake. It may also drive them to leave Wikipedia, something we don't want to be doing.
Identifying editing tests apart from vandalism, the assumption of good faith, and the proper handling of "grey area" situations can be challenging. However, it represents one of the many skills in vandalism patrolling that is essential to be proficient at; it separates experienced patrollers from the average and the new, it makes leaders out of followers, and paints maturity and wisdom among those who have been an editor on Wikipedia for a long time.
Remember what is and is not vandalism
This essay assumes that you know and understand what is and is not vandalism. Disruptive editing, such as incivility, copyright violations, content disputes, biographies of living people, and verifiability violations are not editing tests and do not apply to this situation. Similarly, common good-faith mistakes such as typos, editing the wrong page, adding a discussion to a user page or article instead of its talk page, or edits that others would reasonably believe are competence-related are not editing tests and also do not apply to this situation. Edits that fall outside the scope of obvious vandalism and editing tests made by newcomers should be identified, reverted, and discussed with the user in their various own ways. If the user has a history of trolling and blatant disruption (such as long-term abuse or sock puppetry), you should use your best judgment and handle each situation according to Wikipedia's policies and guidelines.
This essay also applies to articles and pages that are outside the user's own sandbox, an account's own user or user talk space, or the Wikipedia sandbox. Edits that occur within these pages and cross the "vandalism or editing test grey area" are usually always tests and can be left alone.
Typical editing tests
Editing tests are usually quick, small, or perhaps even careless changes that appear to be intended to "see if this works" or "see what this will do". Editing tests can also be the removal of such content with a similar intention as well. If you know that the edit needs to be reverted, but you cannot decide whether or not an edit is either vandalism or an editing test, it's always best to assume good faith and proceed as if the edit was a test. It's always better to be wrong and "go easy" on an editor with their warning or message than to be wrong and go too harshly with a warning or message. Assumption of good faith is absolutely key, and it will always be better to "lean light" than to "lean heavy" towards others.
Typical editing tests will usually contain one of the following traits:
- It will be the addition of random or small words such as "test", "hi", "hello world!", or be small phrases that contain words commonly used or identified as an editing test.
- It will be the addition of a small number of random characters or letters, patent nonsense, or careless keystrokes in only one place, and not be in combination with content removal or other potentially disruptive changes.
- It will be the addition of the editor's account username in one place, or the replacing of a name, word, or a small number of words with the account's username.
- It will be the removal of a single word or a small number of words from the article.
- It will be the addition of a letter or a small number of letters inside of a word that no longer make it correct, but does not change the word to be something else or change its meaning; it will usually make the word no longer make sense, or appear as if it has a typo.
- It will be the addition of a small-to-medium number of empty reference tags or amount of font style formatting with the default text inside of it (i.e. "Bold text" or "Italic text"), or the addition of lists or image galleries that contain "Example.jpg" or "Example". This is usually the result of experimenting with the formatting toolbar or attempting to add content.
- It will be the slight or subtle modification of a template, table, or similar object. It may cause a huge impact to the article, but the edit itself will usually be small.
- It may be made to an article that was created by the editor, or an article that clearly appears to be "under construction".
- It may (in combination with an edit trait above) contain the edit summary "testing", or contain an edit summary explaining that the edit is a test, or an edit summary that is patent nonsense or gibberish.
Editing behaviors that should also be considered when determining if an edit is a test:
- Editing tests will usually not be repeated after it is reverted and the user has been left a correct warning on their talk page.
- Editing tests will usually not follow edits made by the same user that are blatant vandalism, egregious policy violations, or obvious trolling.
- Editing tests may contain an edit summary that is careless or perhaps typical of editors who vandalize Wikipedia. In this case, you should use your best judgment and make determinations using the actual content changed rather than the edit summary.
Edits that are blatant vandalism are performed with the intention of damaging Wikipedia:
- They contain large amounts of profanity and are made with the intention of disrupting the article.
- They contain large amount of content removal and from multiple unrelated articles with the intention of being disruptive (usually in combination with other changes that are blatant policy violations).
- They modify static numerical or chronological facts such as weights, heights, measurements, dimensions, dates, populations, or formulas to be values that are obviously or blatantly impossible or untrue.
- They make blatant and massive insults at biographies of living people.
- They add gross amounts of racist, sexist, or harmful statements with the intention of offending others, or add egregious unreferenced content that is blatantly false or libelous.
- They blank article pages, or replace the entire article with silly phrases, insults, or other statements to cause disruption.
- They replace names, places, or factual information with references to memes or other common internet comedies and humor in articles that have no relation or correlation to such.
- They carelessly insult, "challenge", or threaten Wikipedia editors that have reverted vandalism previously made by the user, or editors that left a warning on their talk page for such disruption.
- They will tell the editors who have reverted their previous vandalism to "stop reverting my fun changes" or to "fuck off", sometimes in all capital letters and with numerous exclamation points.
- They make insults and engage in harassment towards Jimbo Wales, ArbCom members, administrators, Wikimedia staff, or other editors.
- They blank or make mass harmful changes to user pages or user talk pages of other editors.
- Assume good faith
- Do not insult the vandals
- Don't stuff beans up your nose
- IPs are human too
- Not every IP is a vandal
- Revert, block, ignore
- The Motivation of a Vandal
- What is a troll?
- What is not vandalism
References and footnotes
- If the content removal is significant or large (such as the removal of entire sentences, paragraphs, or article sections), you should consider warning the user for unexplained content removal instead – especially if the edit appears to be in good faith and if no edit summary was left by the user with an explanation. Remember to use common sense and your best judgment.
- Be observational and use good judgment. Some content removal by itself may not be vandalism, but as part of content-related disputes or removals. Large removals of certain article sections and in articles that involve the same topic or subject area (mainly "controversial" areas of articles) may be from misguided new users, single-purpose accounts, or by editors that have an obvious conflict of interest or personal point of view with the topic. This is not vandalism; this is a content dispute and handled much differently.
- This is different than incivility or behavior violations. Make sure that you are observant and understand the difference.