How to resolve the problem of IP and user blocks in African editathons

(Moderators note: This topic has been created by merging posts from different conversations.)

From my experience organizing edit a thons, I can say that we have more people showing interest and participating in these editing events, particularly younger people. However, one persistent issue we have been battling is IP block issues, which are turning these supposed to be wonderful and fulfilling experiences into a nightmare for participants. Approximately 90% of new editors leave training unable to edit on their own, and they keep demanding even after the training that we unblock them, almost as though we have the key to do so but do not want to. It gives them the impression that we have no command or authority over what we are introducing them to putting us in an awkward position.
We have tried different methods in our own way, such as engaging registered participants ahead of time to create their accounts before the event, or even better, asking them to create their accounts through Commons, but that also comes with a different set of issues participants still unable to login to Wikipedia although they are logged in on commons. We try to contact some administrators, but most of the time we don’t hear back from them. What’s worse, there are cumbersome recommendations following the block message that are just so difficult to understand or follow through even for some of us who seem to have some experience; I have a bunch of usernames that have been blocked for my community members and am still struggling to find solutions. I think this issue really has reached a critical stage and needs urgent attention. It’s not that people don’t want to contribute or stay, but some of these experiences make it more difficult for us to retain and sustain the interest and energy that some of these people come in with.

If these issues are resolved, we could grow far beyond what we see now. More administrators from our communities who understand the issues and have some administrative rights are needed to assist us in addressing some of these issues. I’m not sure there are enough administrators to look into this, but it has gotten worse since I joined the movement. Aside from high internet cost which is an issue here and a barrier to most people editing, I am not sure that is the major issue considering how many people are turning to using online platforms or apps these days. If we make it more welcoming am sure people will be happy to contribute. A more sure and sustainable way is to make it easier for organizers and editors to both achieve their goals during such events.

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@Ruby_D-Brown , the issue that you raise above is a huge major issue. We should try to alert WMF about this, or else the admins at Wikipedia.

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I identify cap-a-pie with @Ruby_D-Brown’s sentiments. It has been harder to keep editors lately due to the IP block issue. To mitigate the situation, I resorted to sending usernames to an administrator (Zzuuzz) who has been extremely helpful to me. This resolution, however, is not sustainable in my opinion because usernames will continuously be sent for IP Block exemptions. I wonder what the way forward now is concerning the IP Block issue in our region. It’s been months now and I do not know if measures have been put in place to curb the issue. It is a major challenge.

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Thank you all for contributing to this discussion. Regarding mitigating the situation while waiting for a long term solution from WMF, @Kinvidia I like the approach you shared, but apart from sending usernames to administrator Zzuuzz are there any other administrators from local wikis that can be helping out with approving IP exception requests? If more volunteers in Africa are granted the administrative right could this be useful in mitigating this problem? @Ruby_D-Brown @Owula_kpakpo @Tochiprecious @Em-mustapha @RebeccaRwanda @Mwintirew @Timmylegend @Din-nani1 @Jemima2019

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Yes, If more Africans are made administrators it would be a temporary remedy for the situation. I believe that when we have more African Administrators we have more of them to contact incase we are faced with such situations.

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I do agree that there will be the need to involve more administrators in providing IP Blocks for blocked users as some administrators might be constrained with time and over burdened with long lists of users to unblock as more users join the community by the day.

While I admit and remain a huge proponent of there being more administrators from Africa, I believe that that conversation belongs in another discourse. This is just my opinion, but I do not believe the location of the administrator will in anyway affect efficacy of the process.

Yes, I believe that if we have more administrators in Africa who are trained to help in such situations the better for us. Every community or user groups should have members who are trained to support their community so we all don’t burden the few existing administrators helping with some of these issues. Bear in mind that all these tasks of unblocking are mostly done by volunteers and we don’t want to make the life of volunteers burdensome by limiting these rights to only a few. The more people who can help the better. We are also able to get swift solutions.

Also secondly simplifying the process of getting unblocked. Usually, when you get a block message, it’s followed by some lengthy text on how to get unblock or suggestions on what you should do along with links. These are very hard to follow through you end up in a rabbit hole which compounds the situation, especially for new users. This is not healthy for volunteers who don’t have much time to give. A simplified process is important.

Lastly, a more sure and sustainable way is to deal with the root cause of this problem. Is it deliberate or what actually is leading to this rampant and constant block. I can’t imagine being given this administration right to unblock users and having to be dealing with long lists of usernames to be unblocking. Think of it. The number of new members being churned out from so many events happening in Africa, coupled with existing members who still experience this too. Imagine getting so many messages from everyone asking me to unblock them. hahaha. This is going to be a nightmare.

This is not going to be a pleasant experience for me as a volunteer and it will be a role that will not be desired by any community member to have to be dealing with this all their time as a volunteer.

Thank you.

I think we would be addressing the symptoms instead of the problem.

Why do we face a lot of IP blocks in the first place, I think it’s more of a regional problem than a global problem. The blocks have become more frequent and sporadic, what changed in the past few years?

As @Ruby_D-Brown has rightly stated, it’s better we resolve the root of the problem and also have more administrators from sub Saharan Africa.

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I wholeheartedly concur that it’s important to find the issue’s root cause. This will guarantee that the ideal solution is found. While we’re at it, we can increase the number of African administrators and streamline the unblocking procedure, perhaps even making it more interactive or unblocking with a swipe.

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These are really good suggestions you have all made, @Joris_Darlington_Quarshie I am curious, what does the African Technical community members think of this IP block issue and the suggestions for mitigation raised here? Are members of the technical community working on something to help solve this problem?

I have read all the suggestions made here and I must say I am impressed by the suggestions everyone has made on this platform. The African Technical Community is aware of this global issue, mainly how it affects the African continent.

But let me share some insights and updates here!

The admins working to keep the projects safe from bad-faith people, and the good-faith people who are being blocked because of someone else’s range block, or because they’re using default network proxy features that they’re not aware of which has gotten the attention of the WMF, especially because there are systemic issues that are specifically making things harder for new users in Africa.
Currently, the director of product management, Contributor tools does have the opportunity to assign people to make software changes to help solve this problem, which is great. But in our last conversation about Open proxies and IP block issues, we were trying to figure out what those software changes could be, and since there was not a clear idea of what these software changes should be.

Although there’s a cluster of many different problems, based on the last conversation we had, we were trying to figure out which problems we could actually make progress on.

Below are some of the possibilities:

  • Mitigate the harm coming from open proxies, so we don’t need to automatically block them

  • Understand the difference between a “dangerous” open proxy (which bad-faith people are actually using) and a more “innocent” proxy (which is just blocked because we know it’s a proxy), and then treat them differently. (If it’s possible to make that distinction.)

  • Make the messages to good-faith people more helpful and less frustrating

  • Make the unblock request process easier/faster/more friendly for the people making requests

  • Make the unblock request process easier for the people responding, so they can process them faster (or involve more people who can help)

  • Make it easier for good-faith people to get some kind of automatic exemption

  • Make it easier for campaign and editathon organizers to whitelist their participants

  • Adapt the system better to the reality of African ISPs — figure out what the problem is, and treat those ISPs differently

In addition, the Wikimedia Foundation Product department has then followed up by undertaking stakeholder discussions in all the areas I have above mentioned to understand the problem from all different perspectives. As we go through this process the product department is also looking at potential technical solutions that would reduce some of the pain points that have been brought up both on the mailing list and on the talk page. There are some existing recommendations on the mailing list and the meta page that are good starting points for the discussions of Open proxies and IP block issues.
The product department will be summarizing their findings and sharing them on the mailing list and the talk page once they have completed this process. So I will be sharing the suggestions raised here with the product department in other for them to add them to their list of findings before summarizing their findings and sharing it on the mailing list and the meta page.
If anyone has direct feedback, kindly do feel free to reply to this message.

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Also, with regards to the African Wikimedia Technical Community. This is an underrepresented technical community within the Wikimedia movement so in terms of influential contributions with respect to resolving global issues. This community has not fully matured to that stage.
But below are some of the few minor initiatives the community is currently embarking on to support the global Open proxies and IP block issues;

  1. Since event organizers, volunteers and user groups do find it difficult to resolve their IP block issues through multiple modes of contact such as the stewards’ mail, contact form and also following the instructions in the notification they do receive, we sometimes do support them with a list of the usernames some active administrators and stewards that are frequently online to support them with their issues.
  2. Also based on our last discussion about this issue, we did come up with a suggestion for some software changes which then ended up in the conversation of building a throttle in the wikimedia-l. (A throttle plus flagging proxy edits to admins are really good ideas. Creating visibility for functionaries and ways to dial down the volume without blocking everyone entirely is the right way to allow more openness balanced with control). the downside of this is that this is still annoying as hell for good-faith users, but at least they will be able to request exceptions on the wiki.
  3. The last initiative the African Wikimedia Technical Community is currently looking forward to pushing is an initiative of “Know your administrators and stewards”. This initiative seeks to raise a suggestion of splitting up administrative and steward rights to the country or regional level. Whereby each country or region can have a range of 2 to 4 administrators and stewards combined if they do meet the requirement. I am glad this initiative shares the same view as one of the suggestions made on this platform.
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Murakoze cyane ibi byari bikenewe nokumenya icyo Wikipedia Foundation Product department icyo irikubikoraha ndanyuzwe kubwubusobanuro uduhahaye :clap:

Yes if more editors are granted user rights to grant IP unblocks or exemptions it is going to help. But largely like its been said here new user contributions would dwindle in this parts due to IP blocks and even persistent blocks on certain usernames and accounts.

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This is currently in the planning stage, but we are looking forward in putting in more efforts when the Product Department shares its summarized findings on the meta page and the mailing list as stated above. So that we will know how best to promote this initiative to the Wikimedia Foundation.

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7 posts were split to a new topic: Helping a user be unblocked on Wikidata

Any update Regarding problem facing Africans volunteers and mitigating the situation while waiting for a long term solution from WMF, If more volunteers in Africa are granted the administrative right could this be useful in mitigating this problem!?
do we have decision makers to react practically on issues and ideas identified here on this platform!?

Hi, I have merged posts from different topics all discussing the problem of IP blocks. Also, the first post is now wiki editable so that everyone can contribute improvements to the problem description and potential solutions (some are mentioned in this discussion, and it is easy to miss them). Hopefully, this will help this discussion move forward productively!

I read this thread for the first time, thanks @Qgil-WMF for sewing together all those cases/incidents. Thank you so much those organizers driving African editathons, you are so important.

My input will be looking at the future first. Do you find Event Dashboards usable, those earnest editors running editathons in the continent?

AND those, including me, located far from the continent, how can we be more intuitive and encourage using the Event Dashboards at editathons? If I were to stand in for my friend and do an editathon tomorrow, I will be lost at:

  • If I sense the ratio of organizer/facilitators at editing parties could be off balanced/too small,
  • yes, this editathon is so popular and has attracted too many participants; is it a successful metrics?
  • but I don’t have a check sheet to be prepared for unexpected situation, like people too excited and starts writing overwhelmingly. What is the best dialogue to have their attention tuned to safety zone?
  • Am I advised that Wikidata is not very accepting to group editing? (Maybe that is the cultural side we tend to overlook.)
  • Am I given enough hint of such a worst case, that I look like a ring leader of vandals, if my editathon participants starts and inputs on a single page, causing bots to warn ‘‘edit wars’’ “vandalisms”. Am I a very bad actor?

Now deeper into the air-pocket this thread presents us.

Disheartening to see that time-factor blocks us apart as from the Earth to the Neptune: I know CUs are over-occupied to safeguard our Wikimedia, for safe spaces, tho, I don’t want them earmarked as not helping friendlier environment on-wiki, NO.
What we lack is tutorial/education. Each culture has its unique threshold of acceptance/foregiveness, and where do we stand as Wikimedians?
I still hope that Event dashboard is handy as teaching materials at editathons. I will keep translating the how-to pages, so that maybe such a shameful incident will be prevented in my language region. Well, my region is, so shy to test the water to start with… A tool engineered for the first-time wiki-editors needs a good salesperson around here…

Shall we use it, contribute pages/data items, and dance with joy to see the knowledge is shared with other humans. Aren’t we Wikimedians?

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How do you address the problem if the administrators don’t understand the problem? Our IP blocking is a result of a failed system. They share IP amongst millions. When you log in to edit, they see it from their end as someone wants to vandalize Wiki. Why have they not brought on board many Africans as administrators so that they can look into the issues critically when it arises? Are the administrators who are not Africans trying to marginalize Africans, because what I see here is that they do not want Africans to be involved. When you send them messages, you don’t get a response from them. I have begged many times before that my account is not a sock-puppet, but what did I get from them? a non-listening ear.
The question I ask again is it that the foundation doesn’t know the challenges we Africans are facing with Administrators or they choose not to interfere? The situation has gone from bad to worse.This is so sad and demoralizing, when you as a leader cant help the people you have encouraged to join a community and when they get there all they meet is a block. Africans are now incapable leaders who cant help their followers because they are also helpless themselves.