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On a Stack Exchange recently, I made an edit, and someone immediately rolled it back. In my opinion, that rollback was invalid, so I re-rolled back to my edit.

I was told that I'm violating an unwritten rule about not rolling back rollbacks, as to avoid an edit war.

Is there any validity to this argument, or is it sometimes acceptable to rollback rollbacks?

Any rules of thumb for rollbacks and avoiding edit wars?

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2 Answers 2

Different sites have different rules, but on any site that allows the same item to be edited by multiple users, there has to be some rule to avoid rollback wars, since these could otherwise last forever. The rule typically involves ownership (e.g. the owner of an item gets the final say), a hierarchy (a moderator steps in and decides which version to retain), or some more complex conflict resolution process.

Stack Exchange has no formal rule regarding rollbacks, but two rollbacks from the same user generate a moderator flag. If you find yourself disagreeing with a rollback, the best course of action depends on how egregious the edit you disagree with is.

  • If it's your post, then generally speaking, you get the final say unless you are violating community norms. For example, if you want to include incorrect information in an answer, it's your prerogative. On the other hand, correct tagging of a question is a matter for the community.
  • Conversely, if you aren't the author, you should let go. If you think there is an objective reason that your version is better, you should explain it in a comment, and raise a custom moderator flag to explain as well.
  • As a user, I never roll back a rollback unless there is a strongly compelling reason, such as insulting content or exposed private information. In such cases, I always flag for moderator attention, explaining the situation.

On Stack Exchange, moderators can combat edit wars by first warning off the participants, and if that fails, either locking the post or suspending the participants' account. The moderator also gets to choose which version to retain — or to delete the post if the potential for conflict outweighs the usefulness of the post.

Wikipedia has rollback feature, which allows a quick rollback of the latest edits, is only available to selected users, and is mainly intended for vandalism cases. In addition, reverting allows any editor to select an old revision. The guidance for reverting is to “leave a note on the Talk page first and then revert”. There is a firm rule of conduct, the three-revert rule: an editor may not revert the same page more than three times in a day except for egregious cases like clearly illegal content (editors are nonetheless encouraged to stop before that point); violation of this rule normally leads to a block. If an edit war flares up, the conflict resolution procedure is to use the talk page to try and settle the dispute.

Generally speaking, by the time you get to your second rollback, it's high time to engage in whatever dispute resolution process your platform provides. Whether to actually perform that second rollback depends on how egregious the offending content is and on your community norms.

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By rolling back a roll-back you are actually initiating an edit war. The first rollback may well have been incorrect, but by immediately reversing it you are challenging it (and by extension the person doing the rollback). This (human nature being what it is) will inevitably lead them to re-rolling back your edit and thus perpetuate the edit war. So by walking away at the stage of the first rollback you are preventing this from happening.

Also, rather than immediately rollback the rollback which is highly likely to attract the attention of the other party you should wait a while and review your edit yourself before making it again.

If you can't wait and you believe your edit was correct then you need to find another way to communicate that to other users who might take your side. How you do this will depend on the site, but on Stack Exchange that's either through the comments or asking a question on the site's meta site.

If you don't have those options available then perhaps you need to re-visit your edit and see if you can approach it from a different direction to ensure that the edit is accepted then next time you make it.

Of course, if could be that your edit was, in fact, actually wrong and the initial rollback was the correct action.

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