Community health initiative/English-language Wikipedia harassment policies & enforcement
The English-language Wikipedia community is volunteer moderated. 99% of disputes between users are handled by volunteer administrators, with the Wikimedia Foundation only handling extreme situations. Over the past 16 years the community has created policies, rules, and workflows to facilitate dispute resolution.
This page will contain some research (predominantly collated by Trevor Bolliger, Wikimedia Foundation Product Manager) on English-language Wikipedia conduct policies & enforcement workflows and tools for administrators. This is a summary, not a full-detailed report. The symbol indicates the important highlights.
The English-language Wikipedia community has crafted policies (rules to be followed,) guidelines (encouraged but not mandatory best practices,) and pillars (fundamental principals.) Users can find these in several ways — a search engine, being provided a link by another contributor/bot, or by navigating the left rail and/or various help pages.
The top level page for policies and guidelines appears to be Wikipedia:List of policies and guidelines. Note that Wikipedia:Ignore all rules appears above all the other policies — it may create an avenue for malicious people to justify nasty behavior in favor of an improved encyclopedia.
Wikipedia has five pillars (fundamental principals) that summarize its purpose and community. The fourth pillar is:
Editors should treat each other with respect and civility.
Respect your fellow Wikipedians, even when you disagree. Apply Wikipedia etiquette, and don't engage in personal attacks. Seek consensus, avoid edit wars, and never disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point. Act in good faith, and assume good faith on the part of others. Be open and welcoming to newcomers. Should conflicts arise, discuss them calmly on the appropriate talk pages, follow dispute resolution procedures, and consider that there are 5,336,508 other articles on the English Wikipedia to improve and discuss.
View the pillar and its links at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Five_pillars#WP:5P4
A description of the tone & temperament all Wikipedia users are expected to conduct their interactions in & provides appropriate ways of dealing with problems if they arise. Essentially "be cooperative, be nice, and be respectful."
Defines what the Wikipedia community considers harassment:
- Wikihounding — stalking a user from page to page with the intent of confronting or hindering their work
- Threats — either real-world harm or on-wiki harm
- Perceived legal threats
- Posting of personal information — also known as doxing
- Publishing private correspondence
- User pages and User talk page harassment
- Linking to harassment occurring off Wikipedia — As a harasser, not as a victim.
Provides guidance on what to do when harassment occurs:
- Act Calmly. To quote verbatim from the policy: If you feel you are being harassed, first and foremost, act calmly (even if difficult). It is hard to over-emphasize this.
- For serious cases (real world harassment of the spreading of personal information) jump directly to ArbCom
- For non-serious cases, see Wikipedia:Dispute resolution#Resolving user conduct disputes
- If self-resolution fails (or in "serious, but not super serious" cases) contact ANI
There's also a brief section about when admins are the perpetrators of harassment. In short, you should contact another admin.
What to do when two or more users are in a dispute and how to escalate if needed. I'll skip the steps for content disputes as they are not pertinent. The steps for resolving user conduct disputes are, with verbatim text italicized:
- The first step is to discuss the issue with that editor, politely, simply, yet directly, on their Talk page. Avoid discussing the content, but discuss the conduct. Use a template if needed.
- If discussion with the editor fails to resolve the issue, you may ask an administrator to evaluate the conduct of the user on the appropriate noticeboards, such as ANI.
- In all cases, and even in the face of serious misconduct, please try to act in a professional and polite manner. Turn the other cheek.
- If you have taken all other reasonable steps to resolve the dispute, and the dispute is not over the content of an article, you can request arbitration at ArbCom. Be prepared to present and defend your case.
For serious matters — The issue involves legal concerns, harassment, or allegations that are very serious or perhaps defamatory. — users can email, use IRC, or "contact by other private means" functionaries or ArbCom directly.
What to do when users utilize the functions of editing & reverting to fight each other (e.g. rapidly or repeatedly undoing or over-writing others' work.) Often an impetus for or form of harassment.
The three-revert rule (or 3RR) is a sub-policy that states users should not perform more than 3 reverts in 24 hours on a single page.
Bans are formal probations from editing on Wikipedia. Banned users can still access and read Wikipedia, but are socially 'bound' to not participate. There is no technical component to enforce a ban — yet 🙂 — and monitoring bans is a manual process. Bans can be imposed by a consensus vote or admin or ArbCom decision.
There are four types of bans:
- Site ban — the user is not allowed to edit or discuss anything on the wiki
- Page ban — the user is not allowed to edit or discuss a single, specified page
- Topic ban — the user is not allowed to edit or discuss a broad range of pages (e.g. 'weather' and all weather related pages)
- Interaction ban — the user is not allowed to interact with another specific user or talk about that specific user anywhere on the wiki, in any way
Blocks are the technical method to prohibit editing on a wiki. The words 'ban' and 'block' are used interchangeably. Blocking users on Wikipedia should only be done to protect the encyclopedia and its contributors. The blocking policy and guide strongly states that blocks should not be punitive. Blocks can be issued for:
- persistent violation of Wikipedia policies and/or guidelines
- persistent vandalism, spamming, and/or sock-puppetry
- persistent gross incivility, harassment, edit warring, and/or personal attacks
- making personal, professional or legal threats (including outside the Wikipedia site)
The length of the block is up to the admin, and the guide encourages admins to 'salvage' good contributors who are temporarily behaving badly. The standard length of a block is 31 days, but 24 hour blocks are common for edit warring incidents and sock-puppets are blocked indefinitely. User accounts, IP addresses, and IP ranges can be blocked. Blocks can be removed (though it is uncommon.)
- Wikipedia:No personal attacks — Defines & prohibits personal attacks.
- Wikipedia:No legal threats — Policy prohibiting users who use legal threats to intimidate other users.
- Wikipedia:Clean start — Policy for existing users who want to create a new account, discourages new accounts solely for the sake of shaking controversy.
- Wikipedia:Sock puppetry — Policy prohibiting the use of multiple Wikipedia accounts simultaneously.
- Wikipedia:Casting aspersions — Defines ArbCom's stance on aspersions (attacking a reputation) without merit as a violation of civility.
- Sometimes Wikipedia content itself (articles, not talk pages) can be a form of harassment, and are often the impetus for harassment. Additionally, these policies often influence how conduct disputes are resolved. Notable policies:
- Wikipedia:Attack page — Defines & prohibits Wikipedia articles written with the sole purpose of attacking their subject.
- Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons — Policy about style, content, privacy concerns, and allowed participation by the living person.
- Wikipedia:Conflict of interest — Policy prohibiting users from writing about people they personally know or topics intimately close.
- Wikipedia:Notability (people) — Defines requirements to evaluate if a topic warrants its own article.
- Full list
Also called the "Code of Conduct" on Wikipedia. A bullet list of advice for contributors on how to treat others with respect. Reminds users to focus on Wikipedia as a communal encyclopedia and not a discussions service.
- Wikipedia:Please do not bite the newcomers — A (lengthy) bullet list of advice for experienced contributors on how to be nice to new contributors.
- Wikipedia:Linking to external harassment — Instructions for linking to off-wiki harassment, either for article pages or user conduct reasons.
- Wikipedia:Talk page guidelines — Advice and instructions on how to communicate via talk pages.
- Wikipedia:User pages — Advice and instructions on using your (and other users) user pages.
- Wikipedia:Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point — A civility guideline discouraging wikilawyering (using policies and fancy language as artillery) and sea-lioning (excessive questioning designed to annoy the other party.)
- Full list
Wikipedia:Noticeboards contains top level instructions on how noticeboards work. It is not a ticketing system, it is a bulletin board open for anybody to participate on. I quote verbatim: posting a message at a noticeboard does not guarantee a response.
The page also lists and describes all operating noticeboards. I'll only list those pertinent to harassment:
General announcements and discussions. Mostly neutral topics. Not recommended for disputes.
Also known as ANI or AN/I, this is the primary noticeboard for users to bring conduct disputes. The page contains a lot of information and I believe it may be overwhelming for users new to the process. ANI requests users posting an incident report to:
- Provide a neutral title
- Describe their situation
- Include any relevant diffs
- Sign their conversation
- Inform the other user on their talk page about the submitted inquiry. A template is provided.
- Watchlist the page (which carries the same problems of watchlisting other highly active pages.)
New inquiries are posted to the bottom of the page. Sections on ANI that have not received any comments in 72 hours are automatically archived, even if there is no response or resolution.
Admins are not required to participate in the discussion. If the inquiry is poorly written, submitted at an inconvenient time, or contains a unclear situation it will likely not be compelling for admins to participate. Any (non-blocked) users can participate in the conversation, including passers-by or ANI lurkers. Informing the reported harasser both allows them to defend themselves but also potentially opens the reporter open for more attacks. Transparency is both a benefit and a drawback of this system.
Essentially the same as ANI but only for reports of edit warring and violations of the 3RR.
Noticeboards with ambiguous names
These boards are not for reporting harassment but may accidentally be mis-used due to their names:
- Wikipedia:Long-term abuse
- Wikipedia:Dispute resolution requests
- Wikipedia:Dispute resolution noticeboard
- Wikipedia:Help desk
- Wikipedia:Abuse response
Arbitration (Wikipedia:Arbitration) on Wikipedia is the process of imposing binding solutions to Wikipedia conduct disputes. It is the last resort for disputes and typically only reviews the worst of the worst cases — normal harassment cases never reach arbitration.
The Arbitration Committee (Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee) — more commonly called ArbCom — is the community-elected panel of editors who hear these cases, deliberate, and vote on the final decisions. Hearings and deliberation are typically public unless there are potential privacy ramifications.
Lengthy detailed document: Wikipedia:Arbitration/Guide to arbitration
"Case requests" or "RFARs" may be submitted for review by ArbCom via email, Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests or escalations from Jimmy Wales on his talkpage. Case requests must include:
- A knowledge/experience with wikitext. The form is made of templates.
- A case name
- The username and admin status of the opposing party
- The username and admin status of 3rd to 7th parties, if applicable
- Documentation of previous dispute resolution steps, including links
- A statement (500 words or fewer) summarizing the case, showing enough evidence of why arbitration is needed.
- After posting the case, the user must notify all other parties on their talk pages & then return to the case posting and prove they notified the other parties by providing talkpage diffs.
After the case is requested, anyone in the community may comment on the case (max 500 words.) This will likely include the opposing parties but could include passers-by and ArbCom lurkers. ArbCom members will vote to accept, refuse, recuse, or abstain. If the case has a net total of 4 'accept' votes after 48 hours, it is taken into arbitration.
Cases in arbitration are listed on Wikipedia:Arbitration/Current and typically take four-five weeks. For each case one member of ArbCom is designated as the 'drafter' and guides the process and discussions, while there are ArbCom clerks (not members of ArbCom) who organize and manage the discussion pages.
Stage 1: Evidence
All parties and "other interested editors" are invited to submit their evidence for review — 1,000 words and 100 diffs max. Discussion occurs for each submission of evidence. (details) This stage lasts two weeks.
Stage 2: Workshop
I quote verbatim: The Workshop subpage allows the parties, the community, and the Arbitrators to analyze the evidence, offer suggestions about possible final decision proposals, and receive feedback. These conversations should be grounded in the evidence presented and existing Wikipedia policies. This stage lasts one week.
Stage 3: Decision making
Arbitrators will collaborate on a list of provisions on which to vote, consisting of 'Principals,' 'Findings of Fact,' 'Remedies,' and 'Enforcement'. These are very well described at Wikipedia:Arbitration/Guide to arbitration#Proposed decisions. The arbitrators will then vote to support/oppose/recuse/abstain on each provision. The final decision will consist of all proposed provisions which were passed by an absolute majority. This stage lasts one week.
Users can email functionaries in some cases, but on-wiki means are recommended. Details: Wikipedia:Functionaries#Mailing_list
ArbCom cases where users want to report in private can be submitted to User:Arbitration_Committee or a list-serv linked within. In special circumstances some ArbCom cases can be made off-wiki in private. I do not have details of this yet.
Contacting Wikimedia Foundation staff
Users can use Wikipedia:Contact_us to contact the Wikimedia Foundation. The page encourages users to use on-wiki means first. These emails enter a ticketing system and are handled by the Foundation's Support and Safety team.
Deliberation & evaluation
Dashboards to monitor reports of harassment
There is no single dashboard for monitoring all reports/incidents of harassment. See: Community health initiative/Dashboards used by admins to track reports of harassment for what does exist.
Wikipedia:Administrators highlights the abilities and expectations of admins. Admin accounts have permissions allowing in-depth content moderation (deleting, protecting, renaming, etc.) as well as the ability to block users from the wiki project. Although being an admin is insinuated to be a burden and not a title of glory, admins often have final say in disputes, especially on ANI.
By the time a contributor is promoted to the ranks of the administrators they must already show a competency for the MediaWiki software and Wikipedia policies and have established themselves as a productive and trustworthy member of the community. There are no firm requirements to become an administrator — anybody can apply and all applications are considered. Once a user has received administrator privileges they are an admin for life (unless they are inactive for 12 months, step down, or are de-admined by ArbCom.) Admins are volunteers and do not have any commitments to perform any specific tasks — participating in dispute resolution is entirely up to the individual.
The English Wikipedia currently has 1,275 administrators. This causes its own unique circumstances — different admins interpret policies in different ways or have varying views on the responsibilities of admins. Wheel warring — Wikipedia:Administrators#Reinstating a reverted action ("wheel warring") — is when one admin reverses the action performed by another admin without discussion. It's against Wikipedia policy to wheel war.
Wikipedia:Administrators' guide exists to educate new or forgetful admins how to be an effective administrator. There are several subpages but I really only identify one as pertinent:
This subpage of the guide focuses predominantly on resolving content disputes and mostly ignores conduct disputes. I will begin this sub-section with a quote directly from the guide:
Administrator intervention in complex disputes is an art, not a science. It requires a calm demeanor in the face of bitter attacks, an excellent knowledge of the wikiprocess, a good sense of judgment, and a light touch. When at all possible, administrator intervention should aim to guide the participants towards resolving their own disputes rather than imposing the administrator's view of "what the article should be."
Admins must be uninvolved in the topic when resolving a dispute. If they are a contributor to the page or to the current discussion they likely have a conflict of interest and should not make any admin-related decisions.
The guide describes the processes admins should undertake when evaluating and deliberating on a dispute:
- Quickly triage the situation to understand if you should participate at all.
- Assess the participants by scanning the page history, the talk page, and the talk page's history.
- Check the participant's backgrounds to better understand if the users are known troublemakers.
- Be wary of snap judgements.
- Remind the users of Wikipedia's goal: to create a better encyclopedia.
- Be a dispute resolution teacher — try to get the users to resolve the situation themselves.
- If the situation is blatant, the admin can decide to block the user. If the situation is nuanced, the admin should suggest the users escalate to AN/I.
Wikipedia:WikiProject_User_warnings outlines and lists all user warnings, which are standardized, templatized messages that admins leave on the user talk pages for breaking policies or causing disruption. Posting a warning on the user talk page has no affect on their permissions. Wikipedia:Twinkle is a volunteer-written opt-in tool that admins can use to quickly perform wiki content maintenance, including posting user warnings.
Wikipedia:Administrators' guide/Blocking#User blocks/unblocks outlines instructions how to apply a block. Admins can choose:
- the username or exact IP address or IP range to block
- the duration of the block (including infinite)
- the reason for the block, for a log
- to allow or disallow additional account creation while the block is in effect
- to allow or disallow the user to email other users via the on-wiki email tool while the block is in effect
- to allow or disallow the user to edit their own user talk page while the block is in effect
- to autoblock any new IP addresses the same username attempts to use
When blocked, users can still view any public page on the wiki, log-in, and view the wikitext source of any article. When they attempt to enter edit mode they see a warning message that their account is blocked.
Page, interaction, or topic ban enforcement
Wikipedia:Banning policy#Reset of ban following evasion states that bans are reset if violated. Repeated violations can lead to more serious sanctions. Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/Procedures#Standard provision: enforcement of restrictions states that if users are discovered to have violated an ArbCom ban they are subject to a site-wide block.
Because there is no current way in the MediaWiki software to enforce page, interaction, or topic bans, users must manually monitor these situations. If a user identifies a violation of the ban, they can report it on an applicable noticeboard, either ANI or Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Enforcement.
Discretionary sanctions on content
Wikipedia:Arbitration Committee/Discretionary sanctions — Admins can place a 'discretionary sanction' on a contentious article as a preventative measure to keep contributions and discussions civil. This could include page protection so only admins can edit the page or additional manual monitoring/mediation of the talk page.
Wikipedia:CheckUser outlines the policies and abilities of a small group of users known as CheckUsers who have additional permissions to view a list of all IP addresses used by a user account to edit the English Wikipedia, a list of all edits made by an IP, or all user accounts that have used an IP address. CheckUsers primarily deal with sorting out sockpuppets or identifying the evasion of blocks via username. Only 40 people are CheckUsers on English Wikipedia, including Leon on Community Tech.
Wikipedia:Protection policy outlines the policies and effects of the MediaWiki 'protection' feature. There is a nice table that describes the various levels. In brief, admins can protect pages so only certain groups of users can edit the page. Most commonly this is to prevent anons or brand-new users from vandalizing high-profile pages.