Community health initiative/User Mute features

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This page documents a feature the Wikimedia Foundation's Anti-Harassment Tools team may build. Development of this feature is complete.

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The WMF's Anti-Harassment Tools team introduced two User Mute features to allow users to prohibit specific users from interacting with them. These features equip individual users with tools to curb harassment they may be experiencing.

The current notification and email preferences are either all-or-nothing, and on-wiki policies (interaction bans, polite requests) can be easily ignored. These mute features will act as a middle step allowing users to receive purposeful communication while ignoring non-constructive or harassing communication. Giving control to individual users over who cannot send them notifications will prevent minor cases of incivility from boiling over into large problems and will ultimately retain more contributors on Wikimedia projects.

Notifications Mute[edit]

Rationale

By default, users are opted-in to receive notifications for several actions on Wikimedia wikis. Two of the most common types of user-to-user notifications, 'Thanks' and 'Mention,' are incredibly useful when used constructively. However, these notifications can be used as a vehicle for harassment if used maliciously.

Feature design

The Notifications Mute feature will live at the bottom of the "Notifications" tab of user preferences.

Notifications Mute MediaWiki product screenshot.png

For example, if User:Apples mutes User:Bananas on English Wikipedia:

  • Bananas can still link to the username of User:Apples on a talk page and successfully save their changes, but Apples will not receive a notification that Bananas mentioned them. Bananas will still receive a 'successful mention' notification, if they've enabled that preference.
  • Bananas can send 'Thanks' for an edit made by Apples, but Apples will not receive the notification.
  • If Bananas reverts an edit made by Apples, Apples will not receive the notification.
  • If Bananas writes a message on User_talk:Apples or participates on their Flow page, Apples will receive a notification. This is the only type of notification that Apples will receive.
  • The Notifications Mute list is not global. If Bananas sends 'Thanks' to Apples on a different wiki (e.g. French Wikipedia) Apples will not receive the notification on English Wikipedia, but will receive the notification if they visit French Wikipedia.
  • The Notifications Mute list does not affect Watchlist. If Bananas edits an article on Apples' watchlist, the edit will appear to Apples when viewing Special:Watchlist, and Apples will receive a watchlist email, if they've enabled that preference.

Status

This feature is currently live on Meta Wiki and will be released on all Echo-enabled wikis by the end of August 2017.

Special:EmailUser Mute[edit]

Rationale

If a user has verified their email address on Wikimedia, by default the preference to receive emails from other users is enabled. While this can be a productive tool to communicate it is also a big vector for harassment because this communication is not transparent and available on wiki for administrators to witness.

The preference is all or nothing — either all users can send emails, or no users can send emails. We intend to add in the ability to Mute specified users from contacting them via Special:EmailUser.

Feature design

The Email Mute list will be placed in the 'Email options' sections of the 'User profile' tab of user preferences. It will not be connected to the Notifications Mute list, it will be an entirely independent list.

Screenshot of the user preference

For example, if User:Carrots mutes User:Durian:

  • Durian will not see the 'Email this user' link in the left navigation when viewing User:Carrots.
  • If Durian navigates directly to Special:EmailUser/Carrots they will see the standard error message of "This user has chosen not to receive email from other users" as if Carrots had the entire preference disabled.
  • The Email Mute list does not affect Watchlist. If Durian edits an article on Carrots' watchlist, the edit will appear to Carrots when viewing Special:Watchlist and Carrots will receive a watchlist email, if they've enabled that preference.
  • The Email Mute list does not affect Notifications emails. The Notifications Mute feature must be used for preventing notifications emails.

Status

This feature is live on all Mediawiki wikis.

Unified Mute list[edit]

In the future we would like to combine these lists and make them work globally (cross-wiki). This work will likely occur after we observe how users react to the other two Mute features. This will likely be a new special page and more intuitive entry points (e.g. the ability to mute a user straight from an email, a web notification, or their user page.) Building a Unified Global Mute list will be a significant development investment as compared to the other two lists.

We will also determine a migration strategy to combine the two existing Mute lists.

Status

This feature has not yet been prioritized for 2017 work by the Anti-Harassment Tools team, but may be worked on in 2018.

Potential future elements to Mute[edit]

  • Triggering emails via watchlist
  • Writing on their user page, user talk page, and subpages
  • Collapsing comments on Talk pages and Flow threads — T173461
  • Allowing users to create their own scripts — T173460

Use Cases[edit]

  • Annie feels annoyed by Bobby. He's not breaking any rules but his presence makes her uncomfortable. She wants to continue participating but wants to keep Bobby at a distance.
  • Ethel and Frank have received an interaction ban. Frank wants to move on so he wants to protect himself from Ethel's messages.
  • George relies on emails to keep up-to-date on his wiki work. Harry is a productive editor but very chatty. No offense Harry, but George doesn't want to see emails triggered by your edits.

Common Q&A[edit]

Q. User communication is an important part of collaboration on Wikimedia projects. If people use the Mute feature, won't they miss important messages?

  • A. This feature may indeed prevent certain important notifications from reaching you, if actions connected with them are performed by the person you are trying to block. Users currently have the option of disabling all notifications, through their preferences. This feature allows a user to receive most notifications, except those from specified users. Therefore, a user will be able to receive more messages than if they had notifications turned completely off.

Q. Why introduce this feature instead of addressing the harassment or disruption with current methods such as warnings, interaction bans, or blocks?

  • A. User controlled preference settings empower a user to have some control over whose notifications they receive/see and therefore exclude unwanted notifications while other remedies to address user conduct issues are pursued. Such a quick and easy feature can also prevent negative situations from escalating further and may even contribute to their de-escalation. However, in some instances warnings, interaction bans or blocks may still be needed.

Q. Why is the muted user not informed that they have been muted?

  • A. Sometimes tools are effective exactly because their use is not advertised. Informing a user that they have been muted may exacerbate an already strained relationship; it can cause the muted person to attempt to make contact in other ways where the person using the mute tool continues to feel uncomfortable or harassed. Individual users can chose to manually inform users they have muted, if they want to.

Q. Why introduce this feature when there are already community policies in place to report harassment?

  • A. The existing workflows for reporting small-scale incidents of harassment are not always effective or timely. This tool can offer immediate relief to the user from an escalating situation. It may also help reduce the workload for admins, as all users will have a new tool to protect themselves from harassment and using it would, in a way, impose a comms break between the two users which could de-escalate the issue and prevent further reporting.

Open questions[edit]

  • Could the mute feature be used by administrators to stop one user from interacting with another?
  • Should we build a kill-switch per account for users who abuse this feature?
  • As an alternative, in some instances instead of muting, we could show a warning message, along the lines of "USERNAME has requested that you not post on their talk page unless absolutely necessary. [OK]"

See also[edit]