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Grants:IdeaLab/Confidential harassment support 24-7

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Confidential harassment support 24 / 7 with 4 FTE employees
idea creator
created on15:50, Monday, June 27, 2016 (UTC)

Project idea


What is the problem you're trying to solve?


Who handles harassment matters-- especially when sexual matters arise, or disparagement and aspersions impact reputations, real life relationships, careers, and the ability to make a living.

Unlike volunteers, paid employees can be asked to sign legally binding NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), which means the Wikipedian they are assisting can be assured of their discretion and willingness to maintain confidence on sensitive personal issues that impact the lives of real persons.

Unwillingness to open up about harassment with random strangers who are serving as volunteers makes frank discussions more difficult. Volunteers are subject to the politics of the community, and this can interfere with a volunteer's ability to be an impartial participant. Volunteers get social pressure from other volunteers, because any random administrator who is determined enough can usually find a way to block others from further editing and participation on the site. And unlike a paid person bound by a NDA, a volunteer always has the option to throw up their hands at any time, back away, leave the situation, and say whatever they want, anywhere they want. This sort of social pressure and pushback, although normal among members of a community, is not what you want for the people in positions of trust and impartiality.

This sort of social pushback between volunteers can even cost people their employment in real life, which is not a trivial matter. We can't expect to attract volunteers if we have people losing their careers as a result of getting involved with us.

There are more professional ways to go about these things than our current system of social pressure and mob rule, in order to ensure that that people with real world responsibilities can be comfortable and safe working on the encyclopedia.

What is your solution?


-- Everyone participating on the site should be willing to talk with a paid employee, bound by a NDA, whose job and professional reputation is based on their commitment to upholding the WMF Terms of Use. -- This could be implemented by hiring four compassionate and well-trained FTE (full time equivalent) employees.



Working through sensitive questions of interpersonal relations in public has been inherently flawed. For one thing, any random passer-by can weigh in and disrupt. For another thing, putting sensitive personal information on publicly accessible web pages gives trolls, and ill-wishers who may not even be Wikipedians, more material with which to attack, as well as a place where those attacks may be conducted. And finally, there is the communication challenge posed by working through sensitive personal matters, which may have a variety of implications that aren't immediately apparent, and are often emotionally charged. It takes back and forth to ensure that the communication is correctly received and processed by both parties. Because the brain clouds over when presented with walls of wiki text, wiki text conversations have a tendency to spiral into unproductive, unhappy situations, even though these situations would be perfectly workable in person.

Making some in-person, verbal communications options available to Wikipedians is important.

Highly skilled professional communicators (like Sue Gardner) may be able to make their point easily and well through wiki text. In contrast, average people who do not know each other well, or who are writing in their second language, need more context than written online text to make certain they are being properly understood. In-person communication, or verbal communication, makes it possible to understand more about the emotional and meta-content of communications, which can mean that discussions that were unproductive or blocked in written online form suddenly become productive, and have issues get resolved.

Making a paid person with a binding NDA available 24/7 could go a long way towards staying on top of the situation with harassment, and get a trained, informed person into the mix to calm situations before they rise to the level where Support and Safety has to triage for law enforcement.

Project goals


Realistically, staffing needs for 24/7 availability means 4 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions.

This can be broken down into three eight hour shifts per day, or four six hour shifts; practice will show which works better. You can't cover with only 3 people, because you need a fourth person to provide enough hours to cover the weekends, and to have someone on call in event of vacation, illness, or incapacitation on a scheduled shift,

Let's not wait until another well-known Wikipedian encounters serious problems in their career or personal life to move on this.

As Anil Dash has pointed out, if you are not willing to invest in moderating your site, you bear responsibility for the the interpersonal train wrecks that result.

Very few of us are online harassment experts when we sign up for Wikipedia, so having a calm, well informed person to walk us through the options in these situations makes a big difference. The least we can do for our volunteers, who have given our encyclopedia so much, is to pick up the phone (or Skype) and talk to them when they are in trouble!

We have all noticed that people seem to be much friendlier in person than they are online. It's time to start regarding this characteristic of human beings as a feature, not a bug, and bring our people together in person and in spoken dialogue, where they can communicate in a happier and more productive fashion.

Investing in four trustworthy, compassionate people, who are willing to serve as core, anchor people on duty standing watch for the community, is not too much to ask.

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