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Grants:IdeaLab/Centralised harassment reporting and referral service

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Centralised harassment reporting and referral service
On occasion Wikimedia community members have a serious Wikimedia-related problem. Both those individuals and the global Wikimedia community would benefit from having a dedicated support channel.
  • pilot - ~50,000
  • likely future appetite - 350,000
idea creator
created on10:58, 3 October 2014 (UTC)



Project idea


See also a talk for Wikimania 2015 at wm2015:Submissions/Our options for addressing harassment of women, LGBT+ people, and other popular targets for discrimination

Perhaps 20% of all popular media attention related to Wikimedia activities addresses Wikipedia's harassment problem. The avoidance of investment in addressing this problem is an expensive luxury to continue to enjoy. Eventually someone will have to take responsibility either personally or through funding to a third party.

  • This proposal is a request that money be put aside to create a request for proposal. In that "request for proposal", organizations would be invited to submit their ideas for designing a system or process for addressing harassment. This proposal gives information about what kinds of proposed systems might meet the specifications for such a request for proposal.

What is the problem you're trying to solve?


Suppose that a Wikimedia community member has a complaint about harassment which resulted from their participation in Wikimedia projects. Currently, there is no place in the Wikimedia community where a person who is the target of harassment can privately document the complaint and get a confidential response. Beyond the lack of a place to make a complaint or get a response, it is uncertain what kind of response anyone should expect if they do complain of harassment.

The reason why Wikimedia community members should expect to be able to report harassment in this way is traditional brick and mortar nonprofit organizations which host volunteers have channels through which their volunteers can do this, and because those organizations provide support for volunteers who experience harassment. As the Wikimedia community increasingly blends online contributions with traditional community interactions, the Wikimedia community should develop the same kind of support services which would be available through other comparable nonprofit organizations.

Another related problem is the perception that harassment which happens in Internet spaces is less real than harassment which happens in other communication channels, such as in person, by phone, by paper mail, or otherwise. As more people are more deeply engaged in online collaboration, this is becoming less true, and even now the Wikimedia community is real enough to take itself seriously and begin to emulate traditional practices to respond to harassment and be a world leader in developing standards for how to respond to harassment online.

What is your solution?


The establishment of something close to a medical or legal referral service might be a justified response. The service would note and classify that a complaint was made, archive a record of the complaint for research, then give the person complaining a referral to whatever useful resource may be available. No service beyond recording the complaint and making a referral would be offered.

a chart to illustrate a process for managing complaints

  1. A set of entry points exist into one communication channel which receives complaints. People are invited to use it.
    1. Entries can be email, phone, or whatever communication mediums can be accommodated
    2. No promises are made for direct relief at this point
    3. The major indirect relief being offered especially for typical harassment is just having a record of the poor treatment created and noted, so that the harassment is not forgotten
  2. All complaints go to a trusted, third party manager which receives them.
    1. The manager can be trusted to keep complaints confidential and out of reach.
    2. The manager has the ability to catalog, sort, archive, and retrieve complaints.
    3. The manager makes this record of complaints available to researchers in some way. This is necessary because every extant counseling service justifies its existence by counting the number of complaints it gets and helping to create research about the complaints that it receives.
  3. The third party responds to the complaints by referring the complainant to the best available resources.
    1. At the least, people get a link to a default message consoling them.
    2. Over time, the Wikimedia community and other communities have an opportunity to crowdsource landing pages for more nuanced responses which the manager can direct people to at the manager's discretion.
    3. Whenever possible, the manager forwards people to more targeted local support, like a harassment hotline for their country or in their language. The limit here is identifying a directory of appropriate referral services.
extended explanation

Off-wiki problems occurring as a result of on-wiki volunteering do not happen often but when they do, there ought to be a channel by means of which any Wikimedia community member can contact and get the best support the community has to offer. The sort of support offered should be of the sort commonly offered to volunteers in communities which have a physical brick-and-mortar presence in a neighborhood and who are similarly engaged in supporting volunteers in their community participation. Great models to emulate might be women's rights or LGBT rights organizations who have decades of experience in practicing support for their activists who face pressure in the course of their routine volunteering activities. The person taking this position would manage the following projects:

  • Human resources complaint receiving - Interpersonal complaints happen as they are a part of community organizations. The channel for complaints should be confidential and go to a trusted third party. This proposal is only to receive complaints; and not to respond to them.
    • Complaint resource research management - Suppose that complaints are received. Even without addressing the cause of the complaints or providing direct relief to the people who complain, the complaints are a resource through which processes can be improved. Someone should make complaints available for research in a way that respects all parties involved in the complaint.
    • Human resources complaint processing best practices - Suppose that complaints are received, and there is intent to respond to the complaints to satisfy the person making the complaint. Whatever happens in response should be guided by documented best practices. Those practices may include any of these:
      • Actually have someone engage the person complaining in an attempt to provide relief as a response to their complaint
      • Community support services - Connect Wikimedia community members to mental health counseling services when they are distressed due to problems resulting from their participation in Wikimedia projects.
      • Develop a peer-to-peer counseling forum - For minor stress, peer-to-peer support is an ideal response for acknowledging that someone has experienced a problem and documenting it so that steps can be taken to ensure that the problem happens less often in the future.
      • Provide advocacy in seeking mediation or justice. This is a lot more complicated than simply providing personal support and acknowledging a problem which someone reports. Although many targets of harassment may wish that some advocate will help them seek justice, perhaps by punishing the the person accused of harassment, this kind of role is probably beyond the scope of this position. It might be possible for this role to make referrals to yet another party if the target of harassment wishes to pursue further response, or it might be best for the human resources person to define the limits of their role to include this only to some limit.
  • Human resources sharing in the open movement - all organizations which are aligned with Wikimedia community goals and who also experience this problem should be coordinated to collaborate
  • Code of conduct synchronization - Build on the Wikimedia community's code of conduct with insight from the codes of conduct of other online communities
  • Encourage formal diversity training by trained presenters - Diversity training may reduce the risk of conflict between members of in-person Wikimedia community groups
  • Public relations panic button - In situations in which Wikimedia community members are pressed to make a media statement when the Wikimedia Foundation is unable to support them, then there should be professional support available to the community to help with the situation.
  • Be a community advocate in mediating between the community and the Wikimedia Foundation, and maintain contact with Wikimedia Foundation staff who can give support to the community in the right situations.

This project is analogous to a crisis hotline but without the telephone counseling. The service offered is referral with cataloging for research. This could run as a viable project indefinitely on the salary of one record keeper, probably with experiencing managing medical records for research, along with the cost of maintaining a secure server which that record keeper can access.

One cost for the project is the set up of a secure cataloging system of quality similar to that of a United States medical or legal office, as some information shared may be private confidential health or legal information. At its simplest, the communication channel into this system could be a form to complete. A step beyond that could be having someone answer a phone and complete the form for the caller.

Another cost for the project is the cost of having a human at hand to access the information, if for no other purpose then to make it available to researchers of the sort who are qualified to deal with high liability data which could include personal medical and legal information. Most universities in the Western world can do this under certain circumstances.

Going further, if a pilot setting up the channel, cataloging system, and archivist seems viable, is actually having a human sort the complaints to make referrals. For the most common kind of complaint, general harassment, probably no referral can be made and little can be done. At best the target of the harassment can console themselves with social solidarity and knowing that their voice is heard. In some cases, a complainant can be referred to other services. There is no such thing as an "international harassment police", but in wealthy countries there are hotlines for very specific purposes which people may wish to check for practical help. Services generally have restrictions on communities and demographics, so for example, a women's harassment hotline in the United States could not typically be used by someone needing advice about stalking and LGBT issues in India. In the most usual case of relatively light harassment and discrimination where the problem is tolerable in the sense of being disruptive but not illegal, there still is no direct personal protection here except that perhaps crowdsourcing can generate landing pages for complainants to read and perhaps they can take comfort in being heard and helping define the scope and severity of the problem to inspire social change.

When the United States Federal Government sets up a counseling hotline, it might cost $250,000 to setup then that much yearly to sustain 5 staff. For this project to be established in the United States, the cost might be as little as $20,000 to set up a secure server, $20,000 for legal and ethics review, then $40,000 for a record keeper to manage the archive. If more costs were cut, this might be a $30-60,000 project to pilot it in a limited way for a year.


  • Create a safety net which reduces the chance that participation in Wikimedia projects can result in serious harm to individual volunteers.
  • Create infrastructure which seems likely to reduce the chance that relatively minor problems in the Wikimedia community can be perceived and reported in mass media as major Wikimedia project concerns, thus harming all Wikimedia participants and the entire Wikimedia project.
  • Make the Wikimedia community comfortable in reporting problems occurring away from the keyboard and outside of Wikimedia platforms but resulting from their Wikimedia participation.
  • Improve and secure Wikimedia community health and safety

Get Involved



  • I'm a strong supporter of this proposal, and plan to be involved in its discussion and crafting. OR drohowa (talk) 16:22, 9 October 2014 (UTC}
  • I am also a strong supporter of this idea, and I would love to see this expanded more beyond what is outlined above, due to the potential benefits of having someone in this position. Kevin Rutherford (talk) 20:14, 9 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Slowking4 (talk) 03:02, 10 October 2014 (UTC)
  • Djembayz (talk) 23:02, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
As per a recent article, "A recurring theme is the absence of a safe place to go for problem solving and informal resolution" --Djembayz (talk) 23:07, 24 April 2015 (UTC)
  • Long overdue. —Neotarf (talk) 09:43, 18 November 2014 (UTC)
  • I am also a supporter of this as it could allow the plaintiff party to seek restitution or justice and allow defending parties to respond to the complaints and dispute them if they are actually false. Something like this should have been done a long time ago if you ask me Kayz911 (talk) 06:55, 18 December 2014 (UTC)
  • As Wikimedia projects are growing and becoming more prominent in the public eye, the issue of harassment of volunteers is becoming increasingly problematic. The current infrastructure does not address this issue adequately, so I fully support this proposal. Neelix (talk) 23:47, 5 January 2015 (UTC)
  • This would not only help address some of the problems, but would serve as an acknowledgement that this is an area that needs serious attention. Mozucat (talk) 12:41, 20 January 2015 (UTC)
  • Strong support. Netha Hussain (talk) 19:44, 23 January 2015 (UTC)
  • Supportor. --Mervat Salman (talk) 18:14, 24 January 2015 (UTC)
  • We have and continue to experienced problems at Art+Feminism events that would have benefited from this process. As Mozucat says, this would further serve as an acknowledgement that this needs to be addressed.--Theredproject (talk) 03:05, 27 January 2015 (UTC)
  • This would be a very positive thing for the Wikimedian community.--Pharos (talk) 23:39, 28 January 2015 (UTC)
  • Online support for harassment is both needed and growing acrossthe internet, and I think Wikimedia needs to get involved sooner rather than later. An official paid resource, rather than relying on volunteer support, is needed to both document harassment and help get editors the right resources they need to deal with it. ~SuperHamster Talk Contribs 17:49, 6 February 2015 (UTC)
  • support. Great potential here, especially with regards to coordinating efforts and developing best practices for responding to online harassment. Having a record of complaints (as outlined on the complaint resource research management page) would also contribute to improved policies and processes for our communities. -Thepwnco (talk) 01:25, 10 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Creating a workflow mediated by the official organization behind the sites, but with endpoints throughout the community would be an excellent tool for creating a greater sense of security and strength for all of our members. Investing money in the community to professionally handle particularly rough social situations, seems like a long overdue step. Sadads (talk) 04:47, 12 March 2015 (UTC)
  • As Theredproject notes above, we have experienced a number of issues at Art+Feminism events that would have benefited from this process. I strongly support this project. The time and emotional investment on volunteers to handle conflict resolution is currently untenable. --Siankevans (talk) 19:23, 12 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Following Theredproject and Siankevans, after our experience of organizing Art+Feminism I strongly endorse this project. --Failedprojects (talk) 23:44, 12 March 2015 (UTC)
  • I think this is an excellent idea. It would need to be integrated into the existing workflow -- there are previous and ongoing efforts to address complaints (editorial, inter-user, harassment, and other), so identifying what's been tried before, and soliciting the input of those who already handle the various complaint streams, would be very important.
I have personal experience with the company "eModeration Ltd.", which could provide many of these services (I used to work for them, but haven't for over a year.) I know their management and moderators are used to the idea of sorting input and answering with client-generated responses, and escalating important/delicate incidents back to the organization and to local resources (and even emergency services if the situation is critical). I know they can work in multiple languages, can provide almost any sort of record-keeping and statistics desired, and that they also provide training and resources for the PR Panic Button-type incidents mentioned above. And I know they're very good at working with clients who don't know where to start, and can guide the development of an effective process. They're not the only third party company that provides these services, and I have no idea how their prices would compare to other companies or to hiring a single responder, but the big advantage is that they can provide a rotating staff of moderators. This allows the "hotline" to be staffed around the clock as we desire/require/can afford (checking the queue for one hour every four hours, or monitoring it continually, but with a different moderator taking over every two hours, etc). This would avoid the problem of burnout -- anyone who's done any sort of customer service or moderation knows that constant exposure to people who are angry/in pain is difficult. It would also be much more scalable as the number of complaints increase (organically, as Wikipedia grows, and socially, as awareness of a more effective complaint channel grows.)
I'd strongly encourage contacting eMod and their competitors relatively early in your development process and at least having a conversation about what they can do, and getting a variety of quotes. They may also be able to refer you to non-profit organizations with a similar harassment-response mission that could be a better fit or more affordable option for Wikimedia. Hope that's helpful! Catherine (talk) 00:15, 15 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Pretty much every modern, collaborative website has something like this. We need it too. Ocaasi (talk) 00:21, 20 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Harassment by other contributors (or fear of harassment) is currently the #1 reason my female friends refuse to contribute to Wikipedia today. Goldfishbutt (talk) 06:08, 21 March 2015 (UTC)
  • I think every forum needs such support service. It will encourage volunteer to contribute freely . Aratrica (talk) 17:11, 22 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Yes, please. Careful training of volunteers/staff to avoid burnout/"emotional labor" as noted above is important, but I like this idea.--Mssemantics (talk) 14:33, 23 March 2015 (UTC)
  • I've never been harassed, but I've seen others get harassed on discussion pages and it's discouraged me from participating. Xttina.Garnet (talk) 17:06, 24 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Endorse as long as men are also allowed to seek defense from harassment as the one big case of it that I've seen was by a tag team of proprietary gate-keepers who harassed a male editor terribly. When he filed a ANI complaint, they were allowed to re-frame the argument into a banning debate against the harassed man with a bunch of their cohorts piling on to support the idea. It was a pitiful display that Wikiers allowed this to happen. Harassment - cyber, physical, verbal, or sexual - is not like other problems that may take a calm demeanor to overcome, but it's totally undermining and insidious, infuriating and frustrating. Once frustration occurs, it's easy for the harassers to smarm their way into appearing to be the sweet one. Even if it's done in cyberspace, one never knows if the harassing bully is across the globe or across the street. Do it! Wordreader (talk) 07:41, 25 March 2015 (UTC)
  • Anything that makes WMF projects feels safer will help to keep women editing. Great idea. Lightbreather (talk) 19:08, 26 March 2015 (UTC)
  • This is definitely needed and poorly addressed in our current design. Pundit (talk) 05:26, 12 May 2015 (UTC)
  • Yes, please. Very strong support. Raystorm (talk) 09:30, 27 May 2015 (UTC)
  • I volunteer to respond to some cases once we agree on what bystanders can appropriately do. econterms (talk) 23:44, 26 July 2015 (UTC)
  • Great idea. We have had several discussions about this issue since 2014 and there was a ontopic presentation at WikConUSA 2015. Becksguy (talk) 18:03, 19 February 2016 (UTC)

Expand your idea


Do you want to submit your idea for funding from the Wikimedia Foundation?

Expand your idea into a grant proposal

Project plan




A centralized harassment reporting and referral service would be established.



Budget for pilot year:

  • project manager, 1 FTE @ USD 70,000
  • software development, 2 people 0.5 FTE @ USD 70,000
  • researcher for data processing of outcomes, 1 FTE @ USD 50,000
  • design and usability testing, 0.5 FTE @ USD 25,000
  • communications, copyediting, 0.5 FTE @ USD 25,000
  • user testing, 0.5 FTE @ USD 25,000
  • research of precedent, production of white paper 0.5 FTE @ USD 25,000
  • travel USD 30,000
  • software consultancy 30,000
Total USD 350,000

Community engagement

  • research of all published precedent
  • documentation of current practices in Wikimedia and comparable other online communities
  • solicitation of support from partners external to the Wikimedia community
  • within Wikimedia community, the primary outcome for judging worth is use of the reporting system by the Wikimedia community


  • the project will need perpetual financial support from the Wikimedia Foundation at this level, perhaps even if equivalent funding comes from other sources
  • from inception the project will seek support from all major public online community organization platforms

Measures of success

  • most media about harassment and discrimination in the Wikimedia community mentions that a system is in place for addressing it
  • user satisfaction increases among those experiencing harassment in the Wikimedia community
  • other organizations use this harassment reporting system as a model for supporting their own communities, or even refer their communities into this system
  • international participation
  • 10,000% increase in number of "legitimate harassment complaints" (i.e. meets any popular definition of "harassment") reported in the Wikimedia community / Wikimedia Foundation infrastructure
  • general awareness raises in public discourse about the nature of online harassment as evidenced by increased media coverage of the issue as a result of this project
  • increased count of online and in-person community events which include specific instructions about responding to online harassment

Project team


Community notification


Please paste links below to where relevant communities have been notified of your proposal, and to any other relevant community discussions.


  • Volunteer anything as long i can help Realman0801 (talk) 15:04, 20 October 2023 (UTC)