The definition of harassment often varies, depending on the context in which it happens. It can appear in many forms, some better defined than others, not all of which are always easy to detect. In the context of online interactions, harassment is generally considered as the act of systematic and/or continued, unwanted and annoying actions of an individual or a group, towards another individual or group, conducted outside of accepted societal and/or community norms.
Throw the element of fear into the mix [the intent to cause fear to the affected individual(s) through the aforementioned behaviour], and you have upgraded to one specific form of harassment: stalking. This [the element of fear] can also be what distinguishes criminal harassment from civil harassment, although this can vary from one country/state to the next, depending on statutes.
Harassment can manifest in multiple different ways. In the wiki-universe, this may include but is not limited to:
- offensive comments related to gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, race, ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion;
- violence, threats of violence, implications of violence, deliberate intimidation, and personal attacks;
- inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances, or verbal comments of sexual nature in within a non-sexual context (sexual harassment);
- systematic online or offline following, or continued one-on-one communications or outreach after being asked to cease (stalking);
- sustained disruption of discussion (trolling and/or flaming);
- deliberately revealing a person's identity or personal information not previously published, without their consent (doxing);
- publication of non-harassing private communication.
The best course of action when experiencing harassment can vary dramatically, depending on the specifics, intensity and nature of the situation. What may work in one case may not work in another, even if they appear to be similar at first appearance. There is also a possibility that none of the below options work, as they often depend on variables outside of the control of the person that experienced the harassment:
There are situations in which the harassment is a low-level, circumstantial or single occurrence incident. There is no hard rule on what level of engagement in the Wikimedia projects may result in one being harassed; it could be linked to editing a specific article, or contributing to a specific discussion that may be within or outside one’s usual topics of interest. More often than not, this will be low-level, non-physical harassment where ignoring (not reacting/responding to the harasser’s comments) may be all that’s needed in order for it to de-escalate/stop.
Request for the contact/conduct to cease
In some cases, making an explicit request to the other person to stop contacting you (or conducting themselves in a harassing manner) may also work. This is something you can consider in cases of repeated and unwanted (direct or indirect) contact or unwelcome physical contact, especially if it has not been clear to the other person that their actions are unwanted. If you feel comfortable making that explicit clarification, it could help resolve the situation without further reporting.
Contact local law enforcement
If you feel immediately threatened or that your safety has been compromised as a result of harassment you have experienced, you may want to consider contacting your local authorities, as they are usually in position to act faster than any entity contacted through alternative reporting channels. Of course, outreach to the police may not always be the best option and should only be done if you feel comfortable doing so. It is possible that the conduct you are reporting may be criminal, in which case law enforcement will likely want to hear from you directly about your experience. Even if they are not able to do something at the time you contact them, it helps having your report on their records for future reference. The Foundation can work with them if they have questions or need technical data we may hold in relation to your on-wiki experience, so you can also encourage them to reach us directly if they require further assistance.
Seek legal support
This may be an option worth considering, especially in cases of egregious and/or prolonged harassment where considerable stress is caused. Outreach to a legal counsel local to you could help you explore your options, if you are considering pursuing the matter through the legal avenue. Often, local lawyers will charge either a very small fee or no fee at all for an initial consultation.
Although the Foundation’s Legal team can not offer legal advice to community members, they may be able to help you understand the legal landscape and offer a referral for legal counsels in your country/region that you can consider, under the Community Health Legal Defense program. In specific situations, it may also be possible for your legal case to be funded, under this program. You can reach the legal team directly via email@example.com, or you may be referred to them through the Trust and Safety team if deemed a good option for your case. You should receive an initial response within seven business days. Remember that if you feel your safety is imminently at risk, contacting local authorities should be your priority. Threats of harm in general can also be reported to the Foundation, in line with the reporting protocol described here.
If legal action is taken against you, as part of ongoing harassment against you, you may be eligible for assistance by the Foundation. You can see more information and eligibility criteria under the Legal Fees Assistance program page.
Contact the Foundation’s Trust and Safety team
If you are experiencing repeated harassment or sexual harassment, you can reach out to the Foundation’s Trust and Safety task force, where all team members are trained to review and assess cases of harassment.
Your contact to Trust and Safety is kept confidential, so no details about your experience will be shared publicly or with the person you are reporting. Sending an email to cawikimediaorg will automatically open a case file about your issue. Leaving messages on Trust & Safety team members’ (or other) talk pages about the harassment you have experienced is not the appropriate way to report it to Trust & Safety.
It should be noted that depending on the level and type of harassment you have experienced, it may not always be possible for actions to be taken by the Foundation. This doesn’t mean that your experience is of less importance or that the reported conduct is endorsed; rather that the specifics of your situation may not rise to the level of Office actions at the time of your report. We always want to help, if we are able to, so don’t be deterred to report by the possibility that no actions may be possible at that time; having your report on record may help build a stronger case over time, which may eventually warrant actions on our side.
Submit an off-wiki report
If the harassment you are experiencing because or as a result of your involvement with the Wikimedia projects is taking place online but off-wiki, you may also want to explore the options for reporting the harassing conduct in the respective platform where it has taken place. Do make sure that you keep a record (screenshot and/or archive of the page to Internet Archive) of the harassing content/activity before reporting it, so that it may be considered if you reach the Foundation’s Trust & Safety team as well.
Seek additional support
Sometimes, harassment can have lasting effects and it is important that you take care of yourself. Taking a break and/or removing yourself from a toxic situation can offer a safe enough distance where healing can begin to take place. This process can be often aided with the assistance of professionals who are trained to offer the type of support and counseling that enables a steady and speedy recovery. For this you can consider some of the options listed under our Harassment resources page, as well as under our Mental Health resources page.
A summary of the issue
When contacting Trust & Safety, it is most helpful if you include a succinct summary of your experience, any background information as well as links where the reported conduct/content can be seen.
Who, how, where, when
Information about who (or whom you suspect) is harassing you is very useful, as are URLs where the harassing content appears. This can be on or off-wiki; in case of off-wiki harassment, this should be related to your involvement to the Wikimedia projects, as general harassment unrelated to the Wikimedia projects is likely not something we can help with.
If you are reporting content in a language other than English, it make take longer for it to be reviewed, as translations will have to be outsourced if the language is not covered by Trust & Safety. It always helps speed up the review if you also include translations of the crucial texts in your report, where needed (especially if you are submitting screenshots where copying and pasting the text into machine translation tools is not possible).
It is very helpful for us to have an idea of what kind of action/support you are seeking when reaching out to Trust & Safety. For an idea of possible actions, you can take a look at the Foundation’s Office actions page.
Upon submitting a report to the Foundation’s Trust & Safety team, you will receive an acknowledgement of receipt of your report, within two working days. The Trust & Safety team’s turnaround time for a single report is roughly about 4 weeks, so, this is when you should roughly expect to hear about the outcome of your report. Of course, this timeframe may vary as it depends on the case specifics. Reports of long term harassment or group-vs-group harassment can take a lot longer to review, as they may require review of several moving parts and additional parameters may need to be considered.