IRC office hours/Office hours 2020-06-04
Office Hours -- June 4, 2020, 18:00 UTC
This was a session hosted on Zoom and livestreamed to allow real-time questions on IRC, Telegram and YouTube. The YouTube link to the recorded session is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGRXVx5EeCk
While text-based office hours are easily transcribed, notes were taken during this session in an effort to reflect in writing the discussion.
The session was led by Maggie Dennis, Vice President of Community Resilience and Sustainability, and focused primarily on Trust & Safety, as the team conducting that work reports to her.
Questions and Answers
- People are saying that you have banned people for edit warring and that you will be banning more people for edit warring. Is that true?
- Answer: No. We have been asked to help out with conflict of interest editors - paid interests - people who are trying to change articles due to their own interests, but I wouldn’t call that banning for edit warring. We've never banned anyone for edit warring and don't intend to.
- One T&S area involves investigating complaints, an aspect that may be expanded if the UCOC manages to get agreement from the Community for certain enforcement mechanisms. One key concern is avoiding railroading by both on-wiki (e.g. an ARBCOM) and WMF sanctioning bodies: So both as an actual, and as a possibly hypothetical, would you support a TOS need for all information within a complaint to be shared with the accused, except where there is both a credible possibility of actual harm to the victim or off-wiki action (e.g. like finding and contacting an employer)?
- Answer: Lot to unpack here - My answer is yes, but I suspect there may be disagreement regarding what constitutes actual harm - actual harm can come in many forms - what is in mind here? Is this physical threats only? I think actual threat is more than that. For instance, we have handled cases of blackmail, financial threat, stalking - we consider this re how much information to release. Hypothetically those accused should have the opportunity to review evidence against them. Quite often when cases come to Trust & Safety, we’re not looking at a simple he said/she said, but we’re looking more at what I would consider a threat of “actual harm.” That would be a situation where it’s very difficult to figure out what we can and cannot share. But I do believe, especially in cases that are taking place in our public wikis, the evidence is public anyway. I do believe we should have as much transparency as we can.
- How do people participate in defining the processes to handle UCoC complaints and respective policies?
- Answer: UCoC will be rolled out in 2 parts - 1st part end of Aug - baseline of behavior all projects must adhere to - 2nd part what are the enforcement mechanisms and pathways are - still figuring out what part 2 will look like - there’s going to be a lot of conversation and there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for people to give input on this. We will reach out on dominant platforms like Meta and also be sure that those who are not on Meta get a chance to give input in their own language.
- What will be done so that T&S can achieve its mission statement, specifically to protect newcomers and to make functionaries accountable, to uphold the rules of the ToU, the CU policy? Are there any plans to prevent misuse of the CU tool and to introduce checks and balances for functionaries?
- Answer: I don't know that T&S has a mission statement; I’d have to look at our Meta page. I think that kind of misses a lot of what we do - we are not just about protecting newcomers; we're about protecting everyone: public, functionaries and those who use the site. In terms of functionary accountability, this is something we’ll be talking about a lot as we talk through the Board’s statement and I imagine the Movement strategy conversation. We will be talking about functionary accountability frequently - look for a culture of accountability - we are talking about this, and there are plans to keep talking about it, but I’m not aware of actual plans in motion as of yet, although I’m sure there will be.
- In my opinion to make the editing environment more welcoming, a recognized advocacy group needs to be set up to create recommendations for improving policies and governance processes to better protect newcomers, and to actively engage with newcomers to give independent support in dispute resolution. This group should consist of WMF employees and volunteers motivated by this cause. How would you start this group?
- Answer: This could be a recommendation for Part 2 of UCoC - I think I’m not going to answer how I would start the group until I hear if the Community wants this group and if they want the Foundation to have a role in starting it. So I’m interested in that question, but I’m going to put a pin in that and say let’s talk about that later.
- My project already has good conduct rules. Why do we need a UCoC?
- Answer: We need basic standards across the movement regarding how we are to behave so everyone has a basic shared understanding of that - that's especially helpful for new people and people facing uncomfortable conduct so that they know what they can expect from others. It’s also useful to those who are already in the projects who get into conflict so they can know what the rules are governing what they can say and how they are supposed to act. It’s helpful to everybody when the rules are clear. If a community already has well-developed policies, it may be that the UCoC won't change those if their policies already cover the baseline. My hope is that communities will sit down and look at the UCoC baseline and ask themselves: "Do our policies actually cover this? Are they being enforced?"
- WMF published a booklet about keeping events safe that, as a first action, states "If there is a threat to safety, call security or police immediately." No mention of perceived vs real threats de-escalation tactics, or alternative channels of support. I've raised this issue with WMF before. Given the recent attention to police violence, will WMF reconsider its position?
- Answer: Well, I'm not familiar with what "the WMF's position" was when this person spoke to the WMF previously - I haven't heard those conversations. Is material in the booklet open to further conversation - YES. All of our content is open to further conversation. As our understanding evolves and the world changes, we need to consider the guidance we give - safety with police is absolutely a consideration. Note that updates to the booklet are deprioritized for now, and movement events are on hold for now. Sometimes it is not a question of whether something should be done, but a question of when. In this case, we will pick this up as we get closer to having events again.
- Comment : Support UCoC from the Board - lots of questions in Community re neutrality - room for diverse views needed. Without diversity you can't achieve neutrality. Thank you for UCoC, I'm concerned re resources to reinforce this code over time, but I imagine that comes during community discussion you referred to.
- How much work of T&S is advocacy/education as opposed to enforcement?
- Answer: T&S has 10 - 11 staff (numbers are hard to recall when I'm nervous!), and less than half of that staff are on enforcement - rest on policy - anti-harassment initiatives including tooling improvements and UCoC. It is my expectation that in the coming year, we want to expand international incident support, as there's a rise in governmental oppression. Hoping to hire someone very soon to handle those cases. More users being impacted - want to protect those as they share knowledge with the world. So enforcement is less than half; the rest of the team is dedicated to evolving policy and advocating for practices that lead to better safety. My goal would be to continue expanding the other half and to reduce as much as possible the need for enforcement over time - but enforcement arm of T&S do handle hardcore issues that volunteers should not have to address. Some issues are dangerous to address and need organizational support. About 60%-40% policy/advocacy vs enforcement, I'd guess, and I'd expect that enforcement ratio to go smaller over time. But we shall see what the UCoC conversations evolve us to and how this continues to evolve.
- Regarding the UCoC; who will lead the writing of this? Will it involve Community efforts or will this be mostly from the Trust & Safety team itself in writing the actual code?
- Answer: From what I understand, the strategy group recommended that we work from a baseline document. It is going to be probably a mixed group of Community and staff who will take the baseline document and modify it and put it in front of the Community for comment and revision before it goes to the Board. It's not exactly a staff-led process: staff is responsible for making sure it gets done and gets done on schedule, but it is community involved all the way.
- Will WMF impose the UCoC on nl.wp or will the Community democratically decide on one? I think this can be extrapolated to apply to any community.
- Enforcement has been the biggest question since early days. You can write a policy, but how do you make people abide by it and enforce it. If we are setting global minimum standards, we need some level of global enforcement - and we know that those cases are difficult and take a lot of staff time. The T&S team has been invaluable to my work, but has only so many staff members. How do we adjudicate harder cases that take time?
- Answer: The Policy Team sees this as a 3-legged stool: 1. establishing the basic codes of behavior, 2) defining the pathways for enforcement, 3) and creating the tools and finding resources (people) to make this happen? The Board is directing the Foundation to put more resources into tools for trust and safety (not the T&S team only, but the whole movement's trust and safety work). After the first phase of UCoC, the next question is what do the pathways look like for enforcing? What resources are needed in terms of people and in terms of tools to make this possible? I don't have an easy answer, other than I think we'll be thinking about little else until we solve this.
- Are there plans for an ombudsperson or appeal committee?
- Answer: "Yes and". The Board wants a review committee to look at T&S's work that isn't bright-line cases. There is a bright line regarding material that can and cannot be shared with the Community for Legal reasons and can’t be appealed because we have a legal responsibility to protect the movement. In the interim, while we are working on the UCoC, we are already talking with our Legal team about how to create an interim review process we can stand up quickly that allows a great layer of transparency. Hoping to have clarity around this within the next couple of weeks - I expect that it will be a quick and fairly high level process--we’re not going to get an opportunity to talk to the community widely about it, because we have to stand it up fast--it is a "for the meantime" process. For the long term, with the second part of the UCoC where we talk about enforcement - I strongly suspect the Community will want a review/appeal process. I’m trying to avoid saying, “Yes, this will be in there” because at that point it’s no longer a community process but about what Maggie Dennis thinks is the right thing to do. But I’d be super surprised if people don’t come in and say, “There needs to be an appeal process so that this feels fair.” Some people want a global Arbcom. Some people really don't. Many ideas out there - this will be one of the harder issues to resolve.
- How do you cope with more challenging parts of T&S job - like threats.
- Answer: Job does have its hard moments - there are times when psychological assistance is needed, and the WMF provides unlimited access to that care for T&S staff. Team receives threats, and those threats can impact family members as well. This is hard stuff. And this is part of what we deal with and part of what we try to protect especially functionaries and community from being targeted by. We look to protect people from this. A supportive and caring team helps with difficult issues, and remembering it's for the best of all possible causes. I think the people who put their time in here for free sharing in the world's knowledge deserve safety. My team is paid to give them that, and we take that really seriously.
- Thank you for your frank comments - don’t you think you need more (human) resources to tackle all these problems - seems like you need more.
- Answer: I feel well positioned to respond to this because for several years I was not just focused on Trust & Safety but at the executive department working with a whole department. So I say, “Yes, but so much of the work that we do is critically important is under-resourced.” So I feel like the Foundation is actually quite dedicated to supporting T&S as much as possible while also resourcing all the other things that need to be done, things like the need to fund growth of the platform, and funding affiliates, and events around the world. Look to continue to find resources and to work as effectively as we can with the resources we have. That said, if the Foundation wants to give me more money, I'm here for that!
- UCoC seems mostly defensive. Are there any proactive plans to make the Community more resilient and sustainable?
- Answer: Yes, there are plans. We work with communities to keep themselves safe from turmoil, from repressive governments and from terrorists. We are looking to provide more training and information to help people keep themselves safe in our communities, while at the same time being careful about what we advise. Keep people safe without pointing out vulnerabilities to bad actors. There’s a lot we need to do in terms of onboarding, from teaching people how to work through conflicts on our sites - teaching about policies on the sites - look at better onboarding regarding how to edit. We will continue to work on the whole community health package.
- Comment in chat: This is a thread that runs through the Movement strategy discussions, and it is being tackled from various angles.
- There’s some confusion around the UCoC Board resolution and previous statements made by T&S: - will T&S follow the commitment from last July regarding short term blocks and direct intervention in cases outside previous scope? Aftermath of FRAM case. Partial blocks tool - we were receiving complaints regarding not participating in the movement ever again. This tool was withdrawn - will this be used again?
- Answer: I should note that I was on leave during those events, so I would need to read through everything to know exactly what you're referring to. But that said, let me take a crack at it: The partial ban tool was created because we were receiving complaints that we didn’t quite know what to do with -- people that we didn’t react to with the only tool we had available to us, which was to say, “You can never participate in our movement again” So we were trying to find a middle ground. My understanding is that the community was not comfortable with this tool and it was withdrawn. The future...it depends on what we’re told, in terms of what the Board wants us to do. What we didn’t do was talk enough. We needed to talk more with the Community regarding why this tool was needed. We've made a lot of mistakes with communicating with the community - partially because we're very busy and there are a lot of people and the conversations never stop, and partially because it can be scary to talk to the community - we've had cases of staff being threatened and stalked. This is part of my commitment to talk to the community more; it’s scary for me, but i’m going to do it. I can’t honestly say that we will never again find the need for partial blocks, but I can honestly say that it will never happen unless there is a strong reason and unless we have communicated that reason.
- Plans related to making incoming users happier rather than less threatened.
- Answer: With a larger team this would be part of my work, absolutely! Right now, my team is focused on this other work. However, I don’t know if you’re familiar with some of the work being done in our Product Dept around Growth. I’m afraid to talk about it and get it wrong; I’ve already told you all that when I’m nervous, I get things wrong, so I’m sure to get it wrong. The Growth team is working on onboarding process for newcomers. I think this is being trialed on ko.wiki. Looking at newcomers' experience and what they need to successfully onboard. There is work being done on this now, not by my team, but it's being done.
- LGBT+ community: This group/issue is not wikiproject specific. Want more off wiki support regarding harassment - information, advice, and advocacy - but there is a lack of a sympathetic admin group. LGBT+ people can feel unwelcome contributing to certain topics. Is this part of the T&S vision, and is there funding and training?
- Answer: Has it been part of the vision? Honestly, no. It might be some people’s on the team level. We are focused far more on what we can do with a small team. Support is important but difficult to do. Personal experience - person considering suicide - the wrong thing was said, though thankfully this case didn't end badly - don’t always know what triggers are for people so we need to be careful regaring how we offer support. Can be traumatized by incidents when offering support. We need to find peer support groups and mechanisms for supporting people, but it's a huge topic and not one we've tried to approach systematically because there are so many factors we need to consider around how do to this safely. People in support positions might be traumatized by what they hear when offering support. We might have a liability for that. I’m sure we’ve been around the internet long enough to perhaps stumble across a support group or two. Some people come to them to feed on trauma. How do you make sure that people are in a support group to help - and not to exploit access to injured people? Or how do you make sure that the people reaching out for support are not there to exploit access to support? All of these things happen in online support networks. I think it’s a great idea, and I would love to see this happen. Follow up conversations needed; this is a complicated issue. I welcome experience and expertise on this.
- How large would you like your team to be in order to tackle everything you want to do?
- Answer: I'm not sure we'd even need to enlarge the team for that. Contractor budget may be enough to work with the community group to set out rules. Resources are limited - would love to talk to Community leaders who want to do this work to make sure they are considering risks to themselves and others who may join them in this work so we make sure they’re as safe as possible. [Response to chat:] We could post links and emergency numbers on T&S pages. We don’t currently have links to support groups, though we do have emergency numbers.
- Comment: (Emergency numbers on the T&S first page are vital. It is hard to know where to write and who to call in case of an emergency. Page hard to navigate and all in English.)
- Should UCoC say that people need to accept gracefully formulated criticism and that debate should be authorized and that people should not be silenced by those holding places of power?
- Answer: Yes, I won’t be writing the UCoC, but if I’m participating in it, yes, I think that should be there. Differences of opinion are important. Our staff page office on Meta has a quote, and mine is a deliberate misquote that says, “Conflict is inevitable; combat is not.” I believe that differences of opinion are important to arrive . If I surround myself with people who think like I do, I’m only going to get the answer I would have gotten in the first place, and I make mistakes. Also, there are some comments being left in French, I barely read Spanish; I cannot read French. If anybody could help with translating in case there’s something I can answer there, I’d be so grateful.
- For those who don’t speak English, it is hard to follow this type of meeting. It seems there is a lack of coordination regarding policies for projects.
- Answer: In terms of language difficulty, I am truly very sorry. I am aware, and I hope that by doing outreach in multiple languages that will addressed at least to some extent. We will be publishing notes from this office hour - I hope that people will feel free to translate them. The second thing - lack of coordination across projects, yes. That’s part of what the UCoC is meant to do. UCoC baseline rules will be expectations that don’t change from project to project so rules are the same across projects. It is very hard to go from one project to another and find out that what you have been doing over here is not allowed over there. For example, last year someone blocked on one project because name suggested they were gay - people need to be free from sexism, racism, and homophobia across projects. I do not believe that a local policy should make it okay for people to be discriminated again, and I hope that the UCoC will agree with me.
- UCoC will be developed in a working group between your team and community - when will this begin - and when will the first draft be shared for feedback?
- Answer: My memory for numbers is going to get me in trouble, because the people who are doing this work are in the room and I’m going to say something wrong. But my understanding is that in about 10 days a publication of initial feedback from 19 conversations that have already happened around the world. Not sure when the committee will be set up, but I know Patrick is planning on posting info about that soon. I don’t exactly know how we will be constituting this committee, but it’ll all be coming out very soon.
- WMF vs Community rules - both make rules - will these rules be enforced by the body that makes them or based on harmfulness?
- Is the WMF going to impose the UCoC on nl.wp?
- Answer: We are creating a Universal Code of Conduct. UCoC presented to the Board in Aug - if ratified it will apply to everyone, all projects.
- How will we work for buy-in of the UCoC?
- Answer: I hope it will “sell itself”. There's a lot of anxiety around it right now but my hope is that once people see what it will actually say they'll be like "oh, is THIS what it is?” and then it won’t seem so scary. I don’t believe we’re all going to come up with a code of conduct that makes things we currently accept completely and utterly illegal and grounds for banning. That would really surprise me. I’ve never seen that kind of attitude in the community.
- What are you most proud of regarding the work you have done at the Foundation?
- Answer: Most proud that “I am still here.” This job is complicated and stressful and always changing. I stay because I believe in what you all do.
- Maggie’s favorite ice cream.
- Answer: Anything with caramel
- The UCoc will be imposed after ratification, but also after consultation with communities?
- Answer: Yes. Quick turnaround, but there will be community consultation.
- UCoC seems to be common sense.
- Answer: Yes - if it doesn't make sense, then I hope the Board does not ratify it.
- OTRS and T&S - how can we open the best link.
- Answer: Defer to the T&S team: Patrick will take this question up with T&S leadership.
Thank you all for coming and participating - sorry for any mistakes or misspeakings! Notes will be posted and communications will continue. Notes from the meeting will most likely be posted on the Office Hours standard channel.
A few post-meeting questions answered on Friday
Maggie answered a number of emails the day after the event. The five general questions received were shared here, redacted for length and tone.
- I heard you say at the beginning something about communities accepting the terms. What method will be used for requesting such acceptance and how will the result be determined? In addition, this seemed to conflict with later statements you made, that all communities would be bound by any such code regardless of acceptance. Could you please clarify this?
- My team's current direction is to produce a code of conduct that has wide community consultation on a draft proposal and then present it to the Board for ratification. The communities have the opportunity to discuss the specifics of the code before it is presented to the Board for ratification, but once it is ratified by the Board, it will be underlying policy, like the licensing policy. At that point, all communities are bound by it. Details of how input will be collected should be coming together over the next few days and hopefully updated on Meta by the team leading the work next week. (They report to Jan E., who reports to me.) We will of course be hosting the draft for review and discussion on Meta, but also hope to facilitate discussions from non-English speakers as widely as possible.
- With regards to Foundation intervention and what you called "bright-line" incidents (chiefly child protection, threats of violence, formal legal complaints, and threats of violence), will the Foundation stick to enforcement only in those bright-line cases with the community alone handling day to day matters (edit warring, incivility, harassment, etc.).
- I think the way you see the bright line is a little different than what was communicated to Trust & Safety or intended by the Board. In the past year, Trust & Safety has reviewed a number of harassment cases that were neither about child protection nor explicit threats of violence, but rather about severe and especially cross-wiki harassment. Per the latest Board statement, we will be working to address cases of harassment surfaced to us even if within an individual community, and we have been directed to create an interim review committee with international functionaries precisely for such cases that we may handle that are not “bright line” (excluding those cases which pose legal or other severe risks). However, as I mentioned at the start of the meeting, we never have blocked anyone for edit-warring and have no intentions to start. Communities are well equipped to address that issue. We also aren’t going to be jumping in whenever we’re asked to solve onwiki disputes - we defer the vast majority of requests we receive to local processes. Community governance is still the main avenue of enforcement for most onwiki issues. But it does mean that we have the ability and have been directed to step in on severe cases or cases where local policy/processes are not capable of handling a serious matter.
- Does the Foundation intend to take actions related to behavior on individual wikis?
- If necessary, yes. I’m not aware of any such cases in the pipeline for my review, although I have a number of them to read through tomorrow, so there is no specific case that I know of proposing to do that. The requirement would be that the local community is demonstrably unable to adequately deal with an issue. One of the reasons the Board issued its statement in May is because of requests for the Foundation to step in on the local level that we had difficulty responding to under the July 2019 guidance. These didn’t come from EnWP, but several other projects where self-governance is not as robust. (I believe we have a dozen arbitration committees worldwide for our over 700 active projects - although obviously some of those projects are tiny.)
- On review of movement strategy recommendations and the current state of requests and restrictions, the decision was made that Trust & Safety might need to step in anywhere, at least until a global review body is created, and that by creating a community review process that could receive appeals for any case that was not what I call “bright line” (for lack of a better word), we could reduce concerns that Trust & Safety might overstep and cause harm.
- We’ve been asked to quickly stand up an interim review process to take this role before the communities globally discuss with the Foundation what suits their needs in phase 2 of the UCoC. Our Legal team is currently reviewing parameters. I hope to have something set up soon as well as to be prepared to understand what is possible when we reach those discussions in the UCoC process.
- Do you intend to respect community governance, as the English Wikipedia Arbcom demanded you do?
- Community policies and processes are the underpinnings of the movement, and we have no intention of skirting around them or trying to subvert them. Even if we wanted to do otherwise, we have a tiny operations team, and they are busy. I’m seeking to add one more person to that team, but only to keep up - not to expand its remit.
- The Foundation does have a responsibility to understand governance policies and practices on individual projects as the platform provider. There are ongoing international challenges to the role of online service providers as regards their accountability for what happens on their sites. We want to defend the community's effectiveness in courts and in policy conversations, and to do so we need the community to be effective. If community self-governance is not effective, we may sometimes need to act. However, such intervention is not our goal, nor the Board’s. Instead, our goal is to work within an ecosystem where the Foundation is able to support where needed and the communities have clarity on expectations and roles for all.
- In respect to this, there are issues that the Foundation needs to handle and issues that the community can and should. Somebody asked about edit warring in the office hour; I don’t see us having a place in edit warring, although I’m aware that having said this somebody could tell me what that place is in 10 minutes. :) The “bright line” with harassment can sometimes become indistinct both for us and for local governance bodies, who do sometimes directly ask us to take on cases they’ve been asked by their communities to review. For instance, we all agree I believe that where physical harm is involved or illegal actions, the Foundation has a role. What about harassment that leads to suicidal behavior? What about off-wiki doxxing? Blackmail? One of the roles of the community review process we’re setting up, both in the interim and in the long term as part of the UCoC process, is to determine if the Foundation’s involvement in a case was appropriate. It could result in some cases being overturned and remanded to communities, and we are comfortable with that.
- How do you reconcile this with the July 2019 Board statement about restricting T&S's ability to handle such cases?
- The Board’s guidance to the Foundation evolves, appropriately so in my opinion. A lot has happened in the world, including in the movement, in the last year, and the Board wants to make sure that we are empowered to do what we need, so they've issued the 2020 guidance to build on the 2019 guidance accordingly. They have just as much ability to change their minds and modify the 2020 statement as future events require. What hasn’t changed is the Board’s commitment to getting the balance of Foundation accountability and communities’ autonomy as right as possible to protect the overall movement as much as they can. I was present for some of the conversations, and I know that they put a lot of attention into that question.
- While I was not here for the 2019 conversations, as I read it, the July 2019 Board statement in regards to Trust & Safety’s work was always intended to apply temporarily - it says (emphasis mine) "While the aforementioned conversations between T&S and our communities take place, we recommend T&S focus on the most severe cases [...]" Because of some of the situations that have come up internationally within the last year, it became necessary to modify that approach now before the UCoC conversations are complete, but - well, as above - the Foundation is taking steps to include and empower community governance at the same time, including setting up that community review body for T&S cases, so that the community can correct us if we go too far in cases in the future without the kind of constitutional crisis to which you refer.
- The UCoC will, I hope, not only protect us from unintended Trust & Safety scope creep, but also help the community find weak spots in its current self-governance and shore them up so that the Foundation has no need to step in. Our goal is to never find ourselves in a Fram-like situation again: we don't want the community to feel cornered or attacked, we don't want our staff to have to face the abuse that was directed at them during that time, and we don't want our users to feel like they could be "disappeared" at any moment because they don't know what the rules are.
- Can you follow up with what you said about the content of the code, particularly around homophobia? You mentioned not knowing the level of detail that the UCoC would go into; is it going to forbid homophobia?
- I’m sorry for causing confusion. What I was trying to be clear about was that I'm not the one who will be imposing the code and that I don’t know the granularity of detail it will end up having on forbidden behaviors. People in the Zoom meeting with me rightly called me out for seeming to suggest that certain principles might not be part of the baseline. However, with an explicit movement strategic goal of diversity and inclusion, I believe a code that does not forbid discriminating on sexual orientation, gender or race would not pass review. The Board of Trustees has already issued guidance against this for communities (in their mandatory CoC for staff), so I imagine they will be expecting something on this in the Universal Code of Conduct as well.