Research:Arabic Harassment Netnography

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
18:44, 18 Mar 2019 (UTC)
Michael Raish
no affiliation
Duration:  2018-10 – 2019-02
This page documents a completed research project.


Public report of the 2019 Arabic Wiki Harassment Netnography.

As part of ongoing research for the Community health initiative, the Wikimedia Foundation commissioned a study from Mike Raish about harassment on Arabic Wikipedia. This study aimed to establish a baseline understanding of the frequency of harassment, trolling, and threatening communicative practices on Arabic Wikipedia, to explore the effects of these practices on editing and community health, and to guide future investigation and strategic decisions for the Anti-Harassment Tools team.


This study employed two major methods to collect data. Firstly, observation, identification and classification of harassment and abuse on Arabic Wikipedia was used to establish a baseline for threatening and problematic communications. Secondly, asynchronous email interviews with specific dispute participants were conducted in order to explore their perspectives.

The primary point of observation for this study was the block request page on Arabic Wikipedia. For this study, 782 block requests, stretching back two years, were analyzed and grouped into one of nine categories based on the first block reason presented by the reporting user. The number and percentage of sustained block requests was also calculated for each category. Additionally, specific examples of threats or abusive communications were translated and categorized. These examples were primarily selected from the block request page, as well as by looking through community discussion forums, user talk pages, and the talk pages of controversial accounts. Keyword searches were of limited use, since multiple Arabic terms may be used to describe phenomena that has a single name in English.

From this analysis, a network of involved editors and administrators was revealed. Eighteen email solicitations were sent, ultimately resulting in six participants who agreed to participate in this study. Of these, three responded to the posed questions.


Though threatening and abusive communications exist and can be found in this community, the mechanisms for addressing such situations involve robust participation. Bystander intervention was cited by interviewees as a critical factor in reducing the negative outcomes experienced by victims of abuse, further highlighting the importance of community participation in conflict resolution.

These harassing, threatening or otherwise negative behaviors were exhibited by long-standing community members, involving the use of different kinds of insults to undermine the legitimacy of their targets. Some of these insults also employed politeness as a way to modulate the apparent level of respect demonstrated by the speaker, or to attempt to lessen potential sanctions for using insults.

The study identified two main frames by which community members discussed these disputes. One was using the framework of human rights, casting their abusers as akin to the dictatorial state, with themselves as the powerless citizen. Another was the framework of neutrality and objectivity, claiming that their opponents were biased, used unreliable sources, or were otherwise not there to help build the encyclopedia. Concerns over objectivity extended to the administrator–editor relationship, though it is not apparent to what extent biased administrator behavior is present. Nevertheless, this perceived rift occasionally surfaces in community discussion forums, and featured prominently in the interviews.

Harassment was rarely an individual instance, instead being highly personalized and an ongoing process. One of the major mitigating factors for the negative impacts of harassment was the participation of trusted bystanders, such as respected administrators. Even as the "dictatorial" power of administrators was decried by some, a sympathetic administrator's intervention was also brought up by interviewees as an important step that led to their decision to stay on Arabic Wikipedia in the face of perceived abuse and harassment.


This study brings up multiple possible avenues for continued research into the topic. On the basis of these findings, possible new studies include:

  • A survey study to further contextualize the phenomena described in this report.
  • A longitudinal study of new editor experiences.
  • Expanding this research to other-language Wikis, to gain a clearer view of editing and moderation landscapes across different Wiki projects.
  • Creating case studies, profiles, or personas for harassers and targets of harassment.

Additionally, this study recommends the creation of a central research page to gather, clarify and publicize research efforts in this vein.

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