In spite of research from numerous internal and external studies and community feedback reports over decades (Gender equity report 2018, Schellekensa, Holstegeb and Yasseri 2019, Ford and Wajcman 2017, Adams, Brückner and Naslund 2019), general policy change is rarely implemented in Wikimedia. Multiple studies have determined that extant movement policies don’t just reflect the systemic biases, they make biases against marginalized communities worse, in effect, re-colonizing and oppressing diverse knowledge(ibid)
First, because the nature of a volunteering project, which allows both trained and untrained (or unskilled) volunteers to “undertake the critical function of creating and enforcing policies for the specific Project editions” and, second because of the limited role of the Foundation has specified in hosting content and monitoring policy, Wikimedia projects have an environment in which the majority of editors who flock to a page, (not necessarily the majority of editors) control policy definition and implementation, even if that implementation is detrimental to minority groups and broader inclusion of knowledge.
On a technical and experience level:
- The ToU policy should be easily accessible. Placement of a link to the policy on the task bar at the top left of any project space (i.e. may be implemented as an automatic pop up). This allows everyone immediate access and reconfirms that these are the foundational rules for engagement regardless of other project specific guides.
- The ToU should be agreed on each time an editor acts anonymously as an IP. Rather than simply a checkbox, the policy should open, so that (in theory) the policy is read before the box is checked. (For those with registered User name, as long as they remain signed in they would not get a pop-up after sign-on. This would correlate to other public access facilities and serve to reinforce “safe space policies” and expected on-line behavior norms.
We propose modifying the ToU, both as a way of giving prominence to such a message to all stakeholders and as a general policy driven by movement strategy. The specific directions of the policies contained in it are mainly on aspects to be regulated such as conflicts between users, systemic biases and content.
One of the policies that should be encouraged and contained in the ToU is regarding the content licenses and diversity. Present licensing for both text and photographs should change to allow restrictions for non-commercial use and no derivative works, if those will improve the ability of the project to better reflect diverse knowledge on a global scale, such as by including videos, allowing culturally significant text or photos to remain intact without misappropriation, etc. Such misappropriation for a variety of reasons has created distrust from marginalized and underrepresented communities with open knowledge movements.
We currently use for text both Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and/or GNU Free Documentation License. Specifically the ToU says “reusers may comply with either license or both”. The GNU says, “The "Invariant Sections" are certain Secondary Sections whose titles are designated, as being those of Invariant Sections, in the notice that says that the Document is released under this License… L. Preserve all the Invariant Sections of the Document, unaltered in their text and in their titles. …” If that indeed means that by reusing the document one must keep the authentic text, then it allows certain topics to be in essence "semi-protected". In Berlin, the legal department said this could be done, but perhaps it would be through a different license entirely. As an example, for an article in which an indigenous historian/scholar has provided “authoritative” input and marked with distribute only through GNU, it would be semi- or fully-protected from drive by editing for those sections marked. ToU language would change adding something along the lines of if text is marked as licensed under “license X” it must distributed verbatim, though translation is allowed (which the GNU policy allows).
Likewise, photographs, which are marked ND (No derivative works) or NC (No commercial works) could be made available for use with proper attributions/licensing notices. This would allow distribution of educational videos or materials often licensed only as NC, or culturally significant works marked ND which might suffer from misappropriation. (If this cannot be applied across the board, we need to evaluate project specific use for multimediamulti-media, such as the “fair use” policy on English Wikipedia.)
On a governance level, another statement that should be clarified in the ToU is that of the relationship between the Wikimedia Foundation and the community. The community undertakes the critical function of creating, enacting and enforcing guidelines and policies for the specific Project editions (such as the different language editions for the Wikipedia Project or the Wikimedia Commons multilingual edition). In addition, the community has the responsibility to carry out its work in a manner consistent with the mission of the Foundation and strategic plan of our movement. This secondary responsibility is currently missing from the ToU and should be added, as it’s omission has created conflict when the WMF has acted to enforce such things as office actions. In the event conflict with the mission goals occurs or if the policies of any project fail to further the mission or thwart the goals/mission of the Foundation, the Board should have the right to either a) hire experts/specialists to evaluate policy and recommend change, b) collaborate with stakeholders to make changes, or c) implement change at the foundational level.
The proposal would alter the one-directional method of creating project policy to one that is more balanced and involves multiple layers of policy creation (Wikimedia Foundation, Chapters and Online Community, i.e. all stakeholders). At present policy is developed project by project without input from the WMF. This proposal suggests that policies should be created as a collaboration between the stakeholders to advance the movement goals. Incorporating a Code of Conduct, would better ensure the health of the community. Addressing systemic biases would eliminate problems such as having to overcome ignorance and belittling comments which fail to consider the pluricentric nature of various languages; underrepresentation/misrepresentation of a broad spectrum of society, including but not limited to differently-abled communities, elders, indigenous groups, the LGBT community, racial and ethnic minorities, and women; and policy and technological barriers which currently exclude certain types of knowledge, mirror systemic biases of society (Bach and Wajcman 2017), or violate neutrality by supporting political aims (Talia 2019). Modifying the current licensing policy will better reflect our focus on education and knowledge sharing.
Having the freedom to create policy on a community-needs basis, but balancing it with policy to meet the objectives of the movement, will also make it easier to share content across platforms, as research has clearly shown that within each project the majority of material is based on culturally significant topics within that language group, rather than a diverse array of content which incorporates culturally significant topics within other languages.
All change has negative connotations to some members of the community.
Legal wording would need to ensure that restructuring into a multi-level arrangement for developing policy creates a balanced environment, fostering inclusion of content, but neither favoring bottom-up, nor top-down controls. It would also need to ensure the autonomy of projects in content control and policy implementation, to prevent censorship.
Community feedback on multiple levels from a variety of venues has indicated that policies are often used to silence diverse voices from participating in discussions and content creation. The focus on mainstream, Western-idea of academic-based knowledge limits the inclusion of other ways of knowing or presenting knowledge. Addressing community health, systemic biases and diversity impacts each stakeholder in the movement, thus policies should be developed collaboratively.
Clearly it overlaps with Advocacy, Capacity Building, Community Health, Roles & Responsibilities, and the Technology WGs. Changes would allow groups which have different means of passing on knowledge to participate in Wikimedia projects in a safe environment, where their voices are not silenced by unintentional or direct biases.
Connects with Recommendation for a Code of Conduct.