Talk:Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/Working Groups/Advocacy/Recommendations/6

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I support having a central policy document regarding advocacy scope and positions. Many donors believe that their funds are being used to build and improve an encyclopedia and not for "social justice" advocacy. Advocacy should be narrowly confined to those issues that pose an existential threat to our mission of spreading knowledge and providing free content. The more that WMF takes visible advocacy positions, the more that the credibility of our information projects get challenged. If WMF testifies to a Congressional hearing on some copyright issue, will the Wikipedia article covering that copyright issue have diminished credibility? Our editors come here to create neutral content, rather than to advocate. The advocacy approval process should be well-defined but also constrained to just essential topics. I suggest a formalized RFC vote with at least 500 affirmative votes before the WMF can take on a new advocacy position. Thank you. Hlevy2 (talk) 17:16, 12 August 2019 (UTC)

Hlevy2, thanks for your comment. Please notice that we're talking about all structures, including chapters, thematic organizations, user groups, other potential future types of affilated organizations, maybe some regional hubs, etc. This is also about anywhere Wikimedia are, including, e.g., Asia and Africa. (This is my personal comment, I'm not WMF staff member or a contractor). SGrabarczuk (WMF) (talk) 10:42, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
Yes. I appreciate that. However, as a movement, we need to tighten up our advocacy focus at all levels. For example, there are protests now in Hong Kong that raise very important issues regarding human rights. Wikipedia should cover those protests, but we should not advocate on the underlying questions because it undercuts our credibility as a neutral knowledge provider. The WMF is not Amnesty International. If the community takes a vote with 500 people agreeing to a new position, then we know that a specific question represents an essential topic. Once a topic is deemed essential, thematic organizations and chapters can advocate for it. Hlevy2 (talk) 11:18, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
I see, but why "WMF" and why "we"? :) Please note that the authors of this draft recomendation write consistently about "the movement". It means something else than just WMF. SGrabarczuk (WMF) (talk) 11:31, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
It looks like we need a definition of "the movement", or if it already exists, a link to it. · · · Peter (Southwood) (talk): 11:36, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
It's on Meta ;) SGrabarczuk (WMF) (talk) 11:55, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
Thanks, It is about as vague as I expected. · · · Peter (Southwood) (talk): 13:14, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
Hlevy2, There is more to Wikimedia than the encyclopedia. Donor money may legitimately be allocated to any of the projects. The comment on social justice is valid. As far as I know it is not a Wikimedia project at present. · · · Peter (Southwood) (talk): 11:40, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
Pbsouthwood I agree. The problem is that each editor and each prospective donor has differing views on what is good policy. So, once we accept a central "playbook" of policy from which we can advocate, we must set a threshold for adopting it or adding to it. I think the threshold should be high to keep the movement focused upon our main mission and not "social justice" writ large. We have to draw a line somewhere and the community deserves the role of drawing that line. I think 500 votes is the right number to prevent a strange minority viewpoint from slipping into our central "playbook." What do you think? A fringe group advocating for a quack cancer treatment should not be able to slip in and easily insert its goals into our "playbook" by taking over a small user group that was formed for other reasons. Hlevy2 (talk) 12:16, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
Hlevy2, Indeed, and there is no specific policy for "The Movement". We are working on that here. It may work out in the end, but I am not going to make any confident predictions. I don't know if there is even a definition for "The Movement", or if it is sufficiently coherent to justify such a label. We do not seem to be united by a common goal. More like we are divided by a common goal. Some empire building is probably doing on behind the scenes, there often is. Editors generally find themselves a place where they fit well enough in one or more projects, or are evicted by the project community. Donors give according to their perception of what the money may be used for. Mostly they are probabably wrong, but maybe close enough to not lose any sleep over it. Cheers, · · · Peter (Southwood) (talk): 12:52, 13 August 2019 (UTC)
Seems like there is, see above. · · · Peter (Southwood) (talk): 13:14, 13 August 2019 (UTC)

I support the basic idea which is that there is a centralized "playbook" of policies for which we as a broader movement can and should advocate. My proposal is to put a high threshold on how items get onto the centralized "playbook." I would propose that an RFC be conducted on Meta for adoption of the first version, and then a separate RFC be conducted to add any specific issue to the "playbook". So, for example, if there is an important issue of EU copyright policy that is not covered by a more general item already in the "playbook" the RFC should be posed as "Should we add opposition to EU Proposal X to change the copyright laws to cover panoramas, and similar legislation?" We would then discuss the matter, and if 500 people vote "yes", it is added. Once added, chapters could conduct advocacy campaigns on that topic, if they chose. However, over time a better understanding would develop as to what the community's thoughts are on the scope of proper advocacy, and the number of RFC would probably decline.

People are free to advocate for anything they want, but if the issue has not been approved and placed in the centralized "playbook", no affiliate or chapter can claim to speak in an official capacity and there will be no website blackouts, or other on-wiki protests or banners. I would hope that the Working Group will acknowledge the risks and costs in taking too many advocacy positions including antagonizing donors, losing credibility, and audience fatigue.

Hi Hlevy2, thanks for the comment. You're raising a very important question. To reframe in my own words: If we have such a document, how do we decide what's in it and where is the decisive power. While I understand the RFC idea, I just don't know if this is a concept which works for all communities or if this is only working in european/american environments. What comes into my mind also is the question, if we want or need a document which precisely names concrete relevant issues and has a high change frequency (if I understand it right, this is how you see it) or if we strive for a more general document with a lower change frequency. Alice Wiegand (talk) 19:14, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
Many thanks for your kind reply. You have restated the concern correctly. In response to your question, the document would start at a high level with broad topics and then would go into more detail in areas were advocacy requires important nuance. Later changes occur if the community wants to shift its position based on changed circumstances or if an extremely detailed policy must be spelled out to avoid advocacy of a "wrong" alternative policy. If a general provision is in the central document (e.g., "oppose copyright of panorama"), there would be no need to conduct an RFC on a more specific question (such as "oppose copyright of panorama in Argentina".) If the document grows to the point that it is difficult to read and use, then the movement probably should scale back its Advocacy operation. The content must be decided by a broad section of the community, because given human nature, Advocacy volunteers and staff lose perspective and are more biased toward advocacy action than the community as a whole. Again, many thanks. Hlevy2 (talk) 23:08, 14 August 2019 (UTC)
Hlevy2 I think it's interesting that you consider the mission to be, "spreading knowledge and providing free content," because the actual Mission statement is more broad, including to "empower and engage" contributors to do the things you state. Let me ask about three concrete examples to see if I can understand your position. First, can you give an example of an issue on which you would always support Foundation advocacy? Secondly, the Foundation's Public Policy team put a lot of effort into lobbying for changes to the recent EU consultation on copyright, even after "free online encyclopedias," were given a carve-out, and many of the restrictions could not have affected any of the Projects. Would you always consider such efforts wrong? Finally, let's say a Chapter, say in India, found out that contributions from women are much less likely than from men because of an economic issue. Would you ever consider it right for the Chapter to take a position on that specific economic issue? EllenCT (talk) 06:10, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
Wikimedia advocacy on the EU copyright issue was based on the understanding that it was a threat to Wikimedia. "This proposal I do believe has significant potential to harm not only Wikipedia but the entire movement we function within." - board member Doc James, 04:12, 3 July 2018 (UTC). This was the understanding of the WMF and the community. IMO, the WMF should conduct advocacy when the WMF and the community agree that there is an existential threat to Wikimedia projects. We should not take any positions one way or another on arbitrary political issues that are not related to our projects. --Yair rand (talk) 06:24, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
@Yair rand: where do you draw the line in determining what is and is not related to projects? EllenCT (talk) 17:18, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
@EllenCT: The projects require the ability to have the sites available, with free licenses and free software, with the editors not blocked from participating and the host organization not prevented from keeping the site up. Most broadly, these requirements relate to copyright law, internet censorship, and intermediary liability laws (which could prevent the WMF from hosting the content), and online privacy law and general blocks on internet access (which could prevent editing and use). Anything outside these areas do not relate to the projects. Most things in those areas don't relate to our projects either. Only things that actually threaten our projects in one of those ways are related. --Yair rand (talk) 17:56, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
@Yair rand: so, what do you think is appropriate for Turkey and China, where the sites are not available and editors are blocked? How much censorship is enough to trigger advocacy? For example, prior to HTTPS-only, Iran and Russia censored on sex and sexuality, drugs, and political topics -- are those kinds of censorship legitimate areas for advocacy in your view? How much imposition on Wikipedia administrators, such as by France on the subject of radio listening outposts should be enough to trigger Foundation advocacy? Is the (ab)use of libel law to prosecute editors worthy of advocacy? EllenCT (talk) 19:17, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
EllenCT The mission statement is limited by "to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally." The basic point of the Working Group recommendations is to retain centralized control and consistency in advocacy but decouple scope decisions from the WMF staff and the WMF Board. I believe we should have a high threshold to decide whether something is within our advocacy scope because of the risk of losing credibility, losing donors, losing consensus within the movement, as well as audience fatigue. To respond to your question as to how I would personally vote in a RFC, I would support advocacy on copyright panorama issues and a carve out for "free online encyclopedias", but I would not support positions on specific economic issues in India. Again, anyone would be free to propose any advocacy position, but at least 500 "yes" votes in the RFC would be required to add them to our advocacy central document. We are not Amnesty International or an Indian economic policy think tank. However, we are here to report objectively on issues relating to the economy and social fabric of India. Thanks for the questions. Hlevy2 (talk) 10:22, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
@Hlevy2: so you would forbid chapters from doing any advocacy work unless they could get 500 supporters worldwide? EllenCT (talk) 17:18, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
I am not certain that 500 is the correct number, but yes. There should be a broad-based support of the topic worldwide. Once we adopt a advocacy objective, such as panorama, and it is added to the central document, no further RFCs would be necessary for an affiliate to advocate on the subject. Hlevy2 (talk) 02:33, 16 August 2019 (UTC)
  • Some time ago I wrote about my concerns about a broad advocacy scope: Talk:Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/Working Groups/Advocacy. I think these questions serve to illustrate the complexity of broadening advocacy within Wikimedia. If we start with advocacy in the economic field, should we advocate for Fight for $15 in the United States? What about the right to unionize? In an event like the 2011 military intervention in Libya, should the WMF have opposed the NATO intervention? These issues affect the ability of millions to effectively access or participate in Wikimedia projects, be it because of insufficient spare time given economic conditions, difficulties to access a computer or the Internet or because they have died. However, I doubt Wikimedia as a community would survive the internal wars derived from this kind of broad advocacy. Just look at the political userbox drama in English Wikipedia for a sample of how politically diverse the community is. --MarioGom (talk) 18:45, 15 August 2019 (UTC)
I agree. The "barrier to participate in Wikipedia" argument is too elastic. I have a difficult commute from work. That does not justify the community advocating for more local infrastructure so that I can have more time to edit. Hlevy2 (talk) 02:39, 16 August 2019 (UTC)
@MarioGom: what standard should we use to judge whether advocacy is appropriate? EllenCT (talk) 06:42, 17 August 2019 (UTC)