Malayalam is one of the major languages spoken in Southern India. Malayalam Wikipedia was launched on December 21, 2002. As of May 2020, Malayalam Wikipedia has a total of 61,106 articles, 1,38,031 users and 374 active users.
Status of behavioural policies in the community
Malayalam Wikipedia has behavioural policies covering etiquette, building consensus, dispute resolution among others. It, however, does not have a section on Harassment. The five pillars section is a faithful representation of the English policy. Etiquette has a small sentence on personal attacks. But no mention of caste or gender-based attacks. Quite a few sections are directly taken from English Wikipedia policies. There is a section called ‘Do not attack’. However, there is no mention of attacks based on caste, religion, gender, sexuality and other marginalities. The dispute resolution page is empty. The ‘No legal threats’ section has used the same text as English without translation. The policy pages have been dormant for many years now. Quite a few sections are empty or have only a few lines written on it. An average of 3-4 people has contributed to the policy pages. Most of them are by men. I also saw many comments by bot accounts.
I reached out to the community primarily through networking methods. I initially reached out to people I know within the community, who then connected me to others. I also looked up old blog posts concerning Indian Wikipedian Communities and found some active Wikipedians and wrote to them using Wikimail. I also put up a post on Malayalam Wikipedia’s village pump space. However, I didn’t get much response there.
The response from directly approaching people through personal references by email was most helpful for me. However, trying to have people engage with the policy on village pump was poor. I ensured that the person I wrote to had at least one person in common. It added to the trustworthiness.
Many of the community members I spoke with said they would like to see a UCoC implemented. However, there were concerns and curiosity about how UCoC would be implemented and if it would incorporate different cultural nuances. People in the Malayalam community expressed a need for more awareness programs regarding UCoC; preferably in-person.
Some of the people I spoke with said sexual harassment is limited in a small Wikipedia community. However, I did speak to some community members (men and women) who confided in me that harassment did happen. One woman shared how she gets messages from other fellow Wikipedia editors on off-wiki platforms, especially social media channels late at night. Women don’t even tell others if they faced harassment because those sometimes come from people who are known to them. They confide in their partners if they are supportive.
There has been an instance where women have been denied the position of admin because of their anonymity, coupled with suspicion around their very high edit count and a view that the woman user did not know enough about the working policies of Wikipedia to become an admin. Members have observed that the denial of this position resulted in the reduction of this woman's involvement in the project.
I was told that because the number of female editors is low in the community, an entry of a new woman user/editor elicits a lot of reactions also leading to a lot of personal attention. And this can also be a place where female newcomers can feel harassed. One male editor confirmed that women do face harassment in the community at times. They said that sometimes male editors initiate conversations with female editors as a way to help them. They then try to push the boundaries by talking about things that make female editors uncomfortable. Such kind of behaviour drives women editors away. For instance, I was told that there have been instances where male editors upon knowing that a woman editor is going to a different city, have offered to join them along with other suggestive conversations.
Community members shared that there are many off Wikimedia groups where editors discuss a lot of things related to Wikipedia. Not everyone knows these groups exist. Discussion of conflicts in the (non-Wiki) spaces won’t guarantee admin intervention. It depends on the good conscience of the admins if they end up addressing the issue. However. In case of conflicts on the village pump, the admins do respond.
One theme that emerged during the discussions with the community members is that there is a hierarchy within Malayalam Wikipedia between newcomers and people who have been there right from the beginning. People with experience hold positions of power and newcomers can feel excluded from the decision making process.
A user asked how can the community make admins accountable. When there are two versions of articles on the same topic, instead of merging them, there have been instances where admins have retained the older one and deleted new ones and vice versa. Otherwise, they divert traffic to the older page after deleting content from the newer page. This is a persisting problem. There have been instances where well-written articles were deleted. People shared that admins need more training as far as their duties are concerned. I was also told that a few times, rules of minimum qualifications were ignored and editors and unqualified editors were made admins or bureaucrats. This has lead to instances where admins use Google Translate to translate policies and just copy-paste them without discussions.
Stories that stand out
- A female active editor expressed the wish to become an admin but her application was rejected on the grounds that she may not be a woman. Some editors speculated that the account belonged to a group rather than a stand-alone editor because the account was very active. Nobody from the community had met this editor. During the UCoC facilitation process, I managed to get in touch with the concerned editor. She informed me that she continues to edit but is not as active as before in the community anymore. She was disheartened because she was not given the adminship because she refused to reveal her personal identity. She reported that historically, Indic language Wikipedias have had a tradition of anonymous admins but, some community members criticised it.
- Another female community member reported that in the past, she has received messages with sexual connotations at night from male Wikipedians especially when she was seen online on social media platforms. Owing to her busy work schedule and family responsibilities, she only received time at night to work on articles. But when doing so, she would receive lewd messages from some Wikipedians who would be curious about her reasons for staying up at night. When she clearly said ‘no’ to someone, the person called the next day and apologised for the behaviour and added that they were drunk while sending those messages. The female editor informed her husband about the incident but did not file a complaint because these are people that are known to her and her family, and complaining would result in creating a conflict.
I learnt that the Malayalam community is a small community that has not witnessed a lot of growth since its inception. The community has not spent a lot of time discussing and debating policies. They have used policies from English Wikipedia.
Community members, I spoke with welcome UCoC but they would definitely need more information and wish to learn more about its enforcement.