H12: Reporting out
Once you have finished placing any necessary sanctions, it's time to think about updating involved parties and, potentially, posting a public notice of the case outcome. Doing so will not be necessary in all cases, and you will usually need to use your best judgment when deciding what to say publicly about a case and how to say it.
Deciding whether a public announcement/notice is necessary
Whether you need to make a public announcement about the outcome of a harassment case and/or the sanctioning of a user via a private case will depend, for the most part, on your project's local policies and norms.
Some projects, like English Wikipedia, publicly announce all removals of advanced user rights via a noticeboard; if your case's closure included one of these actions, your team will be expected to make a public statement about it. Other projects rely more heavily on individual administrator discretion, or on private discussion about these topics; if your project is one of those types, you should not make an undue spectacle of your case's closure.
Choosing what details to release in a public announcement
Even when you do need to make a public announcement about a case closure, however, you are not obligated to – and in nearly all cases, should not – release the entirety of the case, evidence, or investigation; most of these will contain private or sensitive information that may lead to either the victim or the perpetrator being targeted in the future. Your announcement should be factual and as neutral as possible; it is your responsibility to make any necessary announcements in a way that will not harm the involved parties.
However, it is also important to remember that most people who view a notice about the outcome of your investigation will not be aware of the detailed background you have on involved parties, nor will they have seen all or most of the evidence you examined. Do your best to make your statement understandable to community members in this position; failing to do so may undermine the community's trust in your team's decisions. It is a balance.
Things your announcement should contain:
- The username of the sanctioned user
- The basis of the case (i.e. "harassment" or "misuse of private information")
- The outcome of the case ("user is banned" or "user is desysopped", etc)
Things that might be appropriate to include in your announcement:
- On-wiki diffs of problematic behavior by the sanctioned user if and only if they are vital to describing this case, and they contain no private or hurtful information about either the targeted editor or others
Things that are not appropriate to include in your announcement:
- Personal details of, or links to content that includes the personal details of, parties involved in the case. Do not refer to users by their real names, or provide links to places like their personal websites
- The content of, or links to the content of, the harassment. The reason you or your team handled the case privately was because this content was potentially hurtful or embarrassing to the victim
- Explicit accusations of activities you believe the sanctioned user has carried out. While your announcement should provide some information about why you are sanctioning the person, be aware of the fact that an internet pseudonym is not an impenetrable shield, and there is potential for any accusations you make to harm the real life of the person about whom you make them.
- Be cautious! In extreme cases, you could be held legally liable for inaccurate or unprovable statements you publicly make about someone.
Responding to third-party questions about a case
As you did when you were writing your initial public statement, remember after you release the statement that community members who see your announcement do not know the details of the case and may not know much about any of the involved parties. It is understandable that members of a transparency-centric movement might express concern if you announce an investigation that was conducted off-wiki and without public discussion; your team's decisions in such a situation may appear shocking or unjustified, and community members may want you to answer questions ranging from the general ("Does this outcome affect how we apply Policy X?") to the very specific ("Is this about that post user:Y made on Reddit about user:X?")
Though these community questions are understandable, when attempting to answer them, you should remember that there is a reason that your community charged your team with handling these investigations in private when needed. A question being asked does not mean you are obligated to fully answer it if doing so would reveal case details that are best kept private.
In a situation where third parties are asking you questions about a case, aim to provide as much detail as you safely can, but no more. Use your best judgment to determine where to draw the line; below are some general rules of thumb, but if you're not sure whether a question can be answered without stepping outside those lines, always check with your team or a colleague.
- Is the question answerable without violating the privacy of any involved parties? If yes, go to 2. If no, do not answer publicly.
- Is the question answerable without violating any confidentiality obligations that apply to your team's discussions? If yes, go to 3. If no, do not answer publicly.
- Is the question directly relevant to the case at hand? If yes, go to 4. If no, suggest the question be brought to a more appropriate venue.
- Does the question appear to be relevant to helping the community understand your team's decisions, or does it appear to be a matter of curiosity? If relevant, answer the question publicly based upon your best judgment. If it seems to be curiosity, respond by explaining the reasons why it is important to conduct harassment investigations privately.
What would you do?
#3: Answering questions about a case
This module will periodically present you with “what would you do?” scenarios - hypothetical accounts of difficult situations. The goal in these sections is not to test whether you arrive at an objectively "correct" single answer, but rather to give you a chance to think about the different types of situations you may encounter, and the many issues and decision points that affect any eventual outcome you settle on.
After an on-wiki dispute with user:B that escalates, user:A is blocked from Wikipedia for a month. During that period, user:B creates an account on Anti-Wikipedia, a wiki where users who have left Wikipedia for various reasons create satirical content about Wikipedia and its users. B uses their new Anti-Wikipedia account to create an article there about user:A, in which they post information supposedly about A, including a photo, a home address, and the names of A's children and the school they attend. The article encourages readers to call A's home "for a good time."
Shortly before B's month-long block expires, A is made aware of the Anti-Wikipedia article about them. They contact your team to ask for help, noting that B does not seem to have let go of their disagreement and saying that they, A, are now concerned for the safety of themselves and their children. Since B has been open both on Wikipedia and on Anti-Wikipedia about owning both of those accounts, there is little question that the Anti-Wikipedia page was created by B. B rejects a private request from your team that they stop publicly posting information about A.
Your team determines that this behavior is enough of a threat to community safety that B should no longer be allowed to edit Wikipedia. You place a ban on B and post the following statement on your project's administrative noticeboard: "For engaging in conduct that violates Wikipedia's Harassment Policy, user:B is banned from Wikipedia. They may appeal privately to [your team name]".
Community members subsequently begin to ask questions about your team's justification for this action, noting that user:B has not edited Wikipedia, even on their talk page, for more than a month, and that B has no block log or sanction history involving harassment. Some of the community members asking these questions appear to believe your team may have exaggerated or misinterpreted whatever behavior you banned B for, since you aren't willing to describe it.
Your team knows you need to post a reply to these questions, but you are concerned about how you can justify this action to the community without releasing information that can be used to identify one or more of the victim, the venue for the harassment, or the content of the harassment.
If you were in this situation... what would you do?