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Board statement posted at Community response to the Wikimedia Foundation's ban of FramEdit

Below, for archival purposes and for discussion at this noticeboard, is a copy of a statement issued by the WMF Board and originally published on the English-language Wikipedia at: Community response to the Wikimedia Foundation's ban of Fram.


The Board is a deliberative body and we strongly believe that it is important that we consider issues of high importance thoroughly. We realize that for many of our community members our silence has been frustrating, but we genuinely used this time.

A recent ban of an editor by the Wikimedia Foundation under the Terms of Use on the English Wikipedia has generated discussions and debate. There were calls for the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees to respond to the discussions.

Almost three years ago, the board published a strong statement against toxic behaviors and directed the Wikimedia Foundation teams to work to make Wikimedia communities safer for all good faith editors. A safe and respectful environment is not only one of our five pillars, it will also allow for more diverse voices to join our communities, bringing new knowledge with them.

While we remain fully committed to this position, we also recognize the critical importance of allowing communities to be self-governing and for the movement, as a whole, to make high-level decisions. While we realize that the Wikimedia Foundation staff did not take this decision lightly, we also believe that we need the right processes to reach the right results.

It is also evident that existing processes within the communities and T&S have failed, as we have cases which obviously need some form of sanctions, in which sanctions have not occurred.

We believe that the communities should be able to deal with these types of situations and should take this as a wake-up call to improve our enforcement processes to deal with so-called "unblockables". In fact, those in a position of authority should be held to a higher standard. We also recognize that the communities may need support to carry out these needed steps.

This could include funding for training of community members involved in dealing with harassment or helping long term contributors correct behaviors that are inappropriate. We support the provision of the necessary resources to allow the community and its representatives to discuss these issues with the board and staff members.

Even the larger projects struggle to effectively address the most difficult and controversial cases. There is a gap between our movement principles and practices. This is an issue we need to solve together. That is a task that needs to be led by the communities, with the support of staff and guidance from the board.

As such, we have asked Katherine Maher, CEO of Wikimedia Foundation, to work closely with staff in support of our communities to identify the shortcomings of current processes and to propose solutions. This could include current and upcoming initiatives, as well as re-evaluating or adding community input to the two new office action policy tools (temporary and partial Foundation bans).

We recognize that T&S has established a track record for managing highly complex situations. While the aforementioned conversations between T&S and our communities take place, we recommend T&S focus on the most severe cases, for instance: the handling of legal issues, threats of violence, cross-wiki abuse, and child protection issues until consultation and agreement between T&S and the community are achieved.

Any changes in the long-established practices of dealing with toxic behavior within the communities should be introduced carefully and only following close collaboration with the communities. As discussed above, we have directed the Foundation to take on that conversation.

We support ArbCom reviewing this ban. We have asked T&S to work with the English Wikipedia ArbCom to review this case. We encourage Arbcom to assess the length and scope of Fram’s ban, based on the case materials that can be released to the committee. While the review is ongoing, Fram’s ban will remain in effect, although Arbcom and T&S may need ways to allow Fram to participate in the proceedings.

We do not consider any of the admin resignations related to the current events to be “under a cloud” (under suspicion) though we also realize that the final decision with respect to this lies with the community.

The Board views this as part of a much-needed community debate on toxic behavior. In spite of the considerable disruption this has caused for many, we hope this serves as a catalyzing moment for us to move forward together to ensure the health and vitality of our communities.

The chair has formally delegated this matter to the vice chair and was not involved in the issuing of this statement or in any of the deliberations that led to our response.

On behalf of the board,

  1. Schiste (talk) 23:02, 2 July 2019 (UTC)
  2. Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 23:14, 2 July 2019 (UTC)
  3. Pundit|utter 04:57, 3 July 2019 (UTC)

Discussion on en-Wikipedia of the above statement is primarily taking place here. Carcharoth (talk) 16:47, 4 July 2019 (UTC)

13 yearsEdit

I would like to draw the Board's attention to this thread started by @Guy Macon:. Guy sets out the problem - and the lack of effort from the Foundation in addressing it - very clearly. I have asked if anyone on the Board has a responsibility for equalities issues such as this. I would expect an organization such as this to have a lead member assigned for equalities. DuncanHill (talk) 19:48, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

Hi there. The Board recently approved the WMF Medium Term Plan, where Platform evolution is very much a top priority. The Core Platform Team explicitely includes increasing accesibility and usability among its outcomes. Kind regards, Raystorm (talk) 18:36, 11 July 2019 (UTC)
@Raystorm: That's a 3 to 5 year plan. So hopefully 18 years after becoming aware of the problem WMF will have a fix. I don't think that's an acceptable timescale. Pinging @Guy Macon:. DuncanHill (talk) 21:38, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

On 03 February 2006, it was reported to the WMF that our CAPTCHA system discriminates against blind people. See phabricator T6845. This appears to be a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and leaves Wikipedia open to the possibility of discrimination lawsuit.

In particular, National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp. was a case where a major retailer, Target Corp., was sued because their web designers failed to design its website to enable persons with low or no vision to use it.

So why, after 13 years of inaction, do we not have a set of software requirements (including a testable definition of "done"), a schedule with milestones and updates, and budget and staffing information for solving this?

And no, I will not accept any proposed "solution" that lacks the name of an WMF employee who has been given the assignment of fixing this, a budget that says how much the WMF expects to spend on solving this, a deadline that say how long the WMF expects it to take to solve this, and a way for an independent third party to look at the results and verify whether the requirements were met.

Regarding hiring someone else to fix this, I would very much like the idea to be given careful consideration rather than being dismissed out of hand. The WMF is great at running an encyclopedia. Nobody else, anywhere on earth, even comes close. However, running an encyclopedia does not magically confer the ability to create high-quality software, and the WMF has a pretty dismal track record in this area (Examples: Visual Editor, Flow, 13 years of failing to making an obvious but boring improvement to accommodate blind people.) I realize that this will anger some people, but why should it? Olympic-level athletes don't get angry when you tell them that their athletic ability does not magically confer the ability to repair automobiles or do astronomy.

Comments from phabricator:

  • "This doesn't just effect addition of external links, it also prevents new users from registering, requiring them to use ACC to request an account."
  • "There is no one currently assigned to this, so no one is taking it upon him to fix this at this moment. It's also not something that any team at the foundation is responsible for, so it's not likely to be prioritized from that end."
  • The only thing stopping us from having an audio captcha is that nobody's put the work into implementing it yet." --Source: Chief MediaWiki developer as of 2008
  • "So the question is why has work not been put aside to fix an issue of recognised high importance that will, 13 years after first being raised, resolve an issue that results in us discriminating against people who are (in many jurisdictions) a legally protected minority?"

---Guy Macon (talk)


@Raystorm: Thanks for the update. Would you be so kind as to answer the following questions?

  • What is the name of the WMF employee (or employees) who has been given the assignment of fixing this? Alternatively, when will that employee be named and by who?
  • What is the budget -- in other words how much does the WMF expect to spend on solving this? Alternatively, when will the budget be created, and by who?
  • What is the deadline -- in other words how long does the WMF expect it to take to solve this? Alternatively, when will the deadline be decided on, and who will make that decision?
  • Where will the software requirements be published, and how does the WMF propose that an independent third party can look at the results and verify whether the requirement were met?

I can help with that last bit by lining up several people who are vision impaired and use different screen readers and have them test the solution if and when it is ever completed. --Guy Macon (talk) 22:51, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

  • Since, a Trustee says that CPT has the reponsibility to look into this issue:- Paging @Tim Starling, Legoktm, and Anomie:-Can you answer the above queries and/or share anything else around the locus. Regards, Winged Blades of Godric (talk) 08:16, 14 July 2019 (UTC)
    I can't speak about prioritization or resourcing. But I think trying to fix CAPTCHAs is just a dead end. They're fundamentally broken, bad UX, and don't do that good of a job of keeping spambots out. So-called "accessible" ones are broken even more. Except based on our last testing, they do stop some spambots, and that was a significant amount of them (I can't find the link to when we last tried this, I'll look later). So I'd rather figure out some % of spambots they're blocking, figure out how to improve our antivandalism/antispam tooling to improve productivity or success by that same or better % (so in theory we're not adding an additional workload to patrollers), and then just turn off the CAPTCHA. Legoktm (talk) 17:07, 14 July 2019 (UTC)
    I think you mean mw:Extension:ConfirmEdit/FancyCaptcha experiments, which was 5 years ago, but that test didn't prove anything. Most of the additional bot edits were easily prevented by abusefilter, they were just not yet covered by existing rules. We were supposed to repeat the test after adding at least some minimal abuse filters (which is now easier with Global AbuseFilter). Nemo 18:56, 14 July 2019 (UTC)
    Yep, that was it. I think repeating it in 2019 for some pre-determined time with sysops prepared to add more AF rules would be a good start. Legoktm (talk) 15:58, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
[Edit Conflict] Any discussion of how to fix this is a distraction and a huge waste of time. That discussion should happen after the WMF decides to fix it and gives me straight answers about staffing, budget, and schedule. I don't care how the WMF stops breaking the law. All I care about is that the WMF does stop breaking the law.
Regarding what percentage of spam bots CAPTCHA stops, imagine for a moment that we suddenly have reason to create a National Federation of the Blind v. Wikimedia Foundation page with content similar to Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp. Do you think that the court will look favorably on a "but it stops X% of spam, reducing the workload of our patrollers!" defense to the charge of purposely discriminating against blind people? Also imagine that you tried spamming Wikipedia and the CAPTCHA stopped your spam bot. Why wouldn't you simply buy a spam bot that defeats the CAPTCHA? Just counting blocked spam doesn't tell us how often the spammer gives up and how often he adapts to the countermeasures --Guy Macon (talk) 19:31, 14 July 2019 (UTC)
Sorry, I have no interest in engaging if you're going to be making veiled legal threats about theoretical lawsuits. Legoktm (talk) 15:58, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
I deny making a legal threat, and invite you to report me at ANI if you seriously think I have made a legal threat. While you are at it, you might want to report everyone on our legal team, because every one of them has, at one time or another, said something like "we should do X or stop doing Y in order to comply with the law and/or reduce our risk of being sued."
Did you at the very least "get it" when I told you that your "here is how I think we should fix this" comments are not helping? Again I tell you, any discussion of how to fix this is a distraction and a huge waste of time. That discussion should happen after the WMF decides to fix it and gives me straight answers about staffing, budget, and schedule. --Guy Macon (talk) 15:48, 16 July 2019 (UTC)
  • Since the CAPTCHA was first deployed, I have supported simply removing it. I filed T6845 as a position statement along these lines. The task description has since been edited to say that this would "invite too much abuse for our communities", which I don't believe. "Too much" is subjective. I think we should address spam and vandalism by other means. At the time, I suggested configurable heuristics as an alternative to CAPTCHA, and this has since been implemented in the form of AbuseFilter. So what is left to do, on the technical side? In my opinion, it is a policy question, not a technical question. -- Tim Starling (talk) 00:24, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
    @Tim Starling: That was me, and it is based on conversations I had with I think Brian, where they tested this and had to roll it back because it was holding back way more crap than they had expected... I can't exactly find the history of that, but i'm pretty sure I remember this correctly. —TheDJ (talkcontribs) 08:19, 16 July 2019 (UTC)
  • My name is Evan Prodromou; I'm a product manager in the Core Platform Team. I'm probably about to step in it, but... I think we're missing out on an opportunity here with the Captcha. Google, for example, uses reCaptcha as a mechanism for training image classification AI for self-driving cars ("Click all the images with cars/crosswalks/traffic lights/storefronts"). I wonder if there are classification tasks for media on Commons (images, video, and audio) that we could do with a Captcha? Perhaps we could even make a widget that 3rd-party websites could include, similar to how they use reCaptcha...? I'm going to follow up on this issue, both for the immediate and long-term. Feel free to contact me at eprodromou *at* wikimedia *dot* org for follow-up on CPT. --EvanProdromou (talk) 15:06, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
    That's phab:T34695. Legoktm (talk) 15:58, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
    EvanProdromou and Tim Starling, be careful that you don't make the error of talking about how to fix the problem while the WMF has not assigned anyone to fix the problem. I have been talking about this for years, and every time the conversation gets sidetracked into discussions about how best to fix the problem by people who have zero authority to actually change the Wikimedia software. Following that path leaves us without any actual improvement being made. We don't have a "we don't know how to fix this" problem. We have a "The WMF refuses to assign someone the job of fixing this" problem. Once we get someone who's job it is to fix this, we can discuss how to fix it with that person. Until then any discussion about how to fix this leads us way from solving the real WMF inactivity problem. --Guy Macon (talk) 16:12, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
    Disabling FancyCaptcha takes about 5 min of developer time, if the community decides so. Nemo 16:22, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
    Right. I don't know why Winged Blades of Godric is pinging me and other engineers. I've made my opinion on the matter perfectly clear, but I'm not empowered to change it. If there's a legal argument for disabling the CAPTCHA, then talk to the legal team. If their advice is to turn it off, it could be done in a few minutes. -- Tim Starling (talk) 05:45, 16 July 2019 (UTC)
    I have sent this to the legal team at least 3 times over the years, and have never received a reply of any kind. I encourage anyone interested to contact them and see if they have better luck.
I strongly oppose pinging or contacting any engineers or developers. Unless you are dealing with one person working out of his garage, engineers don't get to decide what projects to work on.
As I have repeatedly stated, we don't have a "we don't know how to solve this" problem. We have a "WMF management has not given anyone the job of solving this" problem. We need someone in WMF management to name an individual who's job it is to fix this along with a budget and a schedule. --Guy Macon (talk) 15:37, 16 July 2019 (UTC)
  • EvanProdromou: the existing captcha is already reasonably good for accessibility, since it is easily defeated by OCR. I tried the OCR extension described on this page against our existing captcha, and it worked 4 times out of 5, with short solving times. If the idea is to optimise for a false sense of security for editors while still allowing blind users to create accounts, the existing captcha is a pretty good solution, and presumably much better than image classification. The main problem with it is that it is unwelcoming. Installing obscure Chrome extensions is a barrier to entry. That would not be improved by switching to image classification. -- Tim Starling (WMF) (talk) 06:23, 16 July 2019 (UTC)
    That's all fun and all, but before we know it we end up in another WMF mega project that drowns in its own ambitions.. KISS.. —TheDJ (talkcontribs) 08:20, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

So, will anybody from the WMF be answering the questions at the top of this section any time soon? (...Sound of Crickets...) --Guy Macon (talk) 01:08, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

Fifth columnEdit

On 26 April 1989 the official organ of the Chinese communist party spoke out against democracy. As the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre approaches Wikipedia has been cut off - we've not heard from Anna Frodesiak since 23 April. In this country, expect people like Nigel Farage to continue speaking out against democracy - Leavers secured less than 30% of the vote in the EU election, but to hear him speak you would think they had secured a landslide.