IRC office hours/Office hours 2020-10-15

Office hours: October 15, 2020, 18:00 UTC



This was a session hosted on Zoom and livestreamed to allow real-time questions on IRC, Telegram and YouTube. The YouTube link to the recorded session is here:

While text-based office hours are easily transcribed, notes were taken during this session in an effort to reflect the discussion in writing. Answers are by Maggie unless otherwise noted.

The session was led by Maggie Dennis, Vice President of Community Resilience and Sustainability, and focused primarily on Trust & Safety, as the team conducting that work reports to her.

Questions and Answers

  1. Why are you hiring a human rights lead? What will that person do?
    The Wikimedia Movement encompasses many communities around the world facing different challenges. As we grow in particular in regions where we have not been as present, we recognize some people face human rights threats. We are hiring someone to help people who encounter problems as a result of their good faith involvement in the movement and to help them engage safely, confidently, and not become targets in their environment.
  2. Meta-wiki says your team is intended to be expanded to include management of Crisis Response, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. What are your goals? Do you have plans in those areas? What do your current team do?
    Crisis response is human rights; we just weren't as open in the title. We found that human rights and general crisis response expertise aren’t always found in the same person/candidate. Before the pandemic, we were hoping to explore ways to work with community groups to fill content gaps, for example women’s health in different languages. We know much of our content is grown organically, but that means when people look for important topics in certain languages and don’t find them. We wanted to put out a call to gather that information, and though the COVID crisis has caused us to narrow our scoping, we hope to still be able to do this in the future.
    Currently, I oversee Trust and Safety, and recently, the Community Development team has joined us. We handle issues as they occur (the Operations team), improving policy (the Universal Code of Conduct team), and creating anti-harassment tooling (a close partnership with our Product team). On the Community Development team, we are working on capacity development and building, for example, an online learning platform that will support our communities.
  3. How did you handle timing of the UCoC consultation for those communities where language translations came in late?
    Patrick (Manager of Trust and Safety): Translations were a huge challenge. We shot to have 30 languages, but anyone who has worked with the translation extension knows that it can take a long time. For some translations, they were not out until the third or fourth day of the consultation. Towards the end, we did a rolling closure of the consultations based on when they were made available. We didn't want to shut down any conversations which were still active. We are thinking about how to do this better in the future and get things coordinated earlier to not disadvantage anyone.
  4. What is the strangest request you have ever received from someone outside of the movement?
    When I was hired at the Foundation, one of the strangest things I saw came early in my tenure. A man in Germany wrote us an offer to be a mercenary - someone who was willing and able to go on violent missions for us. We put that in the “do not respond” pile, but it was probably the weirdest.
  5. What recommendations would you make to the communities as we prepare for the upcoming US elections?
    Watch for disinformation. I know you already do; I used to do recent change patrol myself. This is contentious as there are a lot of lies floating around. This isn't just in the US - there are people trying to control information for the outcomes they want. When I was doing recent change patrol a ten years ago it was pretty obvious when people were doing this with bad intentions. They have gotten better now. Watch sources, especially for political topics.
  6. UCoC - what is something you or your team hope comes from the UCoC?
    My problem with this question is with the “something”--I think there are many “somethings” to share. It can be challenging to move between projects and I'm not sure people who spend most of their time on one project understand how difficult it is to move from one project to another. I hope that the UCoC will make it easier for people who want to move from one project to another to know what the ‘rules” are for how to get along with other people. What I hear is that it is a pain point. My goal is for there to be a good clear process to communities to know and understand that their concerns and problems are being taken seriously and handled as much as possible by their peers.
    There is a perception that Trust & Safety Operations wants to take care of behavioral problems between users, and I myself do not want this. We are a very small team, and I would rather focus them on the things I don’t think volunteers should do.
  7. UCoC - even though we are not yet in implementation yet - how are you planning to navigate the Trust gap between the WMF and the community?
    Having conversations where people have access to ask and have their questions answered (so office hours are part of it). As much as possible - make sure the implementation makes sense and that we are able to create solutions together and not concentrate power within the Foundation. Hopefully it helps that we have a Case Review Committee--my goal is to move into a safer and more trusting space together.
  8. Curious to know what obstacles exist if the trust isn’t built? What signs will show us that we need to revise this process?
    It is important that we are there and listening and paying attention to the pain points people bring up and that we are candidly addressing those. I’ve asked the Board to be flexible to make sure this works for everyone. That doesn’t mean everyone has to agree. This is hard work - and not everyone will like it, but the important question is if it is fair. And ask if they don't like it, why?
  9. UCoC Events and Outreach - any plans for outreach for those not comfortable with English?
    Patrick: WMF has used the “meta” [] model for documentation and comments and often left it to faith for people to provide questions and translations. For UCoC we recognized that wasn't going to work. Last time we talked to 19 communities and hired people within those communities to go out and talk directly with the communities where they naturally exist and communicate.
    For UCoC Phase 2, we plan on doing more of this and do it better. Talk to people in their local language - to follow up with them on questions and concerns. We will share this plan shortly but it will be more than just on Meta. The fact we can’t get together in person does mean we are trying to create inclusive online conversation spaces on platforms like Zoom.
  10. Follow-up question: speaking or understanding English is uncomfortable or is not smooth for people to express themselves so I was looking more for original languages and what the WMF is thinking of doing in regards to this.
    Check out the Meta UCoC watchlist. Making sure the many of the other common languages are at least translated but even doing more of this. “Secondary languages” such as French, Arabic, and Russian would be an improvement.
  11. Why do we need a UCoC when there exists something like etiquette that has been around since I was 5?
    Part of the problem - this was also a rec from the Movement strategy recommendation - there is a lack of clarity around how people should be treated and how people should treat others. A UCoC allows people to clearly understand how they should behave and how they should not. I’ve seen clashes of communities when they come together in shared spaces - this will help with international engagement and blending of cultures. Some local communities seem to need and want this more than others, based on Policy Team outreach. We know also that some projects have been infiltrated with people not working in the best of faith, so we need to address this. In terms of the actual reasons behind the recommendations, that is in the Movement Strategy documents.
  12. Follow-up: My personal life experience is that normal people behave respectfully - does this mean that some people don’t represent an average citizen that is welcoming others and behaving in a polite manner and are instead confrontational and angry to others?
    Sadly yes some are not. On the whole most people come from a good place, but in some cases, for example, people from different cultures may use language or behaviours that are insulting to others. Especially as this movement has grown, there are some people who do not come in wanting to be helpful and welcoming. Trust and Safety should deal with these people, and the communities should be able to focus on those who do show up welcoming and collaboratively but might not know how. As we move forward into UCoC Phase 2--if I could make UCoC Phase 2, we would spend a lot of time teaching people who don’t behave well why it’s a problem and how they could behave better. This doesn’t mean they are bad people; rather, they need to understand how to act in a certain environment.
  13. Follow-up: You mentioned that if you could design UCoC Phase 2, you would make that kind of instructional support central to help people collaborate better. I’m curious to know how that will factor in or if you envision this factoring in in the future.
    I’m trying to be very hands off in terms of the content of UCoC Phase 2. It is my hope that those who behave in the operational aspects of behavior will be part of the conversations. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how resilience and sustainability works. It's important to assume people mean well but to also give them the tools to do better. I believe inclusivity is how we will be a resilient and sustainable community. That includes how people can get along better.
  14. Training materials - the idea of developing training materials - what do you mean by this? Is this an expansion of the modules at the meta page for Trust & Safety resources? Is it in the pamphlets for keeping events safe? What are these materials and what might they help support?
    Community Development came under my management about 2 weeks ago so I have not yet dug into their portfolio. It means creating a training platform, recognizing the expertise people have and providing space for them to share it with the movement. We will talk more about this as we update the Meta pages.
  15. Follow-up: how can we get involved?
    We will follow up with a link. Will talk to the Manager of Community Development, Simona Ramkisson, to provide more information.
  16. In practice, what do you think the outcome will be when the UCoC contradicts local consensus-backed policy?
    I hope that doesn’t happen, and if it does, I hope it won’t happen around a core principle. If a local consensus-backed policy were completely contrary to moment values, I hope UCoC Phase 2 will allow a process for the local community to review it appropriately. On the English Wikipedia, for example, it is understood that a consensus of a few does not overturn the consensus of many, so I hope it will be similar to that.
  17. Follow-up: An example I'm thinking of is English Wikinews's specific rejection of "Assume Good Faith" (which is included in the draft) in favor of its own "Never Assume"
    OK, so, alright, let's pretend that I'm in charge of UCoC Phase 2 for a minute, and that in fact Phase 2 looks exactly like I want it to. I think that, first of all, I've said before, I'll say it again, in order for the Universal Code of Conduct to work, it can't be codified and never touched. We have to look at it and make sure that it's effective, because policies reflect the best intention of people to change thought to language on page, and things go wrong between what I'm thinking and what I wrote and what you're reading. So to me, we should be, and we've committed to, reviewing this thing later, if it's ratified by the Board, to make sure that it's functional. So I think that would be a case where, again, if I were in charge of Phase 2 all by myself, I'd say, "Why do they have a 'Never Assume'? And how is it contradictory to the UCoC? And is there a way that we can get at what is meant by both of them that actually is in benefit to the movement at large?" So, I think that, for me, that would be a question of the ongoing value of the document and the ongoing value of local policies. I imagine this is the kind of thing where we may get to do that a lot, although perhaps not. Again, I haven't read the draft, so I'm not sure what specifically it says about "Assume Good Faith", but if it's similar to English Wikipedia, I have a guess.
  18. What is your most memorable edit as a volunteer to a Wikimedia project?
    The ones that are embarrassing. I have a bad habit of switching words in my head, so sometimes what I type is not what I meant, but it can be funnier. Other than that, I am proud of the first article I edited - I read a book about civil rights in my state. I looked at the article about it and it was very different from the book I read so I edited it. Someone thanked me and it showed as a banner and for me I thought “omg these people hacked me” and I ran away from Wikipedia for a long time after.
  19. Please do something about coverage from parts of the world which are ORAL SOCIETIES, and where finding printed/online citations is never an easy task. This is not an appeal for lower standards, but just an appeal to recognise that "same size fits all" doesn't necessarily work.
    I have passionate thoughts about this. It is not actually part of my job responsibilities but is something I've thought about, especially when I worked in Community Engagement. I wanted to create a project for oral story recording - I know there are problems around this but thought it would be great to send young people out to capture the stories of older people before we leave them.
  20. What are your favorite ice cream toppings?
    Caramel! I often just ask for triple caramel. I don’t even need the ice cream, just give me caramel!
  21. Did you know, there are still places where you're listed as being the WMF's general contact person? Did you have a successor for that position?
    answers wikimedia org is now the general contact for the WMF. We need to change this as the general contact person to spare my inbox. (Note: this has been done.)
  22. What do you think is the hardest challenge your team is facing right now?
    Good question - a few ways I could go with this. Let's talk about UCoC. I think it's the hardest challenge facing the whole movement. I assume we all want a fair system where people are treated well and feel safe, etc. I feel that pulling together a global system to address conflict may be the hardest thing I’ll be involved in in my life. I’m optimistic, though, because I do believe that most people in the movement are coming from a very good place; most people want to share knowledge. We are teachers, but figuring out how to deal with conflict is complicated and affects people in many different ways. How we are supposed to shepherd an international community into a way to work on this together? We have to ensure our systems are open to change.
  23. CR&S vs. T&S?
    Community Resilience and Sustainability is the umbrella--Trust and Safety and Community Development are under me, as will be Human rights.
  24. The WMF really needs a public org chart.
    Agreed. It is challenging to figure out how much time goes into this vs others but yes we are working on this.
  25. How do you balance the openness of the Foundation’s work and the transparency, with the personal risk of doing this CR&S work?
    It’s hard - we have recently been grappling with the amount of exposure the T&S staff have and are working to protect our team against some of the worst actors. I hope you never know how awful people can be - if we are too transparent about who is doing that work we are putting those people doing the work at greater risk. Some of the trust issues between T&S and the community come from those who say the T&S team doesn’t know them, but as of this writing, all of the T&S Operations team comes out of the community, and some of them are very experienced from within the community, but we can't highlight them in a way that risks them getting fired at by bad actors. I've seen people doxxed, lives threatened; it's a big responsibility for your family, not just yourself.
  26. Follow-up: What are other alternatives? Could address this like the Case Review Committee.
    With the Case Review Committee, we did mention years of experience in the movement, or talk about how these people know and are able to do the work. We are all new at some point, but that community experience is important to know what it's like to be on the ground. I don't think that the challenge to trust is knowing who people are as much as it is knowing that they handled it correctly. It is a difficult trust gap to bridge when we often can’t share the reasons behind why decisions were made.
  27. What measures or examples are there to curb the infiltration of people who may not deserve to be in the community but are deeply rooted in the community?
    The communities are the front line on this. There are arbitration committees and seniors users who have to make hard decisions about deeply embedded volunteers who are not a net positive and not open to being guided into different ways of behaving. At this point, the Foundation sometimes steps in, where there are long-term contributors who have proven to be untouchable by local communities. This is controversial and problematic because local communities would prefer to address these things themselves. So, as for measures right now: look to your local communities, write to Trust and Safety if your local communities are not able. Understand that as much as possible, we are hoping to move this into Phase 2 of the UCoC, where there is a process whereby this stuff is handled by volunteers in a safe and secure manner.