IRC office hours/Office hours 2020-12-10



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 in writing the discussion and double-checked against the recording later.

The session was led by Maggie Dennis, Vice President of Community Resilience and Sustainability.

Questions and Answers

  1. Currently it takes years to stop a bad-faith administrator. The dispute resolution systems have a strong bias towards power users, with newcomers often experiencing a “boomerang” effect when they try to complain. There are three basic questions around this.
    1)What are the plans to reduce the potential for administrators to abuse their tools and authority?
    The plans are what we hope to put together in the second phase of the UCoC. This is not a new problem. Newcomers to the movement do not know where to go; they don’t know who to talk to; they don’t know what the rules are. In the second phase of the UCoC, we’re working on enforcement pathways. How to report, where to go, who to talk to. I guess to be explicit, I should note that can be for standard user issues, user-admin issues. We’re going to talk about how to escalate all these issues in phase 2.
    2) How will the WMF create a safe space to discuss issues and propose solutions without backlash?
    Good question. There are challenges around that. We plan to have conversations in multiple formats, multiple forums; on Meta, other arenas as well.
    Patrick [Manager of T&S Ops]: In phase 1 we have seen not everyone feel comfortable talking in the same space. Multiple conversations, surveys (which are private), talk to communities in their own homes, their own wikis. None of these are ideal, but we’re looking at different places where people feel free to talk. Snapchat, Facebook, all those areas. If folks don’t feel comfortable with any of this, our team also takes feedback over email. Hopefully with that combination, we can get almost all the voices, or all the voices, into the conversation.
    3) Will T&S help volunteers, and especially new volunteers, if they become a victim of tool misuse?
    Yes, where appropriate. By default we rely on community processes, which generally work quite well. But Trust & Safety already helps people facing issues that go above and beyond community capacity or step into some of the “worst of the worst.” I don’t have a great vocabulary for this. We don’t discriminate at who causes an issue, whether it is an administrator or not. Is it severe enough for the Foundation to do something? Is there a community process in place to review and handle it instead?
  2. How do you plan to handle CoC violations of an employee? Assuming termination is only justified in extreme cases, how will smaller violations be handled?
    I have a feeling this is going to be part of the phase 2 conversations. However, this is not new. We have Friendly Space Policies and Technical Code of Conduct policies, and both of them have provisions for dealing with issues caused by staff. Currently this is a matter for our HR team to review, and T&S has sometimes been called upon to review incidents involving staff and have made recommendations to HR for them to review, in consultation with Foundation’s attorneys. That said, it is true that incidents are more often about coaching than termination. There are several processes to lead that, with HR or managers. That should also hold true for the Code of Conduct.
  3. With respect to phase 2 enforcement, are these pathways of dispute resolution in addition to community resources or were you talking about existing community resources.
    Well, it’s early for me to talk about what’s going to come out of phase 2, but I can talk about what I would like to see come out of phase 2. I would like to see pathways where people can come in with an issue and get assistance. Whether that’s Foundation staff, volunteers - to say “This is a community issue” or “This is not a community issue.” We’ve talked about a universal reporting system for some time. It’s part of the Movement Strategy recommendations. With a reporting system like that, it’s not an either/or, but a both, depending on circumstances.
  4. There’ve been recent misgendering disputes on several wikis. Do you support communities being allowed to choose to discriminate against those with non-cis pronouns? Are you going to make misgendering someone a sanctionable offense under the UCOC?
    So, this is both asking what I believe and what I can do. I believe, no I don’t support discriminating against people by misgendering. Is it going to be sanctionable? I certainly hope so. The UCoC is already available and people can read whether this would be a violation. Whether that’s sanctionable - I imagine that’s part of what we will talk about in Phase 2, whether this would be a coaching process or sanctionable. Just as with staff we don’t always move immediately towards termination, sometimes volunteers need to be taught, and sometimes they’re not acting in good faith. Does intention matter? How do we handle these situations? How do we handle intercultural differences? People come here with different backgrounds and baselines. It’s important to give people the opportunity to behave in proper ways.
  5. Can you define “misgendering”?
    Patrick: The UCoC is not open in front of me now, but I think the UCoC addresses this in two sections. One is respect how people call themselves, how they name themselves. The second clearly states that you cannot discriminate against someone based on their gender identity. As a movement, we do have to define it.
    Maggie: My understanding is that misgendering refers to deliberately refusing to recognize or respect the gender of the person you’re talking to. There’s a comment in the Zoom room. Zoom participant do you want to speak?
    Natacha (community participant): It’s not only misgendering. Misgendering is a problem. I go by she / they, woman and non-binary. It’s not only non-binary, but afro-descendant people who want to decolonize Wikipedia. It’s women. In French Wikipedia women are around 10%. These underrepresented communities constantly receive microaggressions to the point they crack. This is very problematic because we are not protected for microaggressions. What about microaggressions, what do we do about that? We need more resources, we need moderation. How do you moderate communities of volunteers? I don’t have a solution, but one day there will be bigger problems because some people are taking this too far.
    Maggie: I agree that we need to make this a safe space. This is not a place where we can tolerate abuse of other people. That’s it, really. That’s all I’ve got to say. In terms of how we handle that, I’m counting on the UCoC. It is my hope that we will complete UcOc with good processes that make it clear what to do when misbehavior , and that people will be treated properly.
  6. What is the status of the Human Right hire?
    So close. We have talked to so many great candidates. I have been humbled by people working on ways to help people in peril, particularly from oppressive government regiments and terrorist organizations. That person will have three main priorities. 1st keeping people safe. When people are targeted in an organized way. Especially in areas of the world where people can be targeted just for sharing knowledge. 2nd Helping our communities understand how to stay safe. There are many practices to keep people safer. For instance, when I joined I used my username: Moonriddengirl. I don’t regret it but I didn’t know that this would lead to me receiving so many propositions when I called myself “girl.” Should you use your real name? Does it make a difference based on where you live? How much targeting you may receive? This person will work with local organizations to help assess safety in specific context. 3rd Help us make sure the Foundation is contributing to a safe environment for our users through advocacy and public policy and our own practices. For instance, to make sure we don’t host events in a way that increases risk for people; That we protect transgender or gay people, for instance in place where you will be targeted for that. There’s a lot that we can do to make sure that we do not harm.
  7. When is the next phase of the UCOC going to happen?
    Patrick: We are planning to start in January or February. Longer process that phase 1 to give a chance for the different communities to talk. We will share a much detailed timeline on Meta as soon as we can. Not ready yet. Targeting groups based on the impact they will have with the changes in this area.
  8. Someone on Wikimedia-l who said they were the victim of a bad community block said that it was time for the Foundation to step in when bad blocks happen by local authorities, in their case an arbitration committee. Does the Foundation need to step up more often and more strongly to protect people?
    It’s a complicated question. We respect community self-governance. If a seated body working in good faith with the trust of their communities makes a decision that somebody is not a net-positive to their community, I’m certainly not myself, nor any of the staff I work with, anxious to go in and argue with them about that. However, we’ve just had some difficult conversations around for example supporting people in marginalized communities. So I try to think, what would actually bring me into that space? If I saw a person who said they were banned because they were a woman, because they were gay, because they were trans, would I step in? Yes. As long as we are waiting for the UCoC to be ratified, I have a certain responsibility to fill community gaps. Once the UCoC is complete, it is my hope that we will hvae a process whereby the broader community can look at it. Currently, of course, you can go to Meta and do an RFC, but I understand these processes can be challenging. While we work all this out, we are here to help. That said, I believe that our communities are really very good at self governing. There are gaps, but I believe that most of these bodies know what they’re doing. It would have to be a very strong reason for us to do that.
  9. How do you plan to avoid the weaponization of the UCoC? for example wikilawyering etc
    Training? First thing that comes to my mind. Wikilayering, a term used in English Wikipedia for arguing over fine points of policy instead of addressing the principle. That’s part of human nature. Certainly as a mother, I’ve seen it from my son! Training to help the people doing mediation, volunteers working in these areas, to recognize when someone is using these tactics.
  10. What happens if a local community feels that an element of the UCoC does not apply to their community or cultural norms?
    Last time I talked about this. Either they are wrong, or the UCoC is wrong. Now there are possibilities that there could be a provision of the UCoC that doesn’t apply to ever project, so that’s oversimplified. But as a general rule of thumb, it is universal because it is universal. If it isn’t universally true, the UCoC needs to be evaluated to understand why. The UCoC must be a living document and if something is not applicable to a community then we need to discuss as a community to adapt.
  11. Is the Case Review committee functioning/ Is it hearing appeals?
    Yes, there have been several appeals. I don’t want to override their right to communicate their news. Not all them were applicable, but yes.
  12. For Amanda - there has recently been some media coverage of Wikipedia's maps of India. Does Legal have any thoughts on this problem?
    Amanda (General Counsel): We do. While there are limitations on how I can discuss legal strategy, I’ll note that this is a growing issue. We receive a lot of government takedown requests. It is a very delicate balance between continuing to allow certain content that we believe does help fulfill our mission and does meet the tremendous, rigorous community standards we have about the content we host, and in some cases we see that doesn’t meet governmental wishes and demands across the globe. We want to continue to work with communities on these kinds of requests.
  13. What budget will you put into training, in which languages, on which projects?
    Budget season comes in the Spring. No answer to that yet. However, we have a Community Development team, led by Simona.
    Simona (Manager of Community Development): The CD team focus is training in development. Not only what, but also how to deliver it in ways that the participant can actually use going forward. We are piloting an online platform learning, to check what appetite there is, how we can work across time zones. Some independent study and some live sessions. We want to experiment to see how best to deliver this, platforms, key areas. We are discussing in which capacities to focus, announcements coming soon.
  14. Capacity building around mediation?
    Simona: This is a key area we are going to look at. Mediation, there is so much out there, in the movement, outside of the movement. We can collaborate in defining the curriculum. Mediation 1:1, what type of mediation, for which type of community. Conflict resolution. There is a lot of content out there.
  15. The proposed Universal Code of Conduct states "Respect the way that contributors name and describe themselves [...] As a sign of respect, use these terms when communicating with or about these people." Should this principle extend to religious names, titles, and honorifics?
    This sounds like an opinion question. Obviously, the UCoC draft was written by a committee of volunteers and staff and given a lot of evolution by community input. I’m not trying to dodge the question, but I don’t pretend that I’m the boss of Wikipedia or the Wikimedia movement. My opinion is that you respect people as much as you can. If somebody tells me they want to be called something, I call them that, because why wouldn’t I? As long as it is in some way to disrespectful to me or to somebody else, if they’re not trying to get me to call them a slur or something, yes. Maybe I have missed something specific in that question.
  16. T&S cases. Why would any T&S not be eligible for appeal?
    The committee handbook is on Meta. What is said there prevails. We created this T&S case review committee to help us ensure we were well aligned with the community on where we should be involved and not involved. These are cases where we take action or even where we decline to take action. Some cases not open to appeal e.g. child protection case or strong legal need for the Foundation to take action. Or cases where the safety of other volunteers are clearly at risk.
  17. What has this team learned through the pandemic that will benefit the Foundation and the movement.
    That’s a great question and also very difficult. Pandemic has brought many challenges to all of us, but also has helped us to focus on the work we really need to do and to make some long term plans. It’s opened up a lot of white space. What I have learned is to make space to think and to pay attention to what is going on. Eight days ago, I was invited to meet the LGBT+ group, and I had the time. I’m so glad I had the time. Because frequently we get so busy that we can’t sit down to have these critical conversations. One of the things I’ve learned is do the thing you need to do, keep focus. Other than that, I guess I’ve learned that not everybody is as focused on keeping their neighbors safe as I wish they were. But that’s a very political thing for me to say. Please, y’all, wear your masks!
  18. Speaking about the LGBT+ User Group meeting. Any insights about that meeting?
    The group reached out because some incidents happening around the movement that were discriminatory and made their participants feel unsafe, and also because the Foundation hadn’t taken some actions so that people felt respected, recognized, and protected in the movement. For instance improving survey practices on gender questions. We talked about improvements to survey practices. I’ve already had a conversation with the new director who is in charge of surveys, and we’ve talked about ways to make sure that staff follow best practices. For those of you who don’t know, the foundation has long had a kind of struggle around how to both encourage rapid, honest, straightforward communication from its staff and also make sure that communication is professional and well-conducted. This is a polarity. Encourage people to come out and talk; on the other hand, when people do that sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are hurtful. We have to continue to adjust how we do this to make sure that we are respectful to people and live by the standards we want to see all of us adhere to. We also talked about T&S and improvements to our own practices. We talked about how to provide peer support for instance. This is something called upon in the movement strategy. We don’t have mechanisms at this point. I’m hoping the UCoC will lead to pathways for people who are targeted for harassment or abuse to have safe spaces to go. Exploring ways to provide better emotional support. T&S is a very small team; their training is in investigation, we don’t have emotional support expertise. I want to make sure that we don’t leave the intensely important work of taking care of people’s emotional needs by the wayside.
  19. Misinformation and disinformation. Are there any plans for further work on this after the US election?
    Yes. A lot of that is done by the Product department, and not with me. They are hiring a director of disinformation. It is a rising concern around the world. We as a movement need to think how to address disinformation campaigns when they occur. We are also aware that there are some pockets of the Wikimedia universe where disinformation is rampant. Concerns about the Croatian Wikipedia are well documented. We need to understand how to be open to input and also sensible to correction.
  20. is there a plan to deal with the recent proliferation of "fake" sources that are gaining credibility merely because of their extensive use on Wikipedia? (for clarification, I'm not talking Fox News "fake news", more sites popping up on the daily that are mimicking legitimate journalism).
    Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe we can find someone who can follow up. [NOTE: Follow-up information suggests that this is likely to be part of the Director of Anti-Disinformation’s role.]
  21. Natacha: Thank you to Maggie from the LGBT+ community for the statement you made. We can say that we are supported by the Foundation. It means a lot.
    Any support that i can offer. I heard things in that meeting that really touched me about some of the experiences people have had in our movement. And I want to do anything within my power to make this a safe place.
  22. It would be great if the UCoC once finished can be referenced at the start of every Wiki event, in-person or online.
    Sounds good to me. Something to be discussed at Phase 2.
  23. What is your favorite holiday song, and will you have a Merry Christmas?
    Carol of the Bells. I don’t know if that one is very well known, but it’s a very intricate song meant to mimic the sound of bells in the singing. This Christmas is going to be very different for me. My distributed family will not be meeting. But my son is getting married, and it is a nice safe COVID wedding, so he’s not doing anything foolish, but I’m very proud of him. We have an extra reason to celebrate, and I’m very happy about that.

Post-session Questions and Answers


These few questions came in after the fact, and we made space to answer them. We should be hosting the next session probably around March 2021. To submit questions to Maggie or her team for future sessions, feel free to write to answers wikimedia org and use "CRS Office hour" in the subject line. (General questions for the Foundation can be sent to that address for quicker response by dedicated staff; this subject line is to get attention for this specific forum from this specific team.)

  1. Will local Wikimedia project communities have to submit their behavioral policies to the Foundation for pre-approval to make sure they are aligned with the Universal Code of Conduct? What about local contexts that contradict, partially or totally, with the application of UCoC?
    While enforcement pathways for UCoC is part of our phase 2 conversations, that is certainly not our intention. Just as communities now align local policies with other central documents, like the Terms of Use and the Licensing Resolution, I would imagine local communities are very capable of reviewing their policies to make sure that they are compliant with minimum expectations. I’ve spoken in these office hours before about contradictions between local and global policy, but I’ll reiterate that if a local context brings into doubt the universality of the Code of Conduct, I think that’s something we need to resolve through broader community review to determine if the provisions of the code are truly universal.
  2. The Universal Code of Conduct draft currently before the Board notes that sanctions for violations may be imposed by designated functionaries and/or by the Wikimedia Foundation as the legal owner of the platforms. Does this mean that the Foundation will apply and enforce rules without going through ‘local authorities’?
    To be very clear here, the Foundation already does this and will have to continue to do so. We are legally hosts of the Wikimedia platforms, and we have and will continue to have a legal obligation to enforce regulatory policies especially regardless of local input. In my career at the Foundation, this has meant for instance directly addressing individuals who are engaging in repeated copyright violations when local communities failed to resolve the problem. Fortunately, most local communities take care of such matters very well! Some of the conditions under which we currently do this and will continue to do this are spelled out in the Terms of Use.

    With regards to UCoC specific rules, the intention of phase two is to create enforcement pathways that reduce the need of the Foundation to do this. While that phase is community consultative and we do not yet know what pathways may be created, my own hope is that we will work as a global, multilingual movement together to define a more effective and efficient means of central review than the current Meta RFC mechanism so that if a local community is not able to resolve problems, there is another functional volunteer body who can support. However, I expect that the Foundation will continue to be required to act where local capacities do not exist or where local functionaries will not or CAN not enforce the rules. We have seen the latter emerge in instances where, for instance, the threat of retaliation causes local functionaries to fear physical danger or other retributive action, like doxxing.
  3. Does the Board intend to make resolutions in the future regarding management of contributor behavior or content on the projects?
    Other than the Universal Code of Conduct, I’m unaware of anything under consideration right now, but I can well imagine it is possible. Aside from the Terms of Use, which addresses both and which was last updated through Board ratification in 2014, I know the Board has passed a number of resolutions especially bearing on content in the past - the two that come to my own mind immediately are the Biographies of Living people resolution of 2009 and 2013 and the licensing policy of 2007. There may be other resolutions regarding content or behavior that I am not thinking of right now coming out of the Movement Strategy recommendations. This Universal Code of Conduct was one of the top recommendations of the strategic working group on Safety and Inclusion, so the Board is moving towards resolution on the basis of that community-led recommendation.