Requests for comment/Protection of Users in the Wikis against Abuses and Mobbing

The following request for comments is closed. No details of these alleged abuses were provided, nor proof of them, but above all, no action is asked for on here. This is an essay about one user's view of a specific project's challenges and road to the future and has no place under the guide of a Request for Comment, when no actions from here are required. Your ideas about what should be implemented are a) incompatible with Wikimedia and would be rejected (and have been rejected in the past) on Bugzilla and b) should be discussed locally and agreed upon by the community. Snowolf How can I help? 22:56, 19 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

I have during the last several months been the victim of several kinds of abuses and mobbing in the German Wiktionary.

There has for some time been an unfortunate development in the Internet, with an increasing number of Internet users being subjected to abuses, harassments and mobbing. Especially serious are those cases when children and youths have been the victims, which have even led to suicide. There seems to be a spread belief among, probably relatively young Internet users, that Internet is an arena where you can do things, not allowed in the society in general. That Internet is an arena outside the law. However the authorities in care of the administration of justice have lately become more and more aware of this problematic situation.

I have to my sorrow seen that these kind of problems are also present in the Wikis. I will here mainly talk about the Wiktionaries, since I have worked there myself, but I believe that it is present also in other types of Wikis. My own experiences orginates largely from the German Wiktionary.
Many Wiktionaries are very small, i.e. there are very few regular participants. That also means that a small group of people, say 5-10 persons, can very easily "take control" over a Wiktionary. This group can then control, who gets elected as adminstrator and bureacrat. They can also to a large extent control decisions over the dictionary, since they, in contrast to other users, coordinate their voting and act as a group and thus often overpower other users.

This may be lamentable, and not good for the development of the dictionary, but could still not be considered really serious, since there is always the possibility that these kind of effects will grow away as the dictionaries get more active users. I must also stress that there are naturally also Wiktionaries with a few regular users, who does an incredible job and who does not try to misuse their positions.

The Wiki-organization has however a responsibilty since it provide these platforms that the Wikis constitute. The Wiki-platforms also provide a brand and a goodwill that these groups can use. However, as it is today, there is nothing that will stop a small group of users to use these platforms for their own purposes. These groups can belong to extreme political (extreme right or extreme left), or religious movements, with goals quite opposite to the goals of the Wiki-movement. In the German Wiktionary a group like this has openly expressed their contemp for democratic values.

These groups can on one hand influence the content in a way, that is not in accordance with current knowledge, but what is perhaps even more important, they can also through the harassment and bullying of other users, make sure that only users that obey their rules will be allowed to participate. I have several times observed that these kind of groups are much more interested in controlling other users, than to recruit new participants or work with the dictionary. Rather a few obedient users than many contributors. In the German Wiktionary this policy has been expressed openly.

The Wiki-organization also has a responsibilty to protect the Wiki users from being the victims of harassments, insults and mobbing in the Wiki-community and to guarantee that the wikis really are open to all people, not only in theory, but also in practise.

I will below list some weaknesses in the Wiki-organization and administration that allow certain groups to harass and mob other users without risking any consequences neither within in Wiki-community nor through legal means.

To protect the users and the dictionaries the following reforms are necessary:

User names

Since the Wiktionaries are a humanistic endeavour, every user should actually be able to use their real name without having to fear harassment. That is unfortunately not possible today, so for the time being we might have to accept that the use of aliases is allowed. This leads however also to that a perpetrator can hide behind his/hers alias.

However to stop those groups and individuals from abusing other users one should introduce the following

1. That a user most log in to the Wiktionary, before writing anything on that forum. That is a minimum requirement to be able to stop abuse and being able to identify a perpetrator. The log in procedure is also so simple that it will not stop anyone from participating. Similar Internet sites have this policy.

2. That the user must state his/hers real name when creating an account. The user shall then be able to use an alias when contributing to the dictionary. The real name should only be visible to people supervising the Wiktionaries ( i.e. the stewards or other type of similar supervising function).

3. The real name is only revealed to people outside of the supervising function when e.g. a serious offense is investigated.

4. The real name will also simplify for the supervising function to prevent the use of multiple accounts. Today there is no practical way to ensure that groups, that have as goal to harass other users, are not using multiple identities. By using multiple identities these groups can seem much larger to the victim than they actually are, and in that way even more intimidating.

The weak role of the stewards

The problem that I have tried to describe above becomes really serious when it involves a number of administrators at the Wiktionary in question.

The solitary user has today no way to defend himself/herself against these abusing administrators and bureaucrats.

I have in connection with the abuses against me in the German Wiktionary, investigated the role of the stewards, and found that it is very weak function when it comes to upholding the rights and the protection of the ordinary user.

There must therefore exist a possibilty for the ordinary user to appeal against a decision. There must also exist a possibility for the ordinary user to call in an independent investigation when serious offenses against users are perpetrated.

The role of the stewards thus has to be strengthen or alternatively another kind of supervising function has to be established.

Communication channels

The Wiktionaries offer three types of communication between users, the talk pages, through chat fora and through E-mail.

The communication through the talk pages is transparent, every user can follow this communication, and it is also traceable afterwards, through the history file. This communication channel fulfills all the needs for the dictionary work.

The other two communication channels are very problematic. I can through own experiences testify that for example the chat is used by people for plotting and coordinating attacks on other users. The chat is not transparent, it is not supervised by anybody in Wiki-organization, it is not possible even for the stewards to investigate what has been said on this channel, according to the information I have received from the stewards.

The same criticism can be launched at the E-Mail communication channel. If users want to communicate privately through E-Mails they can do so without the help from the Wiki.

I can see no need or use for neither the chat nor the E-Mail communication channel in a Wiktionary that is open to all.

The Wiki-organization has a responisbility when it provide these channels, at least to supervise and log the information transferred, to ensure that they are not used to abuse users, and so that in the case of an investigation, these channels can be scrutinized. The Wiki-organization shall also be able to ensure that these channels are not used, as they are today, to harass and abuse other users.


I am strong believer in the Wiktionary idea, especially since I see the future for the printed dictionaries as being very precarious.

If the Wiktionaries shall however be able to prosper, the growing problem of abuses, and groups acting in their own interest only, must be met with forceful actions.

I believe that the Wiki-brand today enjoys respect in the society, but if nothing is done the brand and goodwill of the Wikis will be damaged. When these problems will be noticed by the media and people not themselves actively working with the Wikis it will create a problem in recruiting new members as well as raising money for the Wiki-projects
Lars Gardenius(diskurs) 18:49, 19 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]