This page in a nutshell:This is a copy of the handbook for the Interim Trust & Safety Case Review Committee, current as of 25 February 2021. Confidential information, comprising a minority of the entire text, has been excluded from this public version. Changes made to this page do not change the handbook itself.
The Interim Trust & Safety Case Review Committee handbook was put together by Maggie Dennis with the help of the Trust & Safety team and internal and external legal counsel. Confidential information, comprising a minority of the entire text, has been excluded from this public version. Also excluded are template drafts for responding to correspondence and more in-depth information about working with Trust & Safety case files. The handbook will evolve as the committee gains experience and can help guide us on what does and doesn't work. Please do note that this is a copy of the handbook, not the handbook itself. Any changes made to this page by individuals who are not delegated to do so by the Foundation are not representative of the actual handbook supplied to the committee.
The Handbook was modified in February 2021 following the CRC's first quarterly meeting. The changes can be seen in this edit.
Welcome to the Interim Trust & Safety Case Review Committee! We are very grateful to you for joining this committee to both help make sure that any eligible cases appealed by involved members were properly handled and to also help guide the processes and procedures used by this committee, now and in the future.
Case Review Committee Processes & Procedures Edit
Rules and Regulations Edit
First, the charter is extremely important, as is the legal agreement you signed when you joined the committee.
Some of the key points to understand from both are:
- You are required to keep information about who is in the committee and what the committee reviews confidential.
For as long as you are in this committee, this rule includes the fact that you are in the committee. This is important to protect you, fellow committee members, people whose private information may be shared with you, and the movement generally. The Foundation has to balance our commitment to transparency against steps necessary to protect the movement and users. On request of one of the members, we’ve lifted the requirements to maintain confidentiality about your own involvement after you are no longer on the committee, but you will still be obligated to protect the confidentiality of fellow members (unless they publicly self-disclosed) and about cases. We do recommend that you consider your tolerance for risk as well as the degree of exposure of your family if you choose to reveal your participation in this committee, due to the potential for retaliation resulting from your holding this role.
In terms of the cases, we will be supporting you in reporting out aggregate details about the work you do, including the number of cases you review and your findings on those cases. We will also support you in reporting back to appellates and to others impacted by decisions. For instance, if the committee determines that a Trust & Safety case resulting in sanctions should be overturned, the committee contractor will be notifying the individual whose sanctions are overturned and also those who filed complaints.
- You will have support in understanding how cases work and the criteria we bring to bear.
As part of your onboarding, you will be given information about Trust & Safety’s case files and criteria so that when you are asked to review your first case you will understand their processes and intentions. Cases Trust & Safety reviews can be broadly categorized, but there are enough variations to make a formulaic response challenging. As you will also have access to review cases ranging back years, you will find significant variation in the format of cases and even the criteria, as these have evolved since the Foundation implemented its first global ban in 2012. We have professionalized and standardized the process over the past few years; earlier, case files were sometimes largely notes taken to support verbal review.
While this may make it challenging to review especially older cases, with every case you review, you will have access to Jacob Rogers, the attorney who supports Trust & Safety cases throughout the process both by consulting during the investigation phase and by signing off on a recommendation before it is escalated to executive attention. Jacob will be able to answer any questions you may have. You will also have access to Maggie Dennis, the Vice President of Community Resilience & Sustainability, who signs off on every Trust & Safety recommendation regardless of severity before a case is closed and who has been involved in this workflow since the very first Foundation ban.
- You will be reviewing cases on request of people directly involved.
While broader communities and friends and bystanders may care deeply about the outcomes of cases, the right to request review is limited to individuals directly involved in a case. That may be a person who was accused of misconduct who feels unfairly sanctioned. It may be a person who accused another of misconduct and feels that sanctions were unfairly withheld or inadequate to the severity of the case.
- You will not have access to every case the Foundation has ever investigated.
To start with, not every case is eligible for appeal. The Foundation has some responsibilities that it can’t delegate to community appeal, including statutory, regulatory and employment responsibilities. For instance, you will not be asked to or able to review cases involving allegations of child grooming, sexual assault, terrorism, or physical assault. You may, at times, be asked to review borderline cases that might have elements of such responsibilities. For instance, threats of physical assault may be part of an otherwise borderline case. If a case is appealed which you cannot review, the Chair (which you will elect) will be given at least a general explanation why.
Beyond this, you will only have access to cases where review is requested by an eligible party, and only if you are on the group assigned to review the case (or chairing the committee, which we’ll talk about later). This is to partially allow us to populate a committee with experienced and embedded community members while ensuring that potential conflicts of interest due to close association with individuals involved in a case are managed, but also to protect privacy and limit liability by restricting exposure of information to a need-to-know basis.
- You will be asked to help inform a permanent process for a Trust & Safety Case Review Committee.
As part of this interim group, you are pioneering a new approach. For legal reasons, the Foundation from the start viewed it as an unacceptable risk to allow appeals of Foundation bans. However, as the Foundation has been asked to expand its review of cases to more borderline cases, this has created challenges in ensuring fair review. The severity of a permanent, unappealable ban warrants a very high bar, but this must be balanced against the safety and protection of community members. Until such time as the movement has robust self-governance processes in place across all projects, we will likely continue to see the Foundation playing a role in behavioral governance and a case review committee being important to keep us calibrated towards respecting community autonomy and fairness.
Coming up with more robust self-governance processes is one of the goals of the second phase of the Universal Code of Conduct conversations. While the hope is that we will reach consensus quickly on good pathways to try out, especially to support wikis with smaller numbers and those prone to takeover by external groups, it will probably take a few years to get these fully operational.
Your experiences with this group will help us figure out how to modify the charter and the group processes going forward!
In order to keep the committee functioning well and to protect you and other volunteers from conflicts of interest in the group or in the community, there are a few things we need to ask you to keep in mind:
- We need to know if your volunteerism results in a conflict of interest in general or in any particular case.
For instance, if you are asked to participate in a case where you have a close relationship with one of the parties or an antagonistic relationship with one of the parties, we ask you to disclose this to the Chair and request reassignment. If you have been involved in an incident related to a case, we also ask you to disclose this to the Chair and request reassignment.
And if you are the Chair? We ask you to let Foundation support staff know as soon as you become aware that you may have a conflict in a given case and recuse. In that case, your role of assigning reviewers will be filled by your deputy.
- We need to know if you become subject to community sanctions during your service on this committee.
For instance, if you are blocked on a project or topic-banned, we ask you to tell the Chair and the General Counsel. The circumstances will be evaluated, and you may or may not be removed from the committee.
- We need to know if you otherwise become ineligible to serve.
If you become staff or a contractor of the Foundation or if you take a paid executive position in an affiliate, we need to know. We also need to know if you become a member of the English Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee. EnWP’s arbitrators have asked that we not seat current members of their committee on this one because of concerns of conflict of interest, and we respect their request. (Other arbitration committees have not asked for this.)
Volunteers were solicited in both general calls on various public channels and by outreach to potentially interested and qualified individuals by Trust & Safety or Foundation executive staff. All applicants were asked to include their credentials and a statement of what they hoped to bring to the process. Even individuals who were asked to apply were submitted to review by a small group of stewards who agreed to assess qualifications and suitability. The stewards had the right to veto candidates and also to endorse.
Their list of finalists was submitted to the General Counsel, who discussed them with Maggie Dennis and Jacob Rogers before narrowing them down in consultation with the Executive Director. Several finalists who were not selected were asked to stand by in case of the need to fill for a departure or to expand the committee during the year.
Once all committee members have signed the legal agreement, they will be introduced to each other and information about them sent to the Ombuds Commission, who have agreed to verify this information.
As of this writing, the aggregate information on the group is as follows:
Staff support Edit
The committee reports to General Counsel Amanda Keton and may engage with her periodically through the term. Primary staff liaisons for the committee are Vice President of Community Resilience and Sustainability Maggie Dennis and Senior Counsel Jacob Rogers. Both are highly experienced in Trust & Safety goals and workflows and stand ready to assist the committee with specific case review, with communications, and in taking feedback from the committee to continue to iterate Trust & Safety workflows and processes to meet their mandate from the Board. It is not the role of either Jacob or Maggie to litigate the case or to defend or argue against the Trust & Safety conclusion; rather, their purpose is to help the committee better understand case files and Foundation protocols and policies to better inform their own review.
The committee will also have significant assigned support from a part-time contractor who supports them in scheduling, communications, paperwork, and, as necessary, in obtaining answers to questions about case files under review.
Reviewing cases Edit
The primary focus of the committee is on conducting reviews of “borderline” cases of incivility and non-criminal harassment. We are calling these cases “Category One.” The committee may also review “Category Two” and sometimes “Category Three” cases, defined below, but through a slightly different process. The committee has a dedicated email address (email@example.com) to which review requests will be submitted. This email address will be accessible by four individuals: Jacob, Maggie, the contractor, and the committee chair. The chair will access the inbox with an anonymous wikimedia.org account assigned to “firstname.lastname@example.org” which will attach to the function of chair and pass from chair to chair. This role account will help prevent inadvertent exposure of the individual holding the role while also allowing a community member to access the box and verify that all requests are being communicated. Not all requests will be for cases eligible for review, but it is critical for the integrity of the process that the committee know what cases are requested and, if they are declined, at least generally why.
Upon receipt of a request, the contractor will coordinate with Jacob to determine if the case is eligible for review. Jacob has access to all Trust & Safety case files to facilitate rapid review. If he finds the case reviewable, the committee chair will assign five committee representatives to review the case, mindful of diversity of experience and viewpoint as well as availability to commit time over a window of 14 business days. (The chair may appoint himself; the total of 10 committee members was chosen to allow two reviews to occur simultaneously.) If a committee member is not able to dedicate time over said window, they are requested to swiftly communicate challenges to the chair who can then either select an alternate or ask the General Counsel to support.
When a case enters review, the contractor will notify the review applicant and will advise the General Counsel of which committee members are assigned. Within two business days, the committee members will receive copies of the case files. Information will only be redacted as deemed legally essential by Foundation attorneys. For instance, IP addresses may have helped the Foundation verify the identity of a user, but not be necessary information for the committee to review. If information must be redacted, reviewers will be notified that it has been and, as much as possible, of its nature.
Case files will include links to on-wiki statements or copies of other documents linked to in the reports as necessary for the committee’s review. This should enable the committee to see everything that Foundation senior staffers considered in accepting or rejecting the recommended actions of Trust & Safety. The committee can review all this information and, if this information is deemed insufficient to answer the three questions below, may review additional factors, but is not to attempt to contact individuals in the case. (They can, however—as outlined below—send the case back to Trust & Safety for more evidence collection, including witness interviews.)
Involved committee members are expected to read case files, regardless of category, to determine whether:
- The case was appropriately handled by the Foundation rather than local community processes (for example, where local processes do not exist or where the ability of local governance processes to succeed is challenged by potential conflicts of interest of local actors),
- The T&S team assembled sufficient evidence to assess the merits of the allegations while also respecting the privacy of all individuals involved, and
- The sanctions imposed by the case, if any, are appropriate given the severity of the conduct described.
Within seven business days of initiating a review, the Committee Chair will call for a vote of participating committee members to understand their assessment of these three questions.
What the options mean and factors to consider in choosing Edit
When you review a case file, you will be asked to answer up to four questions. “Up to,” because if the answer to any question is “no,” in most cases you needn’t pursue the following questions. Instead, we will stop and take corrective action for that question. The exceptions are in Category Two cases, defined below, where additional legal review will be necessary rather than an automatic overturn of any issued sanction. In Category Two cases, we ask the committee to answer all four questions prior to submitting the outcome to the General Counsel. (Category Two cases are more severe and carry more risks for the movement and community, but we still want to enable community review of these.)
The table below outlines the workflow of a Category One case.
|The question||Factors to consider in answering||What happens when you answer|
|Was the case appropriate to be handled by the Foundation rather than deferred to current local community processes?||What processes currently exist for the community where the case is based? Who is involved in the case? For instance, if a local functionary is accused of misbehavior, it may be inappropriate for the community functionary group to review the complaint. Other factors may also occur. We expect community processes to become more robust after phase two of the Universal Code of Conduct, but this review is based on those processes that exist at the time of the case investigation.||If the five committee members assigned to a case believe that a case should not have been handled by the Foundation, you have the power to overturn the decision. You may also guide the contractor supporting your work to ask an adequate local governance body to evaluate the case, if there is one, but we cannot share case files with those bodies. They will need to investigate independently. Neither the Foundation nor the Committee has an influence over what the local body does with the request or an investigation, and once a case has been assessed as inappropriate for Foundation level investigation, it will not be reconsidered by the Foundation without evidence of different or more severe behavioral problems.|
|Did Trust & Safety have enough evidence to assess the case fairly?||Did Trust & Safety gather sufficient information about the situation and context? If off-wiki behavior is alleged, did Trust & Safety gather enough input from witnesses and participants to assess credibility? If they did not interview the accused, was this a necessary step to protect the safety of a complainant? In most cases that are eligible for review, evidence will include a review of the history of the involved users, a history of specific disputes, and links to specific communications of concern. Where conversations are not in English, translations or summaries will be provided. Initial correspondence from a complainant may be included in an appendix but should not be used as case evidence for on-wiki situations. In these cases, the facts should speak for themselves. Cases that include an off-wiki component may include interviews with complainants, accused, and witnesses (if any exist). They may also include an evaluation of online behavior to corroborate or contextualize encounters.||If the five committee members assigned to a case conclude that Trust & Safety did not collect essential evidence to allow fair assessment of a complaint, they may return the case to Trust & Safety with a request for more investigation. Please provide specifics about the kind of information that should be expanded. Please note that Trust & Safety’s ability to communicate with subjects of investigations may be governed by legal direction with the specific goal of reducing legal liability or risk of harm to potential victims of harassment or abuse. However, since the committee is being asked to review borderline cases, this seems unlikely to be an issue in most cases that would be eligible for committee review.
New evidence uncovered by Trust & Safety may result in new recommendations from Trust & Safety, but regardless of whether or not new recommendations are generated, the case will be brought to the General Counsel and back to the committee to ensure that the committee has the opportunity to assess the completeness of evidence and ask the next questions in the process related to the outcome.
If Trust & Safety has new recommendations of sanctions (or to overturn its own prior sanctions), the Committee may be asked to assess the new recommendation rather than the original, but new sanctions will not be imposed or old sanctions overturned before the Committee has reviewed the updated case. (The Committee may not veto the General Counsel if she feels a specific approach under the new evidence is necessary, given her responsibility to protect the platform, but they do have the right to explain any concerns they have to her, and she has the right to explain her rationale to them.)
What happens if the committee disagrees? Edit
The five person review system was intended to avoid deadlock, but this does not mean that the committee needs to rely on a simple majority. If the committee deems appropriate, they may create processes to encourage consensus within the timeframe of investigations. This may lead to better outcomes. However, in order to avoid cases stagnating, unanimity cannot be required.
What happens after the vote? Edit
Within two business days of calling for a vote—four business days if the active reviewing members of the committee request a meeting to resolve open questions—their decision is to be communicated to the General Counsel for formal approval. The General Counsel will provide the committee with support to generate necessary communications of their decision to all appropriate parties involved in the case such that appellates are notified on or by the 15th business day after the case review is opened.
Cases sent back for further investigation or sanction reconsideration Edit
If a case is sent back (or if the committee wishes to question the outcome of a Category Two case), the appealing party will be notified of this on or before the 20th business day and the case will be remitted to Trust & Safety. In the event that the CRC needs more time, the appellant will be notified before the original deadline. The ability of Trust & Safety to respond quickly will depend on the staffing of the operations team and what other high priority cases may already be open. Trust & Safety’s cases must be prioritized by greatest risk.
It is requested that the Committee be specific in terms of why the case is being sent back—what significant evidence has been excluded or why the decision seems inappropriate. This will guide Trust & Safety when they resume working on the case, either to reevaluate and present a new recommendation to the General Counsel or to provide more evidence. The General Counsel will either meet or communicate asynchronously with the committee to review the product of re-evaluation. The committee involved in review will be asked to vote on satisfaction with the outcome before the case is closed.
In addition to reporting the conclusion of cases, the Committee is expected to report to the Board and the community in aggregate numbers how many review requests it receives, how many cases where reviews are requested are legally deemed eligible for review, and how many of those cases it reviews result in (a) ratification, (b) overturn, or (c) direction for further investigation/evaluation by T&S. The committee will receive staff support in all written communications in order to protect their anonymity by avoiding stylistic communication clues. Reports to the community will take the form of updates to Meta on a monthly basis. Reports to the Board will take place quarterly.
Reporting responsibilities will be supported by the contractor, with approval of reports by the Chair.
Self improvement Edit
The Committee is asked to meet on a quarterly basis to review its processes and practices with Jacob Rogers and Maggie Dennis to help ensure that the system is functioning well. Requested or recommended changes will be submitted to the General Counsel for evaluation with executive staff and the Board advisory committee to Trust & Safety. The Committee will also be asked to complete quarterly surveys to help evaluate the function of Trust & Safety and the level of support the Committee is receiving and may be asked to help review potential changes to both to ensure that the Foundation’s Trust & Safety work is properly calibrated to both protect and respect communities.
The Categories of Cases Edit
Trust & Safety’s case workflows have always operated under the close supervision and with the direct support of Foundation attorneys. This is important for a number of reasons, including that we have a legal responsibility as the operators of the site to meet a legal threshold of responsibility to the public. Because of this, no Trust & Safety action is implemented without specific sign-off of a senior attorney and frequently the General Counsel. Cases are presented as recommendations, which may be accepted or declined by any senior reviewer, including these two or the Vice President of Community Resilience & Sustainability. If a case is declined, frequently it is sent back to Trust & Safety for further consideration until a legally acceptable outcome is reached.
For the purposes of this committee, we are dividing cases into three categories, ranging from the most to the least severe. The determination of which category a case falls under will be made by Foundation’s counsel, who will decide by these criteria which cases are open to committee review.
Category Three Edit
First, in order to protect the movement, we must meet our legal obligations to our staff, to our users, and to the public. As an organization based in the United States, we are clearly accountable under United States law. When our Trust & Safety cases explore behavior that may be criminal under U.S. and/or generally accepted international standards, this factors heavily into the Foundation’s decision to act independently. We consider such cases “bright line,” and they are not eligible for review by this committee. Examples of such cases that we have processed include credible allegations of sexual assault at events, illegal threats of physical harm, and predatory engagement with children.
We are also currently working to define, under advice of external counsel, our obligation under the laws of the United States and California to provide a safe working environment for our contractors and staff. “Hostile work environment” laws do not only regulate behavior between staff, but also impose an obligation on workplaces to protect staff from certain behaviors by customers, which would include users and readers of our projects. We have never to date acted against a community member solely for harassing staff (although one former community member was imprisoned as a result of violent threats against both community and staff), but cases have come to our attention where hostility has been assessed as crossing the legal boundaries especially as including protected factors such as race or sex. If it were necessary to protect staff under our legal obligations, such a case would not be eligible for appeal.
It is very likely that any Category Three case will be a case that closed with sanctions, or at least a user warning, since these are cases closed to fulfill a Foundation responsibility as a service provider. It’s hard to imagine a case that could close without sanctions that would be a Category Three, since the Foundation is not likely to face situations where they are legally required not to act. Some cases may have begun as Category One or Two (defined below) but due to subsequent dangerous or criminal behavior by the subject become Category Three.
Category Two Edit
In order to provide as much opportunity to the committee to assess cases as possible, we have decided to permit review of some cases that might be determined by a court to be category Three, but have a significant chance not to be. For instance, credible allegations of sexual harassment, demonstrable blackmail, or doxxing may be open to committee review, depending on severity of circumstances and, especially, level of proof. It is possible that cases of alleged community harassment of staff might fall into this category as well, where the question exists whether the behavior would be outrageous to “a reasonable person.” Any case in which law enforcement or judicial authorities have become involved following notification by T&S under its processes or in which law enforcement or judicial authorities have an ongoing investigation with the Foundation would fall in Category Three, not Two.
If the Committee forms consensus to overturn sanctions in this and only this category, their consensus will be handled as a recommendation to be reviewed by Foundation attorneys for potential risk before being implemented. If a committee recommendation to overturn sanctions is not approved, a meeting will be called with the involved committee members and the committee chair to explain the decision. If the committee still feels the case should be overturned, it will be publicly logged as part of the aggregate data that the committee recommended to overturn a case where the Foundation felt unable to comply.
Category One Edit
The Foundation’s goal in such cases is to supplement community capabilities until such time as there are robust global systems to address problems. These cases center around human beings, and they are invariably complex. We’ve seen cases where individuals allege that they are being harassed by powerful community members who are being protected by governance volunteers. (Sometimes these powerful community members are governance volunteers.) Some of you will be familiar with the common phrase that “When somebody alleges ‘admin abuse,’ there is usually an admin being abused.” We are careful about declining to investigate cases where governance volunteers are implicated due to the potential risk to movement diversity and inclusiveness, but we also try to be very sensitive to the recognition that governance volunteers will often be blamed for enforcing policies on behalf of their communities. Most cases of alleged “admin abuse” close with no action, but not all. We hope that the UCoC phase 2 will result in a global body to review allegations of corruption in governance groups (formal and otherwise), so that situations such as the well known conflict on the Croatian Wikipedia can have a community-vested body to investigate and respond, whether that’s through direct authority (such as with the stewards) or recommendation to the Board (in the model of OmbCom) or otherwise.
We also prioritize cases of behavioral conflicts that seem to represent long-term patterns of aggression that communities often find difficult to resolve. Usually, these represent deeply invested users who have developed territorialism over their projects (especially smaller projects) or have become aggressive in patrolling for newcomer errors. Our first line of approach with such community members is coaching. We have increasingly moved from a businesslike approach to a more compassionate, collaborative one, inviting feedback from these people as part of the process. As this committee is likely aware, under current policies, the Foundation’s recourse for users who violate warnings is a full, permanent, global ban. A small set of users who responded to an RFC launched by Trust & Safety preferred that the team not utilize temporary or single-project bans in these cases. The question of how to handle such users is likely also to be a major focus of the UCoC phase 2, especially in smaller projects that have no arbitration committee and often have few other editors to moderate vested contributor behavior.