What is a “conduct warning”?
What does it mean, and what might cause someone to receive one?
As part of its work in supporting community safety and health, the Trust & Safety team is sometimes asked to look into situations where one user’s behavior has caused disruption or concern to other editors. In some of those cases, we determine that the behavior was problematic enough that we need to speak to the person and issue a conduct warning. The existence of a conduct warning does not always mean we believe the person to have purposely done something wrong; in actuality, the majority of these cases involve well-intentioned users who unthinkingly cross a line they may not have known was there.
Because of privacy concerns and due to our obligation to protect the identity of a reporting party, however, we may not always be able to tell the person who receives the warning exactly what situation(s) or behavior led to the warning. As a result, the experience of being given one of these conduct warnings can be confusing and frightening for a person who may not be able to identify for themselves what they are supposed to have done wrong.
This document is intended to be a summary of illustrative examples and types of situations in which conduct warnings might be issued. Please keep in mind that even if you’ve received a warning, we are not saying you did any of these particular things listed in this document. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list; this page simply provides examples that we hope will help you understand what types of things a conduct warning might relate to.
Warning type 1: “People have been made to feel uncomfortable” Edit
In this type of warning, you are generally being told that while your behavior is not making people feel attacked or threatened, it is making them feel that you may be missing some important social expectations that help people distinguish between constructive contributors and those who are motivated by things other than trying to contribute to the mission. Examples:
- During a Wikimania talk by a woman, a man repeatedly questions the presenter about how she got the role she is speaking about.
- Why this might be a problem: it sounds like the man is questioning/doubting the credentials of the female speaker because she is a woman. In many cultures, this indicates that the questioner shares a common societal attitude that women are less skilled or less deserving of prestige.
- A user hosts userboxes on their userpage that say “This person is sexually abstinent, but not by choice” and “This user is looking for a girlfriend”.
- Why this might be a problem: While many users display userboxes on Wikipedia to share facts about them and their interests, it is important to remember that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a social media space. Women on the internet often receive unwanted attention from men in spaces that are unrelated to dating, and displaying userboxes of this type can make them feel that this, too, is a space where men will be evaluating them in a sexualised way.
- While two people are conversing at an event, one continually shifts forward, leaving an uncomfortably-small amount of physical distance between themselves and the other person.
- Why this might be a problem: the “personal space zone” expected by people - the minimum physical distance that would allow the other person to remain comfortable - varies widely between cultures, and what feels natural to one person might make the other person feel that they are being physically intimidated or loomed over.
- An openly gay Wikipedian is taking part in a discussion on their local Village Pump about a general technical issue. Another user comments in the thread, “This feature is so gay, why don’t we just do it this other way?”
- Why this might be a problem: Language is not a one-sided exchange; one must not only consider what they intend to say, but what others might understand them to be saying. In this example, the speaker is using the word “gay” in a form seen in some American English slang, to mean “silly” or “useless”. They may not have thought about the fact that the slang is a pejorative, something that insults gay people by implying that they, too, are silly or useless. Seeing it used in a conversation on-wiki might make other Wikipedians feel that the speaker thinks gay people are silly or useless, or that the speaker does not consider them worthy of being spoken about respectfully.
Warning type 2: “People have been made to feel threatened” Edit
In this type of warning, you are generally being told that something you are doing has made other people worry about their safety, whether that’s physical safety or the safety of their livelihood. Examples:
- At a multi-day event, a user urges another user to have another alcoholic beverage and comments that he would be happy to share his hotel room with him.
- Why this might be a problem: While in the first man’s mind, these might simply be friendly gestures, to the other man they give the impression that the first man is trying to get him drunk, perhaps in order to be able to go back to his hotel room with the drunk person and take sexual advantage.
- During a heated debate on Wikipedia, one user comments to another, “What would your boss say if he knew you were spending work hours debating this Wikipedia matter?”
- Why this might be a problem: This comment can be interpreted as a threat by the speaker, saying that they plan to contact the other person’s employer and try to get them in trouble or fired for their activities on Wikipedia.
- In the middle of a heated editing dispute, User X comments on User Y’s talk page “I’ve never wanted to punch someone so much in all my time on Wikipedia”.
- Why this might be a problem: While X might feel like they’re just voicing the fact that they’re frustrated, user Y has no way of knowing whether X truly wishes to inflict physical harm or not. On the internet, the type of hyperbolic or metaphorical language that is common in everyday speech has the potential to be read entirely different; especially when it’s only text, divorced from tone of voice and facial expression. It’s always better to try to imagine the ways in which your words could be interpreted before you save an edit.
Warning type 3: “People have been made to feel hounded” Edit
In this type of warning, you are usually being told that your behavior has made others feel that you may be fixated on them and any errors they may make, causing them to feel that they cannot relax because they are constantly being monitored. This type of situation can lead to others feeling unwelcome or uncomfortable on projects or at events. Examples:
- User X is prone to making typographic errors in their articles (misspellings, broken headers, etc). Inevitably, whenever X makes one of these mistakes, User Y immediately edits the page to fix the error, and then leaves a message on X’s talk page chastising them for posting “bad” content.
- Why this might be a problem: While Wikipedians traditionally help one another by doing things like fixing errors one comes across, feeling that someone is waiting for you to make a mistake so they can point it out can come across as if they are trying to pressure you to stop editing in order to prevent mistakes. The other person may not intend to make them feel that way at all. However, this could be a result regardless, so it’s important to consider whether you focus too much on a single person’s activity. Community processes exist to help with long-term problems; you can work with colleagues within policy to address issues if you feel they are damaging to the project or, if your project has no applicable policy, you can follow community processes for creating new policies.
- At an event, a user gives a controversial presentation on Day One. On Day Two, they are part of a panel hosting another, unrelated session. During that second session, someone in the audience who had been at the controversial presentation begins questioning the panelist about the previous presentation. After the close of that session, they then follow the panelist to the next discussion the panelist intends to attend, continuing to question the person about the Day One presentation.
- Why this might be a problem: It can be very uncomfortable to feel that someone is following you around. With someone upset about the Day One presentation persistently appearing at the other sessions the person attends, they may find it difficult or impossible to enjoy or focus on the event as they had intended. It is usually best to confine things like topical disagreements to spaces that are intended to host those discussions. In this example, that would be the time slot for the primary, controversial presentation. Additionally, one can ask the presenter if they would discuss the issue further - and accept “no” as an answer if the presenter declines!
- A user is unhappy with the way that Wikimedia affiliate XYZ uses their grant funding, believing that they are focusing on the wrong type of events and paying too many employees rather than using those funds for other things. They believe that these issues are caused largely by an affiliate employee. The user leaves comments saying so on a number of Meta pages used by the affiliate, and often joins discussions by or about the affiliate to make sarcastic, pointed remarks in an attempt to draw attention to what they feel are the affiliate’s mistaken ways and, especially, the individual employee’s responsibility for them. That employee directs them to the affiliate’s management to discuss their complaint, but the user instead continues to employ the direct approach with the employee and comment publicly and negatively.
- Why this might be a problem: Disagreements are natural parts of collaborative projects and movements like ours. But how and where we voice our concerns are important. Volunteers and paid staff both have a right to be treated civilly and with respect. Major issues can be escalated to the staff person’s manager, and processes exist to deal with disruptive actions or organizations. Even in a case where one feels someone is directly responsible for a problem, it is rarely helpful to publicly belabour that issue if one’s comments do not appear to be changing anything. That is a sign to try another method - the established process or, in extreme cases, oversight bodies such as the Affiliations Committee - instead.