What is harassment?
The word "harassment" can apply to range of behaviours, but English Wikipedia's article on the topic defines it as "commonly understood as behaviour which disturbs or upsets, and it is characteristically repetitive". The Friendly Spaces expectations define it as:
- offensive comments related to gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, race, ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion
- violence, threats of violence, deliberate intimidation and personal attacks
- stalking, following, or continued one-on-one communications after being asked to cease
- sustained disruption of discussion
- deliberate "outing" and/or doxing of any person's identity without their consent
- publication of non-harassing private communication
You may have experienced harassment yourself in your time on Wikimedia projects, or you may have seen someone else experience it. Either way, you almost certainly know how horrible it can feel.
Harassment isn't always blatant name-calling; at times it can be specifically designed to be subtle, in a way that's meaningful only to the target or people like them. You may not think a particular situation is harassment, but when you receive a report or complaint, it is important to examine context and background. In situations like this, try to deal compassionately with the situation, listen empathetically, evaluate the evidence objectively, and determine how you may be able to assist.
Why do you need to care about harassment?
Online harassment has been an issue for a long time, almost since the launch of the internet itself. Areas of the internet where many people converge and communicate openly with each other – for instance, forums, multiplayer games, and social media – are particularly susceptible to it. Harassment and bullying can lead to distress and depression. In a survey published by the Pew Research Center in 2014, almost three quarters of adults using the internet have seen someone be harassed in some way online. Two in five have experienced it first-hand.
A culture of harassment has been one of the major criticisms of the Wikimedia community since its inception in 2001. Researchers from the Palo Alto Research Center in 2008 found that less-active editors who make two to nine edits a month were seeing their edits reverted up to three times as often than they had been in 2004. But it's not only low-volume editors who encounter harassment – long-term contributor David Shankbone wrote in 2008 that "if you become a target on Wikipedia, do not expect a supportive community." Women also tend to be targeted more often than men, which results in less female participation on Wikipedia. This leads to a lack of diversity in editors, and decreased quality of content, as a result.
The Support and Safety team is working to improve these processes on our end, but the majority of harassment complaints will be seen by you, the functionaries, first. It can be complicated to deal with often complex and subtle harassment claims and cases. This module will help prepare you for the best ways to deal with them.
Some common forms of harassment on our projects
Harassment comes in many shapes and sizes. Some of it is childish and easy to shrug off – throwaway insults by vandals, for example. You've almost certainly seen this type of abuse in the past. But while it can be easy for an administrator or vandalism patroller to brush this treatment aside, newcomers to the movement can be easily discouraged or offended by it. They might also be goaded into breaking rules by entering into petty edit wars or meeting name-calling with name-calling.
Some vandals can move beyond damaging on-wiki content and become focused on pursuit of a group of editors, or even one editor in particular. This pursuit often takes the form of something more subtle than "poop" vandalism, like wikihounding – the practice of "stalking" someone's edits to constantly revert or oppose them. Wikipedia's openness makes this very easy to do. Being wikihounded can result in the editor becoming disillusioned, upset, or frustrated, and make them less willing to make edits. Worse, wikihounding can lead to more general online stalking in places like email, social media, and personal blogs, and invade all aspects of a person's online identity.
Another form of harassment is direct, and sometimes plausible, threats against an editor or editors. Threats to life and limb must be considered as serious, and should be referred to the Wikimedia Foundation Support and Safety team through the firstname.lastname@example.org email address. Legal threats are not uncommon, and can be used to "force" editors to delete content or censor articles. Even if these threats are not plausible, they can be distressing, particularly to users unused to the processes in this area.