H3: Handling harassment reports
Reporting harassment publicly, or even privately, is a difficult thing for many to do. It's natural to feel uncomfortable accusing someone of harassing you or someone you know, especially when the person in question is powerful. It's possible also that the harassment is subtle and easily deniable. When people submit reports to you, they may be afraid that you may simply not take them seriously or that, even if you do, you won't care.
When you or your team receives a request, bear in mind that it may have taken a great deal of courage and caused a lot of anxiety to the reporter. Treat every claim as serious, even if its tone seems bombastic or overwrought.
What makes a good reply
The best thing you can do with a claim of harassment is to respond to it actively – even if there is nothing you or your team can do about it.
Be prompt: This is arguably the key aspect to an initial response. Don't leave reporters waiting for a reply that may or may not ever come. If you are able to action the complaint immediately, do so and let the reporter know. If the case is complex and you cannot immediately offer a substantive response, let the reporter know in the meantime that you have received their message and will be investigating.
- Be empathetic: Assume the report is genuine – at the very least, assume it is something that has genuinely distressed the reporting party. Respond kindly, letting the reporter know your team will look into it. Try to avoid boilerplate replies where possible – make it clear that you are responding to their specific situation and that you are responding as another human being.
- Give concrete details, and stick to them: Where possible, give estimates to the reporter on how long things will take to get moving. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time in these timing estimates; things can come up, and delays can happen – this is not your full-time job, and you are not expected to be able to drop everything when a case comes up.
- Be transparent and open: This one is difficult, especially if the report came in privately. Being transparent doesn't always mean being public or detailed; however, it's usually a good idea to at least keep the reporter informed about the status of your investigations. Follow up with more emails as appropriate as the case goes on.
- Ask for updates: Let the reporter know that they should forward new developments to you as they occur. If you feel that you need more information to complete your investigation, reach out to the reporter to ask for it.
#1: Writing a good reply
This module will periodically present you with multiple-choice questions you can use to test your knowledge of the module you are studying. While more than one of the suggested answers may seem correct, remember that you should try to pick the most correct of the options.
(Discuss this question)
An editor has written to you saying that another editor has revealed personal information about them on-wiki in an attempt to intimidate them from working on an article about a contentious subject. They have supplied a link to a diff. Before investigating further, you want to acknowledge the report. Should you write:
Which option would you choose?
- Hello, looks like the person you reported definitely screwed up, so this one should be no problem. I'll probably revdel and block when I have time if that's what's needed.
- Hello, I'm sorry to hear about this issue. I will take a look and will update you on our investigation by the end of the week. If there are edits that need to be removed from public view to protect your safety, we will work to have them hidden as soon as possible. If you feel your personal safety is in danger, please contact your local law enforcement. Please update me if there are new problems that come up.
- Hello, from a quick look, it's unlikely that we'll be able to do anything. But we'll look anyway.
- Hello, I'm sorry to hear about this issue. It's clear that it has upset you, but there is no need to worry; since I have verified the diff you sent as problematic, we will immediately deal with the edit.
Ready to see the correct answer?
Click to expand! (click to expand or collapse)
The correct answer is: B) is the best response out of this group. It is empathetic, gives a specific timeline, offers a potential solution without committing to it, and asks for further updates. A) is too casual, gives only a vague timeline, and promises action before the investigation has happened. C) offers no empathy, and makes a pre-judgement on the case before it has been investigated. D) is vague, promises a fast response before investigation, and states a fact that may not be true.
What to do with third-party reports
Sometimes, you will receive reports that are not from the target of harassment. For instance, someone might observe harassment occurring against someone else which they feel is serious enough to report on the other person's behalf. When investigating these situations, a good first step is to privately contact the person who is the reported target. Their opinions and any background they can provide will be valuable.
Remember, however, that your investigation and any outcomes will not be contingent on the target's approval. The reported problem may represent a threat to other users and the community at large, and may need to be investigated whether the target desires that approach or not. In these cases, it is very important to respect the target's privacy – some targets of harassment choose not to report abuse because they legitimately fear retribution from the harasser.
Replying to non-actionable reports
When a report is non-actionable or contains inaccuracies, it can be tempting to just ignore it or dash off an abrupt "nothing we can do here" reply. Remember, though, that the reporter – for reasons stated above – may have put a great deal of emotional effort into putting the report together. So, how do you respond to these kinds of reports?
The key here is to be empathetic. Sympathize with the reporter. Use soft language where possible, even if the reporter hasn't. If there really is nothing that can be done, and this is confirmed through an investigation, let them know. Give some potential next steps for the reporter. Your target here is to make sure they have at least some way forward, though it may not be totally possible to completely satisfy them with your response.
It's also important to remember that the person who was reported in a non-actionable report may also be upset by the report. This doesn't mean the report was in poor faith; it may be a misunderstanding, or a genuine overreaction. Offer and provide advice to the person reported as well, whether that be cooling an editing conflict or avoiding the user altogether.
What types of reports should go the Wikimedia Foundation's Trust and Safety task force?
The Trust and Safety task force (T&S), within the Support and Safety team (shortened to "SuSa"), deals with severe harassment complaints, performing investigations where appropriate. These can, and have in the past, led to global "office bans" in the most serious of cases.
There are several situations where it might be appropriate to refer a report to T&S:
- Threats to life and limb: Serious threats, such as death threats or threats of terrorism, may be sent immediately to email@example.com. If you are comfortable doing so, you should also consider contacting your (or the target's) local authorities to report such threats. Assume all threats are serious, even if they don't sound plausible. If you are not comfortable making a call yourself, email the threat into the emergency email.
- Serious complaints of harassment: In the case of ongoing and serious harassment, serious enough that you or your team don't feel comfortable handling it yourself, the report may be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org. All members of the SuSa team are on this mailing list and can assist with investigating reports if need be.
Community noticeboards are great for getting more attention onto a problem and for finding people willing to deal with sticky situations. They also enable transparency, and bringing an issue to a noticeboard avoids the appearance of underhanded dealings in disputes.
That having been said, noticeboard are highly visible and open to everyone. As a result, they can result in unwanted attention being focused on harassment victims, up to and including second-guessing and victim blaming. A harassment target may find themselves shamed or mocked by community members in a venue they came to for help. Noticeboard discussions are also often adversarial and hotly contested. Discussions can, and often do, flare out of control quite quickly. For this reason, we'd recommend not redirecting harassment reports to community noticeboards if there is a better option available.
What types of problems can an administrator or functionary handle individually?
Clear-cut cases of harassment, involving obvious targeting and bullying, can of course be dealt with by an individual administrator or functionary in accordance with local policy. Such types of harassment are normally easy to spot and, on many projects, uncontentious to deal with, though they can also be among the most persistent of case types. When in doubt, or if a situation expands beyond your comfort zone, it is always appropriate to escalate for assistance.
More difficult cases, such as more subtle harassment or cases involving long-term or otherwise-constructive editors, should be discussed by more than one person prior to any investigation being closed. SuSa would recommend these discussions be done in private, unless it is more appropriate, based on other considerations, to use a noticeboard for this purpose.
What types of problems should be redirected to local functionaries or arbitrators?
If you receive a report addressed directly to you, that doesn't mean you have to deal with it alone, or that you are responsible for resolving it at all. (Though you can do both, if it's appropriate – see below.) Sometimes, these reports are best dealt with by local functionaries or arbitrators. For the reasons stated above, it might be more appropriate to pass cases like this on in private, rather than on-wiki.
All but the most complicated of cases can usually be dealt with by local administrators, though the venue in which they do this depends on the severity of the accusations and, at times, the status of the reporter or reported party.
You'll usually receive reports of harassment from users in good standing. However, you might also receive them from users under editing sanctions, users with a negative reputation in the community, or even users who are blocked or banned from editing. Accordingly, you may want to consider the reporter's (and reportee's) community status when deciding the appropriate venue for referring a matter to functionaries.