Reporting harassment is not easy – A pilot study looking into the state of enforcement on the Wikis

In early 2021, the Wikimedia Foundation conducted a research project focused on finding out how Wikimedians experience the systems for reporting harassment on Wikimedia projects. Even though this was a pilot study and not an in depth representative research, a mix of a survey and several in-depth interviews led to a number of interesting take-aways.

The good news? Most of the Wikimedians participating in this research think that reporting harassment on the Wikimedia projects is worth the effort and showed trust in local admins, event organizers and the Wikimedia Foundation in regards to the handling of such reports.

But not all news from the report is good. Participants also made it clear that in their opinion, the existing reporting systems on Wikimedia projects are not easy to understand and can be confusing. Resolving the cases seems to be taking an undue length of time for all but the simplest cases. The public nature of almost all reporting systems was seen as problematic, as community members wanting to report harassment often fear reprisal, backlash, or undue public scrutiny. Mostly for these reasons, six in ten of the participants have purposely chosen not to report harassment in the past.

Can we do something about the bad news? The research not only points out the areas where improvement is necessary, but also lists a number of recommendations and avenues for more in-depth research. The most important recommendations tell us to clarify and streamline existing reporting processes as well as providing ways to report harassment through an anonymous or private on-wiki reporting system. More recommendations include providing more flexible and varied outcomes for reporting, more transparency in regards to reporting processes and guidelines or specific training for administrators. More research could be done regarding on how those findings scale towards the general population of the Wikimedia projects, the state of our cross-wiki or global reporting and enforcement systems as well as our existing conflict resolution systems, including looking into the transparency of the existing systems.The impact of private reporting systems on the rates of reporting and enforcement is another possible area for continued research. Appeals systems already existing on Wikimedia projects are another area that could be explored in more depth through research. 

Who is going to do this? 

This research project was launched to provide the drafting committee for the second phase of the Universal Code of Conduct with data on harassment reporting within the Wikimedia movement, to help them form the guidelines for enforcement for that Code. Hopefully, it will help to move the needle on some of the recommendations with their draft for the enforcement guidelines.

Everyone in the Wikimedia communities reviewing this draft later this year during the public review process, can also help to make sure they point us all towards a better, fairer and more equitable reporting process. 

Independent of this bigger ongoing process, everyone who reads this can help the movement make improvements by reviewing local policies and suggesting and implementing changes that will help make it easier for targets of harassment to report, or help administrators to handle reports quicker and better. So go to your local Wikimedia project, look if you can find any information on the handling of harassment cases and think about making this information easier to find, easier to understand – or do whatever else for you looks like the next step that you personally can take to improve systems of fighting harassment!