Wikipedia has a new ‘Universal Code of Conduct’ to deal with harassment, misinformation

Wikipedia now has its own ‘Universal Code of Conduct’, a first-of-its-kind document that will “create a global set of community standards for addressing negative behaviour on the site”.

“The code is the result of recommendations that were made as part of 2018 global consultation with Wikipedia communities called the 2030 Movement Strategy,” Amanda Keton, General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation told over an email query. The global consultation included 200-plus salons, which are community-organised regional gatherings, spread across 50 countries with over 2,000 Wikipedia community members being involved.

Before this new universal code, “there was no consistent way of addressing harassment on the platform and  the incidents were addressed on a case by case basis, and varied project by project,” she pointed out.

Keep in mind that Wikimedia is made up of more than 300 language Wikipedias and other related projects such as Wiktionary, Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata, the new code will apply a standard protocol and consistent framework to deal with harassment across all of these projects and Wikipedias, according to the company.

“While some of the projects like English Wikipedia followed more established standards for harassment, others were not as far along in their journey,” according to Keton. The universal code will try and solve this challenge.

Wikimedia also felt that given how various tactics are used to spread misinformation in the current internet era, it was “important to enhance our mechanisms and establish new measures for dealing with deliberate attempts to add false information on the site,” she said.

“Our new universal code of conduct creates binding standards to elevate conduct on the Wikimedia projects, and empower our communities to address harassment and negative behaviour across the Wikimedia movement. Through this effort, we can create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for contributors and readers, and a more representative source of knowledge for the world,” Katherine Maher, CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement.

Wikimedia says the new code is transparent, only 1600 words long, and not opaque as community standards tend to be with other tech companies. The goal of this code is to “define harassment and unacceptable behaviour”.

The code’s distinguishing standards include “delinating harassment on and off the projects for all Wikipedia participants,” “preventing the abuse of power and influence to intimidate others”, “combating deliberate introduction of false or inaccurate content” and “provide consistent enforcement process and shared responsibility between the Foundation and volunteer communities”.

The code also explains the reasons why it was adopted, stating that it “defines a minimum set of guidelines of expected and unacceptable behaviour”. Further, this code will apply to “everyone who interacts and contributes to online and offline Wikimedia projects and spaces,” including “new and experienced contributors, functionaries within the projects, event organisers and participants, employees and board members of affiliates and employees and board members of the Wikimedia Foundation”.

Wikipedia’s universal code also expands on what will constitute harassment on the platform. For instance, around ‘insults’ the code explains that these “may refer to perceived characteristics like intelligence, appearance, ethnicity, race, religion (or lack thereof), culture, caste, sexual orientation, gender, sex, disability, age, nationality, political affiliation, or other characteristics”.

Even “repeated mockery, sarcasm, or aggression constitute insults collectively,” according to the code.

It further adds that “trolling” which is defined as “deliberately disrupting conversations or posting in bad-faith to intentionally provoke,” will come under harassment.

Further, doxxing or disclosure of personal information, sexual harassment of any kind, threats be it physical or those which call for “unfair and unjustified reputational harm, or intimidation by suggesting gratuitous legal action to win an argument or force someone to behave the way you want,” are all defined as harassment. It notes that ‘hounding’ someone over their work in the projects will also be considered harassment.

While Wikimedia has announced the Universal code, it still needs to evaluate how local and regional Wikipedia projects will enforce the new standards. This will be part of the next phase of the code’s implementation, explained the spokesperson.

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